How I Made It: Lauren McGoodwin couldn’t find a good women’s career-promoting business, so she built one herself


Lauren McGoodwin, 31, is the founder and chief executive of Career Contessa, an online platform designed to help women search for the best job opportunities and perform at a higher level when they get them.

McGoodwin is also in the process of launching the Salary Project, an online database of pay ranges by job type and seniority level designed to help women determine what they could or should be earning.

With 12 employees, Career Contessa “now helps over 1 million women navigate their careers each year,” McGoodwin said.

Starting out

After getting a degree in business from the University of Oregon, McGoodwin worked as an event coordinator for Oregon Sports Authority in 2009 and then as an admissions counselor at USC in 2010. But neither job interested her much.

“I was really sort of obsessed with figuring out what career I wanted,” McGoodwin said.

An idea is born

One day, she was asked to help recruit students for USC’s dental hygiene program. It was, she recalled, “the most fun I had had the whole time I was at the job.”

In particular, she enjoyed speaking with other recruiters about what their jobs were like and how important it is to get people onto the correct career path early.

“This was really the catalyst into my obsession around what is recruiting, what companies use recruiters, what types of recruiters exist, what are the skills needed,” she said.

A spark of an idea flickered, but it would be three years before she would ultimately take the leap and start her own business.

“While I was super-ambitious, I lacked the direction on figuring out what would be that next move for me,” McGoodwin said.

I'm going to hire the most passionate people for Career Contessa, people who are natural problem-solvers

— Lauren McGoodwin

Bold move

After her USC job, McGoodwin landed at video-streaming service Hulu — thanks to a bit of luck.

To get considered for the job, McGoodwin “got the first and last name of a USC alumnus and guessed what her email was.”

The email address worked, and the alumnus forwarded McGoodwin’s information to a Hulu recruiter, who interviewed her.

Double duty

While rising at Hulu to head of university recruiting efforts, McGoodwin was also pursuing a masters in communication management, organizational and strategic corporate communication at USC.

She wrote about career resources and millennial women for her thesis. One of her conclusions: “You don’t have to be lost in your career or unhappy in your career.”

“Career Contessa was the prototype of my thesis,” she said.

Social media choice

To launch Career Contessa, McGoodwin reached out to dozens of recruiters on LinkedIn to find out more about the recruiting profession.

“Some worked for a consulting firm, some worked for law firms, tech recruiters, you name it, I talked to them,” she said. “I reached out to about 70 and I probably heard back from 30-ish of them. It was amazing learning.”

Learning curve

She started Career Contessa in 2013 on her own after trying and failing to find a co-founder, and quickly learned that it takes a lot to run a business.

“I created the company that I wish existed,” McGoodwin said. “Then I had this oh wow moment: I'm running a company and now I have to probably hire an employee, figure out payroll, taxes and legal things. I'll be honest, ignorance is bliss. Had I known all that, I probably would have stuck to what I was doing.”

Running lean

Career Contessa operates out of a co-working space near downtown Los Angeles to save on brick-and-mortar office costs.

That was after sweltering their way through their first building with a faulty air conditioning system.

“And this was in August,” McGoodwin said. “I remember we had AC units literally sitting on our faces. When the AC unit would tap out at 88, we said, ‘It’s time to go get happy hour, or it’s time to go to a Starbucks.’”

Simply structured

“You can explore our tools and sign up for a free 28-day plan to kick-start your career,” McGoodwin said.

Career coaching costs between $75 and $200, and courses are $97 to $197, McGoodwin said.

Career Contessa also partners with companies including Dollar Shave Club, FabFitFun, HomeAway and Pandora to provide their subscribers with a look at job opportunities at those brands.

Inclusive attitude

By far, most clients of the company are women, but men can take advantage of the services too. McGoodwin also really wants male input in the Salary Project.

“I definitely want men in the conversation,” she said. “I don’t ever want men to feel like we are a career site for women and no boys allowed — that's not my attitude at all. Companies are made up of men and women and you need to have that diversity there to have all opinions in the room.”

Leadership style

“I would say it’s extremely collaborative,” McGoodwin said. “I'm going to hire the most passionate people for Career Contessa, people who are natural problem-solvers, and I'm going to work with them to help build this company, because I can't do it on my own. I'm not going to be a micromanager, and I don't know all the answers.”


McGoodwin married her college sweetheart. They live in Redondo Beach.

“We have a 1950s original home,” she said, “so we’re pretty much spending our free time fixing whatever is breaking on that, or could use a little elbow grease.”