Kate White knows a few things about getting ahead. During her 14 years as its editor-in-chief, Cosmo grew to 3 million in the U.S. and expanded into 64 countries. While helping to turn Cosmo into the most popular women’s magazine on newsstands, she raised two children and authored several books of business advice for women and eight mysteries and thrillers.
Since leaving Cosmo last fall, Kate has been sharing her expertise about leadership and success through speaking engagements, career columns and her most recent New York Times best-seller: I Shouldn’t Be Telling You This: Success Secrets Every Gutsy Girl Should Know.
Her next novel, a psychological suspense novel called Eyes on You, is scheduled for release in June 2014.
Kate sat down with GoGirl Finance to dish about the value of being paranoid, going big and not becoming your inbox’s bitch.
How would you describe your 14 years at Cosmo in a sentence or two?
It was as great a job as I could ever imagine, an envelope-pushing place. You went in everyday thinking, “How am I going to break the law at work?”
How has it been since you resigned last year?
So delicious I can’t explain. I just love working on my own. There is part of me that can be very introverted. I still have great friends, some from Cosmo, so I’m not isolated. And I always had the soul of an entrepreneur.
Were you ready to leave?
Yes. I originally planned to go two years earlier.
Cosmo was the best job of my career but I like change. And I was aging out. My kids are Cosmo readers now! I also think it’s good to be aware that people usually get phased out of my former field.
Ah, is this what you mean about “professional paranoia?”
Yes. I’ve known people who’ve lost editor-in-chief jobs and they never saw it coming.
I advise people to be a little paranoid in their career. I was a mercenary for information. It is one of the true secret weapons.
Information is often what we don’t want to hear but it is power. Take note: My boss hasn’t had contact with me in the last few months. What does that mean? Or my company is losing ground. I’m about to be disrupted.
You’ve had so many successes. What are you most proud of?
My success didn’t make a dent in my relationship with my kids. I left at 5 or 5:30 everyday, even if I had to do work at home. I had control over my life as a mother and didn’t sacrifice that.
Companies don’t have loyalty. After I left Cosmo, basically everybody got fired. Don’t be a martyr if your job isn’t working for you as a parent.
In terms of career advice, what do you mean by “Go Big or Go Home”?
I am a big believer that in order to make your mark, you have do something beyond what you are asked. Solve a problem no one has recognized in your department.
It’s way of getting ahead in your 20s and preserving your job vitality later on.
You’re really passionate about the creation of new ideas.
Yes. I’m always drawn to the people who have the killer ideas– like the woman who invented Spanx or the guy who invented Velcro from seeing burrs on his pants. I’m also intrigued people who jump start a business after it starts to look like it’s matured.
I think killer ideas involve the intersection of the universal with the specific. It’s the same with magazine cover lines. A line like “Never lose your orgasm again.” It’s universal but gets at a specific need that doesn’t get addressed very much.
You’ve suggested that women get sponsors — not just mentors. What’s the difference and how do you get one?
Mentors give you advice. Sponsors open doors.
You don’t ask them directly. You adopt them very slowly. You meet them at an event and stay in email contact with them. Maybe it’s a former boss. Think of them as door openers.
If you spot a potential sponsor, they need to be aware of your accomplishments. And you must be brave enough to ask the sponsor to open a door. Unlike with mentors, you don’t want them to see your softer side. Don’t go to them with (something like), “Should I finally get out of sales?”
You are so prolific you must take time management very seriously. I understand your advice includes, “Don’t let your inbox make you its bitch.”
Yes! This was from Julie Morgenstern: Only check your email a couple of times a day, otherwise it becomes a huge time suck. And don’t read the same email more than once.
Also, start before you’re ready. A lot of time we postpone projects because they are hard to get into. Sometimes I open my computer and just start working for a few minutes before I go down to have coffee, just to get into it.
Writing can be like salami, too unwieldy and daunting. If you slice it, it makes it easier. I wrote my books by writing 15 minutes a day. When 15 is up, I’m done.