Jerry’s Winding Path
Jerry Lee and I met a few years ago at a networking event for a group of people selected as Generation Z influencers by LinkedIn. (Humblebrag!) I was curious to learn more about him because of the time he spends improving the experiences of others in pursuit of better work. Jerry, 27, lives in New York City and holds a BA in Business Management. He is the Co-Founder of Wonsulting Inc
In two-three sentences how would you describe what you do most days/weeks?
On most days, I spend my time in two areas: building the next generation of job search solutions, such as ResumAI and NetworkAI, at Wonsulting, and creating career related content on Instagram, TikTok, and LinkedIn. Three days a week, I have meetings with my team, partners, clients, and users. The other two days, I dedicate time to pushing out projects and putting together plans for my teams.
What did you want to be when you were eight?
When I was 8, I wanted to be a professional gamer, way before Twitch.TV was a platform. I had a big passion for games because of the never-ending learning curve on how you can become better. Surprisingly, I started playing “StarCraft” when I was in kindergarten and later became deeply involved in the “Defense of the Ancients” (DotA) and “Super Smash Bros.” Melee communities.
What did you learn about work that you learned from your family?
Growing up in a low-income, first-generation household, I was able to witness firsthand the hard work and determination of my parents as they worked to provide for my brother and me while also navigating the challenges of being new immigrants in the United States. As the first in my family tree to move outside of South Korea, I was inspired by their resilience and drive to succeed. For example, I remember waking up at 11 p.m. hearing my parents plan how to pay rent every month. And no matter how hard it was – my dad always said “We have to do this for John (my brother) and Jerry.” And that’s what I learned – the willingness to figure anything out.
What professional experiences/employers had the greatest impact on you?
When I was at Google, I had a manager, Ankit, who truly changed the way I think and approach problems. He came from a diverse background in consulting, tech, and startups, and when he joined Google, it was during a chaotic time. I was just 24 years old and the only person on our strategy team supporting one of the fastest-growing business units at the company. But instead of leaving me to sink or swim, he took me under his wing and taught me everything I know now.
He showed me how to ask the right questions, understand what data I need to look at, and even how to have an executive presence. He was always there to guide me and answer my questions, even when things were hectic. I don't think I would have been able to navigate that time without him. He was truly a mentor, and I am grateful for everything he taught me.
Why did you pivot?
After a few years at Google, working in strategy and operations, I realized that while I had become quite good at my job, I didn't want to be in a role where I spent all my time taking my craft from 90% mastery to 100% mastery. I wanted to be in a role where I was constantly challenged, where I could never be too comfortable, and where I would always be pushing myself to learn and grow. I wanted to be in a role where I was constantly learning and growing, never feeling too comfortable, and always pushing myself to be better.
I realized that I needed a new challenge, something that would push me out of my comfort zone and help me to continue to develop my skills. So, I left Google to ultimately pursue entrepreneurship.
What skills were portable from what you had been doing previously and what was brand new to you?
The most transferable skill from my previous roles is project management because I had to manage so many projects and cross-functional partners at role at Google. In my work at Wonsulting, I often have to switch between operations, sales, marketing, customer service, product management, content creation, and engineering simultaneously. Therefore, the project management skills come in handy when I have to bounce between projects but also make sure I equip teams to push them to the finish line. It is crucial for me to identify the most important priorities and focus my efforts on them.
What was the hardest part about making a career pivot?
The hardest part about making a career pivot for me was the financial aspect. Being from a low-income background, it was difficult to accept a significant pay cut of 60%. However, at the time, I prioritized career growth and learning opportunities over a higher salary. Despite the financial sacrifice, it was a decision I knew would ultimately be worth it in the long run.
What were the most important lessons you’ve picked up along the way?
During my professional journey, I have come to realize that success and access to opportunities are not solely determined by attending prestigious schools or working for well-known companies. My own experience at Babson College, where there was no prior record of an undergraduate business intern at Google from my school, taught me that it's crucial to not limit yourself based on societal norms or expectations. I took the chance to apply and found that my perceived lack of experience was exactly what recruiters were looking for. This important lesson has taught me that it's crucial to not deny yourself the opportunity to pursue your dream company. Because it only takes one yes for your career to change.
What would you say to others who are doubting their ability to make a change in their career/vocation?
If someone is doubting their ability to make a change in their career or vocation, I would tell them that it's normal to have doubts and concerns. However, it's important to prioritize what is most important to them in a career. Everyone wants the perfect job, but it's rare that those opportunities come along. So, it's important to decide what the most important variable is for you and optimize for that. For example, if pay is the most important factor, it's okay to prioritize that and potentially make trade-offs in other areas. But if flexibility is most important, it may be worth taking a pay cut. Ultimately, we all have to make trade-offs in our career choices and it's important to know what is most important to us.
For me – I optimized for my career learnings and passions.
Where did you get the confidence and support to make such a change?
The confidence and support to make such a change came from my mentors. They encouraged me to take the risk and reminded me that even if things didn't work out, I would still have an impressive resume line item that would make me more marketable in the long term. They also helped me to see that the best-case scenario was that I would be able to work in a field that I was passionate about and wanted to make a difference in. Their support and guidance helped me to see that the potential benefits of making a career change outweighed the potential risks, and that gave me the confidence to take the leap.
What was the hardest thing you had to overcome in your professional life?
Growing up as an Asian American, I faced a lot of external pressure from my parents to prioritize money and success in a traditional sense. This was especially true when I was in college and was expected to pursue opportunities with the most prestigious companies. However, after working for a high paying job at Google, I realized that societal norms and expectations didn't align with my own personal values. Balancing these pressures was definitely hard. It took a lot of self-reflection and soul-searching to understand my own goals and aspirations, and ultimately make the decision to leave my job and pursue a path that aligned with my values – helping those who come from non-traditional background get into their dream jobs.
What is something about your career journey that people might not expect?
I left a job that was paying me $200,000 annually at the age of 24. Growing up in a low-income, first-generation household, I could not imagine myself earning that level of income at a young age, but also leaving it to pursue my passions.
What, if anything, are you hoping happens next in your professional life?
In my professional life, I hope to make a meaningful impact on the way people from non-traditional backgrounds access job opportunities. Specifically, I hope to shift the traditional barriers to job search, such as access to resources and knowledge of best practices, so that the best candidates are able to land the jobs they want, regardless of their background or socioeconomic status. I also hope to standardize these best practices across the world, making the job search process more fair and equitable for all candidates. Additionally, I hope that my work can help to level the playing field in the recruiting game, so that job seekers are evaluated based on their qualifications and skills, rather than their connections or background.
What social media links, if any, might you like to share in the piece?
LinkedIn - https://www.linkedin.com/in/jehakjerrylee/
Instagram - https://www.instagram.com/jerryjhlee/
Twitter - https://twitter.com/JerryJHLee