Michael Leopold is an NYC-based college consultant, career coach, and public speaker. He is the founder and president of Leopold Talent Consulting, a people-focused consulting firm offering college and career planning services to individuals and HR services to organizations.
Before launching his business, Michael held corporate HR and consulting roles at Xerox, Two Sigma Investments, and Mercer. He has also served as an alumnus interviewer for Yale admissions.
Outside of work, he is an active mentor and advocates for neurodivergent students and professionals. Michael holds a B.S. in Cognitive Science from Yale University and an M.S. in Human Capital Management from Columbia University.
For more details, visit his business website here.
Here we sit down with Michael to learn a bit more about his journey as a career coach.
Q. Tell us a little more about your journey as an entrepreneur – how did you get started? What inspired you?
Michael: My business started organically 10 years ago as a side gig while I studied and worked. At first, I was helping friends and family with college admissions, salary negotiation, and resume edits. It wasn’t until last fall that I decided to go bigger and turn it into a business.
I have a Bachelor of Science degree in Cognitive Science from Yale University and a Masters in HR from Columbia University. I’ve always been interested in psychology applied to business, and I’ve always loved coaching others.
For me, this business began as a way to help people advance in their ambitions by helping them find college programs aligned with their interests, land jobs that motivated them and enabled them to thrive, and coached them to succeed academically and professionally. There is a lot of information on college and career planning, but not enough resources connecting people to it when needed.
Q. What are your long-term goals in business? Paint a vision for the future
Michael: My long-term goal is to become a recognized expert and thought leader in college and career planning. I’m passionate about working one-on-one with clients to coach them in their unique situations and doing public speaking at universities and organizations. The work I do is intrinsically meaningful to me, and I aim to build a packed schedule doing what I love.
Q. What motivates you?
Michael: I am motivated by the success of my clients. I love seeing students’ faces light up when they realize that their interests and skills can translate into a real job that will bring them money, success, and fulfillment. I especially love working with underdogs and people from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Overall, I enjoy helping people thrive and become the best version of themselves. The world of college and career planning can be complicated and ambiguous, and I love helping people navigate through it to find a rewarding and meaningful path toward their dreams.
Q. What business-related book has inspired you the most, or, what is your favourite book?
Michael: One of my all-time favorite books is Nudge by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein. As an undergrad, I focused on behavioural economics and I’ve always been interested in how people make decisions, specifically when there’s risk, uncertainty, and ambiguity involved. This is an interest I bring to my business.
The book Nudge talks about the many areas in life where people don’t act rationally, making choices out of line with what decision scientists and economists would predict. There are ways we can better navigate complex decisions and make wiser choices. One of my mentors gifted me the book when I graduated from high school. He said it shaped the way he sees the world. Based on my interests, he thought I would like it, and I really did.
The things I’ve learned from this book translate into the work I do. Given the complexities of college and career planning, I help people navigate the uncertainties without compromising their values. This enables them to make better choices that lead to both financial success and happiness. In my work as an HR consultant, I help organizations better motivate, engage, and reward their employees.
Q. What strategies do you use to optimize your performance or mindset?
Michael: There are a few things. For starters, I take a lot of walks during the day. I find that it helps me re-energize my brain and think through complicated problems. Oftentimes, when I get back to my desk, I either have a solution or I’ve made progress toward finding it.
Taking breaks from work to walk and get some fresh air helps me feel rejuvenated and discover new perspectives. I also take breaks to exercise throughout the day and do a few push-ups and sit-ups. That’s another way to release some endorphins.
Another thing I do is surround myself with motivated people who are also energized and ambitious. I find it very inspiring! Additionally, I have some quotes and mantras that I turn to when I need a little boost. They help keep me engaged and excited about work. When I’m having a tough day, I also look at reviews or things clients have said to remember my mission and keep myself focused on the purpose of my work.
Q. What is one of the best or most worthwhile investments or risks you’ve ever made?
Michael: I grew up in a small town in Indiana, surrounded by cornfields. After undergrad, I took a big risk and moved to New York City. I was the only one from my close friend group who moved there, so I was on my own. It was an investment, a risk, and an opportunity to have new experiences.
Though it was scary, I’m really glad I did it because I met some of my best friends in this city and really incredible, ambitious, and talented people. Additionally, it’s a challenging city and I’ve grown stronger because of it. The experience taught me that you have to take risks if you want to excel in life. Getting out of your comfort zone is a muscle that you can exercise, so you have to start doing that.
Q. Where do you see the future in your niche/industry 3-5 years from now?
Michael: When it comes to college admissions consulting, I see it continuing on the trajectory it’s on. The industry will get more saturated because an increasing number of students rely on consultants and coaches for college applications, especially post pandemic. Additionally, the field is getting more specialized and the industry is becoming a lot more nuanced because there are college admission consultants that specialise in specific types of colleges and candidates, so everyone can get guidance tailored to their situation.
When it comes to career coaching, I see us making greater use of data for services like salary negotiation and matching people’s interests, values, and skills. There’s an increasing number of apps and tools that automate a lot of this work. New laws that require companies to publicly disclose salary ranges will also drive changes. I think we will be seeing more freelance career coaches, especially on social media, who offer their skills to the public.
On the one hand, I would say that the industry is becoming more accessible thanks to social media and increasing awareness. On the other hand, it is also becoming more unfair. Especially on the college admissions side, prices are getting steep and more people are hiring private consultants who exaggerate accomplishments, write essays for their clients, and have other practices I don’t agree with. I hope that in the next 3 to 5 years, the industry becomes more ethical and we see fewer of these behaviors.
Q. What is your ‘one-sentence’ piece of advice you’d like to give to someone who wants to become an entrepreneur, coach, or business owner?
Michael: Get started today doing something for your career or business, no matter how small or insignificant it may seem. That is the most important step. Entrepreneurship poses a lot of challenges. It’s not just about doing what you love. You also have to tackle things like marketing, setting up finances, creating a website, managing a budget, hiring staff, and staying on top of legality and compliance.
It can get overwhelming and daunting, so it’s important to build your business one brick at a time. The beginning can be slow, but you’ll grow a lot from there as long as you keep working on it.
To keep up to date with Michael and his journey, connect with him on LinkedIn.