Corporate America is so much more than numbers, revenue, profits and earnings. When you get down to the nitty-gritty of it, there are underlying principles (protocols and pecking orders) that must be navigated, but you won’t find it discussed in any college lecture hall or part of any new employee orientation program.
So, when I was recently asked to write a letter of advice to my niece who recently graduated with honors (Go Katie!) from high school, it left me reflecting on guidance I never received as I entered the working world, but wished that I had.
Today, I want to share with you some points from that letter, which I believe you’ll find helpful, or at least interesting. It’s intended for those who are currently in the corporate world, have or know kids making their way into this often cold cruel world or anyone who has questions about building a successful career.
- Connect: Introduce yourself, shake hands and network. Every time you meet someone, there is always the potential to build a productive working relationship. The old adage is still true – It’s more about who you know than what you know.
Many companies may have the added benefit of Employee Resource Groups available; ERG’s are groups of employees who join together in their workplace based on shared characteristics, life experiences, interests or causes. Having a shared interest with a group of people will help you to become acquainted with other employee’s in a networking environment. Remember: There’s strength in numbers, especially numbers with a common purpose.
These days, networking is key and it’s easier than ever thanks to our social connections on sites like LinkedIn and Twitter. Here you can build your own personal brand as you work to expand your network. Remember, your network is your net worth!
Every trade or industry has large organizations that offer networking events for you to take advantage of. Community, volunteer groups and alumni organizations are also great resources, especially if you’re moving to a new city right out of college.
It’s also important that you know how to properly give a handshake. Research has been able to show that there is a direct correlation between the type of handshake given and the first impression made based off the handshake. Essentially, your handshake reflects personality characteristics.
The proof is in the pudding.
For example, William F. Caplin, a psychologist at the University of Alabama, did a study on the dynamics of a handshake and found that through the seemingly simple act, people can learn whether or not you are “shy” or “open,” and whether you are “anxious” or “outgoing.”
- Appreciate differences and focus on similarities: Through gathering diverse opinions, you always get to the best answers. It is rare that the right solutions are always found inside our own head. By understanding and exploring a variety of approaches and perspectives we expand our own thinking and enhance outcomes.
In the workplace there are two kinds of diversity: inherent and acquired. Inherent diversity involves traits one is born with, gender, ethnicity and sexual orientation, where as acquired diversity is based on traits garnered from experiences and environment, such as working in another country. For a company to exhibit what is referred to as two-dimensional diversity the leaders must exhibit at least three inherent and three acquired diversity traits.
Two-dimensional diversity unlocks innovation by creating an environment where “outside the box” ideas are heard. When minorities form a critical mass and leaders value differences, all employees can find senior people to go to bat for compelling ideas and can persuade those in charge of budgets to deploy resources to develop those ideas. (Harvard Business Review)
- Your first job won’t be your last: You’ll do many things and have many jobs in your career. Remember, though, it’s not about finding the job of a lifetime, but a lifetime of jobs. Learn and grow from each experience.
Knowledge is portable — you can take it with you! The skills you acquire at your first job can help you land your second and you can keep building from there. The information you soak up and retain will work to serve you better as you work towards a promotion at your job or a fresh start at a new company.
Over time, the business model has progressed from a standardized “T” form, a deep and intense knowledge on a very specific discipline, to that of Pi (Π). With the Pi formation, you have advanced knowledge on more than one area, such as marketing and call centers. This deep but much broader knowledge stands to make you more valuable to a company. It helps to identify and close organizational gaps in processes and technology among others. It helps to ensure a more holistic view and avoid the siloed thinking so prevalent in corporate organizations.
Also, realize, the days of working for a company for 20+ years has contracted into an average tenure of five years. This means you must be prepared to move on to learn a new part of business, or maybe a completely different industry. As you make changes, focus on adapting and learning quickly with the understanding that you are increasing your value as you go. Even the opportunity for a lateral role change within your company is the opportunity to increase your knowledge and understanding of a new function. Say making the move from Director of Sales, to Director of Operations, while the title and pay remain the same, you’re developing a new focus and continuing to make yourself valuable to the company.
- Don’t just lean in, leap in: Raise your hand, take risks, and remember there is no such thing as a stupid question. Without the risk, you’ll never see the reward. Do you want to grow in the company faster? Raise your hand and volunteer to take on more responsibility and leadership.
Don’t be afraid, dive in to learn the essentials about the business. Read the annual report, listen to the analyst calls, attend employee meetings and ask thoughtful questions of the senior level presenters, watch your company’s stock and add the company (and its competitors) to your google alerts. This will only serve to make you more valuable and your understanding of how all aspects of business are connected will begin to grow and pay dividends. It’s this knowledge that will give you the perspective to add value and move about the company if you so choose.
- Travel: The world is shrinking, but often understanding is lacking. Appreciate the rich diversity of this planet. Understanding the perspectives of others and the impacts of actions always gets you to the best answer. (see #2)
Be a student of the larger world, cultures, language, geographies, politics, economies – think about a world where the only boundaries are the ones you create in your own head. Find a company that will allow you the opportunity to gain experience through travel. Often it is the entry-level position that travels the most. Enjoy this opportunity while you have the freedom.
- Mentors and Sponsors – Get one, be one: When you’re starting out your career, it is important to find someone that can guide you to better understand the industry that you’re in, help you grow into your company role and navigate the organization. Create mentor and sponsorship opportunities, never forgetting to be one to someone else when given an opportunity. Mentors advise, sponsors act.
A mentor can answer the questions you don’t know the answers to yet and lead you in the right direction towards career success. Additionally, the best way to learn is through teaching others. To be mentored and then become a mentor will only enhance your workability and make you a more valuable team member. Knowledge is only powerful if it’s shared.
A sponsor is more vested than a mentor. They represent “your brand” when you aren’t there. They advocate, promote and connect you to others as opportunities arise using some of their hard-earned capital in the process.
These six points drive home the overall themes of communication, awareness transparency and inclusion — all things needed in the current state of business to keep a company thriving and keep yourself on the success track.
Have a plan. Know what to look for in a company before you commit to becoming an employee and knowing how you want to grow within a company will lead to many successes in your long career. I believe these points above can act as a road map to enhancing an existing career or as a gateway to those just starting their journey.
I now want to put this out to all of you!
What was the best advice you received, or maybe something you wish you would have known, when you started on your career path?