An interview by Walter Kemp Bruce
Walking into Michaela Krause’s offices in Mitte, Berlin, is quite impressive. A buzzer door leads off a beautiful archway, up four flights of stairs and into an open space where young professionals are busy working at Macbooks. Around the furniture you can see a collection of different products associated with Michaela’s public relations company, Laika Communications. Among them are harnesses and other contraptions designed specifically for dogs. The fact Michaela’s company chooses to work with these particular products is unsurprising given that Laika Communications is named after Laika the dog – the first animal to do an orbital spaceflight around Earth – and because you’ll often find a cute dog trotting around the office.
Laika Communications is a very forward looking, modern PR company, and have worked with Snapchat, Twitch, Soundcloud and other huge names in the digital space. Michaela, as founder and CEO, has guided this company since it was created in 2018 and according to Linkedin, it already has 25 employees.
But I’m here to discuss a particular subject with Michaela: I want to find out what guidance she might have for young people who, like me, are at the very beginning of their professional journey. Although she has already worked in different companies and in several industries, Michaela is a young person herself, and seems quite close to me in age (I do maintain a sense of British etiquette that prevents me from asking someone how old they are in exact terms). I hope this article might help to bridge the gap between my generation and our typical sources of career advice: people our parents’ age.
Right off the bat, Michaela responds to my questions with total clarity: “You need to go out and try different things.” (I had asked her about the challenge of finding the right career, and how lost so many of us seem to be.) “I was lucky enough to do internships in three different fields in the time I was studying, and it allowed me to try my hand at different responsibilities and different industries. That really helped me to figure out what I liked and what I was good at,” Michaela explains. She is adamant that this is as relevant now as it has ever been. “Even in the digital age, there is only so much you can learn from trying out and observing, or looking stuff up. At some point you have to go out and do,” she says. Her last comments on this topic really hit home: “If you’re at the first stage, don’t let yourself get caught up in the insecurity that you might choose the wrong path that defines your whole career. That could stop you from taking opportunities. The truth is you’ve got so much time at this stage to explore, change and switch tack. People are often far too young when they start worrying about what’s exactly THE right job for them.”
As an employer of young people herself, I ask Michaela what stands out to her about a promising applicant. “I like to see that someone has a firm idea of what they are curious to learn, as well as telling me what they bring to the table,” she says. She takes a second to think about this before continuing. “Don’t get me wrong, it’s important to have confidence in your skills, but I like to hire applicants I can help grow, and who want to gain new skills working with me, rather than people who consider themselves the full package already. Because I believe we never stop learning and that’s the attitude I want to see in someone” Michaela explains that the personal value of helping someone grow and develop as an employee is a great part of the work that she does. I’m sure staff at Laika also appreciate that they’re not expected to arrive as a finished product and will eventually leave with new skills and abilities.
But what about very talented people, who have a particularly well honed area of expertise? Well, according to Michaela this could be cause for concern. “Sometimes, people with special abilities can fall into a trap,” she says, “because they end up developing that ability beyond all their other responsibilities.” For example, in her industry, Michaela explains that someone with an amazing knack for content creation could neglect their knowledge of brand strategy. More to the point, “in any industry, everyone wants someone who is a really competent, well-rounded colleague, who can pitch in and help out where needs be. It’s great to feel like you’re working with people who have that agility,” Michaela says. But this point goes even further: “Something that people don’t realise is that specific abilities can basically dip in and out of fashion. If you want true job security, it’s great to become invaluable to your industry without getting trapped in a particular niche. Being open to change and learning new things is the real hidden talent,” she says.
Lastly, Michaela stresses the continuing relevance of the age-old principle of acuity: build good relationships. Michaela suggests this principle might even be grounds for going offline in the post-Covid world: “Y’know it’s always great if you can meet face to face. Even just because it’s a gesture which shows your level of interest and commitment. But generally, it’s just great to build lasting relationships with people, and put in effort to make it clear those relationships are important to you.” She goes on to say that developing good relationships in your career is about genuinely caring about people for their sake, and not thinking about what you can get from them. Maintaining positivity and kindness is a huge advantage professionally, not a weakness, she explains.
For such a drastically changing planet, it’s surprising to me how much of Michaela’s advice could relate to previous generations. It strikes me that, in a certain way, developing a great career runs parallel to growing as an individual. Many of the skills and strategies outlined by Michaela reflect deeper facts about our personalities – we often think about what we can add before what we can learn, we can overspecialize when we find our talents and tastes, and we can sometimes allow our relationships with others to suffer in service of ourselves. For this reason, I think Michaela’s advice might be as helpful to developing personally as it is to developing yourself professionally. All the more reason to take her words seriously.