This 20-year career coach says she is all in on TikTok and why you should be too

The ever-changing world we live in means that we have to keep up with what is hip and trendy, especially when it comes to our line of work.

COVID-19 has definitely inspired that for many in different industries who have had to change their longstanding normal to a new normal in order to adapt to their workplace environment during a time that has been unprecedented, to say the least.

J.T. O’Donnell, CEO of Work It Daily (a private B2C Saas career coaching platform) was able to successfully find a new alternative when it came to what she has done for nearly two decades.

Yup, she headed over to TikTok and dished out the best advice to people from all walks of life that simply want to be successful in who they are as a person.

She made headline news for doing this as TikTok is not known for this kind of background. Millions use it to make creative videos in order to bolster their social media existence but J.T. came in and switched things up on this constantly growing platform with a ton of success along the way. 

J.T. spoke with Ladders about not only her TikTok journey but career thus far where she also dished on the biggest mistakes job seekers are doing during COVID and advice to those who are thinking about switching careers as this global pandemic rages on. 

You have spent two decades helping people navigate their job searches and career paths. Then COVID hit. What was your first reaction from a professional POV when you realized nothing was going to be the same?

I’ve spent two decades, which is kind of scary. It’ll be 20 years in 2021 that I’ve been doing job search and career coaching. Prior to that, I was in HR and recruiting and just saw so many people making a lot of bad mistakes and just realized school taught us everything except how to do this stuff. And, so, that’s what really pushed me to become a career coach and essentially flipped to the other side, to give people a fighting chance.

I had seen over the years that getting career coaching was usually for the elite, pro-athletes, executives. There’s a little bit of, dare I say, educational privilege that happens when people are highly educated. They’re taught about mentorship. They’re taught about coaching. They are nurtured and coached to be top performers.

But when you think about the rest of the working population, they usually aren’t. And a lot of times people mistakenly think their manager is their coach or mentor, when they work for the company. And then people have bad experiences, and they get soured on it.

So, there really just was a mission in my life to help people understand that everyone needs career coaching. It’s a path to greatness. It’s not a sign of weakness, and that we needed to find a way to make it affordable, to drop the physical and financial boundaries to getting it, so that a large group of people could get access to the right answers and the right information and do the right things to advance their career. So, a little bit about my background with respect to that.

COVID hit. It’s funny, in January of 2020, my team and I, and you can find all sorts of videos where I did live events, where we said, “What do we want to be? What do we want to do?” And we said, “We’re going to help a million people grow their careers in 2020.”

And now, I mean, it’s almost like we willed it into existence, not for the right reasons. I mean, COVID’s been horrible, but we were mentally prepared to help a million people. So when it hit, we knew what we needed to do. It was just get this stuff out there. People’s ears would be open. They would be willing to listen. They would be in pain. And when people are in pain, it’s your chance to give them the aspirin.

And, so, we’ve really embraced it and just said, “We’re going to do whatever it takes to help a million people this year in any way, shape, or form that we can.” And so, it’s been terrible that COVID happened, but it’s also been a plan all along for our company to do what we need to do to help people.

When I first heard about COVID and what was happening, my thought was the stages of grief, Kubler-Ross’s stages of grief. People will be in denial, which they were, and I would tell you that, from our experience, people were in denial until about July. And I think that might have something to do with the fact that there was supplemental income for unemployment and things like that.

But even with that, there’s only so long you can sit there and sit in limbo without a career plan, before a lot of really good people start to go crazy and say, “I got to get my career back on track. This is the new normal. This isn’t going to go away for a long time. We are forever changed, so I’ve got to figure it out.”

And I feel like right around July is when we really started to see this massive uptick in people saying, “Help me. I need help.” And, so, that I knew was coming. I knew they would get out of the denial phase, and they’d start to go into the other stages like anger and just that feeling of bargaining and desperation and all those things that you go through. And we’re still seeing a lot of that.

I personally know that, as bad as this is right now, I know something amazing is going to happen on the other side because whenever there’s this amount of disruption, there’s that much more innovation, because I say the bigger the disruption, the bigger the innovation. In fact, I really hope I become known as the woman that started that quote because I see it pretty much every day. “The bigger the disruption, the bigger the innovation.”

At this level, every single industry, every single company, every type of job is being disrupted. So I tell people it’s like looking at a empty crop, looking at a dirt … a barren dirt field, and seeing nothing. But not realizing that 10,000 seeds have been planted, and underneath all sorts of things are taking root. And before you know it, you’ll start to see little things pop up, and then there’s an explosion.

That’s what’s going to happen as a result of this, the innovation, the new companies, the new types of jobs, the new careers that never existed before, all coming out of this. We’re going to end up better off. I know it hurts now, but we’re going to end up better off. And that is the message that I’m trying so hard to share and educate people on. Because if you want to take advantage of that innovation, if you’ve ever wanted to change careers, if you’ve thought there was something more for yourself, guess what? It could very well be the case in the next six to 24 months because the innovation is going to be insane, but you have to be ready to take advantage of it.

So I just really … We’re on a mission at Work It Daily to make sure people understand that and that the people that really want to take advantage of it know what to do because, again, school teaches us everything except how to get the job and grow our careers. We’re not skilled at this. And it’s not rocket science. It’s not brain surgery. We’re not teaching anything difficult, but there are things you need to know. And if you don’t know them, your career could suffer. So, just so much going on in that front, I guess, with respect to COVID.

What has been the biggest professional peak and pit of your job since the pandemic took over?

For me, I think, I’ve worked really hard as a woman starting her own company. I’m not venture-backed. This is a bootstrapped company and I have, without boring you, certainly hit every single wall that a female entrepreneur hits.

So, when COVID hit, and my team had to go remote, we actually had already been going remote one day a week. So, I’m so grateful because they were ready. I don’t think I was ready for that reality and giving up our office space was probably the single, hardest point for me. That was a low point because it took me a long time to get a business large enough in size that it merited a beautiful office space. And we had the most beautiful office space I’d ever been in, in my life.

So, losing that, and knowing that my team didn’t want to go back. It didn’t make sense to go back. That was hard. It was really, really hard for me, clearing that place. My really good friends and family came and helped me close that office down. But my team was thriving, thriving remotely. It was the right thing to do, but definitely personally hard for me.

The peak, the high of it, is definitely had to be TikTok, which I know you were asking about that. I knew that we needed to go all in on TikTok around December and January, December of 2019, January. I was watching it going … Gary Vee keeps talking about this. And he’s a smart guy when it comes to social media. I think I need to go all in.

You made news recently for switching things up and dishing out advice on TikTok. What inspired you to do so?

So I studied the heck out of TikTok from January through March. I was just trying to understand, “What’s it like? What could I do?” figuring out my strategy. And the strategy was pretty simple. Just start providing content so that someday when lots of people came to my TikTok page, they could sit there and just consume, like breadcrumbs, one minute after one minute. And if they got sucked into my page for an hour, they would have learned 60 new things.

And that seemed amazing to me. That was something I could do that I could never do before, was create a learning environment on and essentially edutain people, right? Because that’s the other thing. This is not the sexiest of topics. People don’t want to spend all their free time learning about job search and career growth, right? Usually they’re trying to get away from it. So if I could find a way to make it interesting and fun and original and hold their attention, I was going to do it. And TikTok was definitely the way.

So, TikTok, for me, was the highlight, being able to find that medium. And then that audience, I mean, the people on TikTok are phenomenal. They are thirsting for this information. They’re grateful. They’re kind. They comment. They engage. I mean, I just never dreamed that.

I’ve been on all the social media platforms, providing career advice for a very long time, but this platform’s special. It’s different than any other I’ve been on. And, to me, that’s been really amazing.

So that kind of describes the switching it up on TikTok. I will tell you, I will not go back. I am all in on TikTok, and I tried to do at least two TikToks a day, Monday through Friday, and hope I can do it as long as I can.

Are there any particulars you have found with people who are looking at your videos like age range, HHI, or what kind of jobs they are looking for?

People, in terms of particulars, for me, it’s just … It’s all types of workers there. I’ve got 14-year-olds asking how to get their first job. I’ve got 60-year-olds saying, “Hey, there’s so much left in me. What can I do?” Men, women, professionals, blue collar. People just want to understand this stuff. And so, yeah, there’s not been anything specific. And I think that’s what I like about it, is that I can provide advice that’s helping a much broader population, that I wasn’t really reaching on things like LinkedIn.

What do you find to be the biggest mistake job seekers are doing during COVID and how can they fix that?

Yeah, so most people are doing the spray and pray method, and that’s the biggest mistake you can make. The online systems, the applicant tracking systems, are designed to help recruiters and hiring managers, not job seekers. Right? Companies are getting hundreds, sometimes thousands, of applicants. They need a way to screen it out. They can’t physically look at every resume.

And I think most job seekers don’t understand that. So they sit there, and they spend hours applying to tons of jobs that they’re not a fit for. And this is the psychology is, “Well, if I apply to a bunch of jobs, even if I’m not really interested in any of these jobs, somebody is going to respond to me.”

But then when nobody responds to them because the ATS tossed them because they weren’t really a match, psychologically, they feel rejected. They’re weren’t really rejected. It was just a human didn’t even see it. But, psychologically, they feel like human beings, a company, rejected them, and these were companies they weren’t even really interested in.

So now they start doubting themselves, like, “Wow, I must be useless. I must have no skills, if these companies I wasn’t even really interested in, definitely aren’t interested in me.” And then they get depressed, and then they give up on job search, and it’s a big mess.

So, for me, it’s understanding that you have got to identify who you want to work for. You’ve got to be proactive in your efforts to network and connect with them and how you apply. You’ve got to be at least an 80% to 100% match for the job.

So there are just these things that people don’t know that if they did it, job search would be a lot more rewarding, and they would work smarter, not harder. Well, I’ll tell you that ATS mistake, and the depression I see people in because of it, is a big one for me.

On the flip side what advice would you give to people who are thinking of switching careers during this insane time in our lives? 

First of all, it’s a great time to switch careers. You know what? You got nothing to lose. But the one thing I would say is that, switching careers requires what we call signaling. We teach that at Work It Daily. It’s kind of like if you were going down the highway 100 miles an hour, you wouldn’t just swerve into another lane. It wouldn’t work. You’d probably crash.

You have to signal, and you have to understand that employers aren’t going to see the connection. If you want to go from one industry to another, or one career to another, they’re only going to see what you’ve done so far on your resume or your LinkedIn profile. They’re not going to be able to imagine you in that role. So, you’re going to have to do that for them.

And the technique that we teach is something called a disruptive cover letter. It’s a cover letter that tells a story that helps them understand you and your connection to why you want to do that job or that industry or work for that company.

This kind of storytelling is very prevalent. It’s what we do on social media. We tell stories now. For hundreds and hundreds of years, we told stories. We wrote them on cave walls, right? Stories are memorable. They hold our attention.

So, job seekers today, whether they like it or not, if they want to change careers, they’re going to have to be good storytellers to connect the dots for those people that they meet, so that they can understand and remember, and get excited about them switching that career.