When I started working in the workforce full-time I had a mix of feelings. On one hand, I wanted to show my company how much value I could add and that I was confident. On the other hand, I started out in the financial industry and I knew I had a lot to learn.
Here are some tips I would have recommended to my younger self and recommend to other women starting their careers.
1. Be confident anyway.
When I started my first job I was always early and reliable. I thought I was doing my job well. However, trying to be the best employee will make some people uncomfortable and I endured a lot of intimidation to the point where my boss had to step in and defend me after seeing the issue for himself. I treated everyone the same and in some occasions senior managers would notice me. In many ways I was naive and I quickly found myself closing up and having a target on my back. I became an introvert, which is the complete opposite of my personality—anyone who knows me can attest to that. I knew that I was no longer in the right place and needed to keep moving. Despite everything, I learned to not let others have any power over your thoughts—be confident anyway. Don't worry about being overconfident...no one really tells guys that and if you're truly authentic and humble, those characteristics will show through. Confidence is the first step in tackling some of the steps I propose in this post.
2. Find a sponsor or two.
I've later learned the difference between a mentor and a sponsor. It's pretty easy to find a mentor, someone who will give you advice and maybe connect you to a friend or fellow employee. Mentors are important and are a great resource when you need to talk. Sponsors are people at work that will put their neck on the line for you, that have unrelenting loyalty to you, they believe in you and that want to see you succeed.
Sponsors are the people that will be instrumental when you're advocating for a promotion. When starting any new job, try your hardest to find and approach a prospective sponsor because your career depends on it. You can start by asking someone to coffee, tea or lunch.
3. Save or document all of your work projects.
This was an exercise I started doing when I decided to apply to business school, but I have also found that it's helped me pick and choose my resume content for jobs as well. As we all have more and more jobs over time, it's also nice to just look back on all of the great work you've done. When you are in a challenging situation, checking your accomplishments list will give you much needed motivation. You can document your work projects on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. You don't need to focus on the minor details—even just project titles would work.
4. Learn to advocate for yourself.
Keeping your head down and hoping you'll get noticed doesn't really work, or at least for the many professionals I've talked to over the course of my career thus far. At the end of the day, it's your life and you're the only one that has to deal with consequences. Ensure that you are comfortable with what you are getting paid, your position in your company, and your career trajectory. Show your company how you add value and how your contributions have either saved money or generated revenue. If your company listens to you, great. If your company doesn't listen to you, start looking for a new job because you don't want to waste time in a place where you're not valued. Still, usually advocating for yourself gets you positive results.
5. Never give up.
At times, it may seem like your work and your efforts aren't paying off. You're hoping to meet that one director on the train who is going to give you your big break. Yet, it seems like that day will never come. Keep going. Everything you're going through will make you stronger and are stepping stones helping you reach your potential. There were so many times I wanted to quit everything—my job, my community service projects, etc.—but with friends and family, I pushed through. I can tell you that everything you're trying to do will pay off sooner than you think...as long as you don't give up.
There's a lot more to share, but until next time...
Keep your faith, keep working hard, and NEVER GIVE UP!