By Ranata Reeder, Co-Chair Emerging Leaders Awards, WWPR 

In this candid Q&A style blog, Mariya Yurukova of Charity Search Group shares the opportunities and challenges faced by women in the job market. After closing over 100 job searches, Mariya shares her top advice for successfully navigating the hiring process, salary negotiation, and understanding the current job market. 

Over the course of the interview, Mariya shares how her background in marketing with a focus in sales, prepared her to run and operate Charity Search Group, a woman led and staffed business focused on supporting mission driven organizations. 

How did your background in PR prepare you to run and operate a business?

I think it’s just like anything else in life, it’s usually not what you are set up to do that ends up being the greatest learning lesson. It’s usually something a little bit more tangential. In my case, I did my MBA with a specialization in marketing. Within marketing, I did lots of different courses. One of the more influential courses was in sales. Whenever you’re in a business, particularly if you’re starting your own business, you have to sell your services or your product. The art of selling and understanding the marketing and public relations aspect of what it looks like is really the core of what a business is. With a service based business as you grow, you realize you really are selling the opportunity for someone to hire you. Then the only way to grow is to hire other people that do the work. So, I would say these principles probably are the most important aspect that set me up to run a business, because the core of any viable business is unique customers.

What are three marketing or sales tips every business owner should know?

The first part is that most people are uncomfortable in the sales space and that’s okay. It doesn’t have to be the favorite part of what you do, but you need to be able to do it. I think anyone should know that. Running a business comes with the territory that you’re going to have to sell the business to someone. If you’re not comfortable and you’re constantly trying to avoid that, you’re never going to grow. That’s one aspect of it. The second piece is oftentimes with marketing in particular, there’s a misconception if I had the budget to spend on advertising clients will come. Then there’s the chicken and the egg scenario of, how do you start out and how do you get clients if you don’t have money for big marketing budgets? The reality is that there’s a lot you can do on your own. You and your personal effort is usually the least expensive way to get clients. I would advise anyone to start there before they think about advertising, or large ticket items in the marketing space. The third piece is you have to be comfortable with rejection and understanding when something is not working and that it’s okay to move on. I think especially for women, we don’t deal very well with rejection. So, we can have a tendency to avoid risky situations where the chance of rejection is relatively high. I think we miss out on opportunities because of that, but I think that’s a part of marketing and a part of sales.

What was the impetus for starting Charity Search Group?

There are a number of things that happened. Charity Search Group is a pandemic baby: it started in 2020, mainly because I had a lot of time on my hands and I was like, well, I might as well start a business because I’m never going to have this much free time. How I ended up in the executive search space and more into my own business was because I was going undergoing fertility treatments, which are very expensive and often not covered by insurance. So, I needed to figure out a side gig that was going to generate a lot of money in order for me to be able to do fertility treatments. That’s how I ended up in executive search. Then in 2020, when everybody stopped hiring, everything slowed down a bit. At that point, I was like, I might as well start my own company.

You’re a woman owned, and mostly woman staffed search firm. How do you feel this leads to a more equitable search process?

There’s the lived experience aspect of it. Because most of our staff has experienced some version of adversity in the workplace, I think we all do what we can to ensure that’s not the case. That’s one way we weave equity into the whole process. The second piece of this is although we’re a woman owned business, everybody is very different, and we benefit from different approaches. It is easier for us to create safe spaces so we’re able to learn from each other a bit more effectively. The third piece and this is really important to me, I consider us in a unique position to advocate for others. The more we flex that muscle, the more we have that. I’ll never forget a search I did a while back where the candidate that was being selected for a role was pregnant. She chose to disclose that as part of the hiring process. The role required 20%-30% travel. The client was like, “well, yes, we would love to hire her, but if we hire her, we need to have some sort of maternity leave very early in her tenure with us.” They went on to say, “and how is she going to travel with the baby?” My response was, “if she were a guy whose wife was pregnant, you wouldn’t be asking me the same questions.” We can say these kinds of things to our clients because that’s how we advocate on behalf of the candidates.

Going into the search process now, what trends do you see impacting women throughout the application, interviewing, and offer negotiation process?

We’re in an interesting time of career transitions. For women, particularly early in their career, I would say a couple of things, which are not saying that these are necessarily right: this is the world we’re in – whether it’s the right place or not. Women who are early in their career need to be seen, need to be championed, and need to advocate for themselves. However, that’s more difficult to do in a remote environment. I find that women tend to gravitate towards remote roles because of flexibility. I’m worried that in the long term, it might not create the same opportunities for advancement later in their career. On the other hand, some of the stuff that’s always been there is still there. For example, even when women are in remote roles, they’re also being penalized for that. It doesn’t happen often, but it does happen where I would hear someone say, “oh, I’m not sure this person is really focused, because they work from home and they have children.” So even though women go into this thinking they’re going to get a lot of flexibility and they probably do, I don’t think that they’re fully aware of the amount of bias that goes in with that.

What would you say to motivate those who are feeling discouraged in the search process?

It depends on why you’re discouraged. Sometimes on the candidate’s side, they get emotionally attached to one job. Employers rarely get emotionally involved with just one candidate—they’re always entertaining additional candidates. Given that, candidates should always be entertaining multiple jobs at the same time. Really wanting one job, obsessing over it, over preparing for it, and imagining yourself there even though you’re not quite there yet can become very emotionally taxing. One thing that’s important for candidates is to zoom out a little bit and take a step back and realize that you should play the field. Keep your options open. That’s one aspect of it.

The other piece is we’re undergoing a tremendous amount of change in the workplace. It’s been at breakneck speed for the last five years. You think about it like going through a pandemic, the emergence of remote work, policies that had to be implemented in the workplace as a result. We just came out of that. Now it’s a question around AI, and the financial instability in the markets. It’s a lot like moving targets. If you find you’re applying for jobs and things are not sticking, it may not be you, it may just be where things are.

The third piece of this is you have to find a way to surround yourself with the people who are going to give you what you want to do in life. You can have anything you want, but you just can’t have everything you want at the same time. You need to figure out a way that if you’re applying for this dream job and you keep not getting interviews, then you’re probably not applying for the right job and you have to figure out how you’re going to get that feedback. For that, it isn’t going to be a numbers game. If I’m not applying for the right jobs, figure out how you want to get that feedback. Otherwise, you’re just in a dark room trying to figure out where the door is.

The other piece of this is, it does not matter what your job title is. It doesn’t matter what company you work with. Your most marketable trait is your up-to-date skill set and your ability to learn new things. You have to keep your skill set up to date. Don’t get overly, I guess, committed to wanting to be called “head of this” of “manager of that.” I think it’s more important that you have all the skills necessary for the job that you want to have long term, rather than just focusing on that one next step. 

What are you observing and what can women candidates do to get the best total compensation package?

You have to really know how competitive you are in the job market. Focus less on comparing yourself to needing to be paid x because the person sitting next to me is getting paid x. I’ve never seen that argument work for anybody. What works is based on the market rate and showing here’s five other jobs at companies comparable to mine compensated at this level, the saying “I believe I’m being under compensated.” That argument works much better. It’s a little bit less emotional and more based on fact.

The second part of this is never, ever, ever disclose your current salary when you apply for a new job, because people will randomly decide what an appropriate jump for you is.

The third thing I’m seeing from candidates, particularly at the senior leadership level, are women are much more willing to include words like “I’m flexible,” “for the right job,” “for the right mission,” or “for the right organization” when they are discussing salary expectations. While men say, “I’m not interested in any job that pays under x.” For women, I would recommend really knowing where your boundaries are, and sticking to that. So long as they’re realistic, of course.

What’s something in terms of a total compensation package that you’ve seen that’s a perk that most people don’t know that they can add?

A wellness stipend. I think people also underestimate a signing bonus as an opportunity to get cash ahead of time, especially if you’re coming from another role. 

Is there anything else you would like to share about yourself, or a couple of things that women should be aware of in the current job market?

When it comes to negotiating salaries, I see a lot of people focus on the salary number. What I don’t see is a lot of people negotiating really important things like time off, professional development and growth opportunities. I think that is equally important and it will pay out dividends long term. When I think about what helped me grow in my career and get me to where I needed to be, it was access to conferences, additional education and professional development. That, I think, is equally important to salary. Sometimes people think that this is how every organization operates, but I would suggest having it in writing in your offer letter that you’re going to get $2,500 a year to go to conferences or whatever is important to you. That keeps you current with the market trends and makes you more competitive for any job.

My last piece of advice for anybody in this space is that you have to be kind to yourself and realize your worth. There isn’t a validation bureau out there, it doesn’t matter what you do or what you achieve. Nobody actually wakes up one day and says “today, you’re worth this.” I think it’s really important that you realize your worth—whatever that looks like for you, but you have to find that within yourself. There’s never going to be a boss that’s going to validate that for you, an external organization, or anybody else. You have to do that within.

About Mariya Yurukova

Mariya Yurukova is President and CEO of Charity Search Group. As an executive recruiter, Mariya is dedicated to identifying the best fit for organizations of all sizes and candidates with varying levels of skill and experience. With a deep understanding of non-profit management, Mariya collaborates closely with boards and hiring managers to identify the most suitable candidates for success. Having developed an extensive network of professionals across North America, Mariya takes the time to get to know each candidate and their career aspirations to ensure the best possible cultural fit. Mariya has worked with a broad range of organizations looking to transition leadership, with a particular focus on small and medium sized nonprofits. 

Mariya’s educational background includes a B.A. in Psychology and an MBA with a concentration in Marketing, both obtained from Brock University. Additionally, she holds a Certified Fundraising Executive designation and is an active member of AFP, CCAE, and CASE. Mariya enjoys presenting at conferences and mentoring fundraisers as part of their ongoing commitment to the fundraising profession. Her speaking engagements and publications include: Currents Magazine, Foundations Magazine, Advancing Philanthropy, Hilborn Publications, and many more.