Lessons in career success

Sentence summary : lessons on career development learnt from conversations with VP, directors, managers and associates.

Yesterday was the last day of my co op (internship) at one of the most amazing firms I have had the pleasure to work for. I remember entering what felt like wonderland 4 months ago, like Alice, sucked into this world, better than one I came from but wildly different. Every corner I turned hosted a surprise. I learned something new and fascinating from everyone I talked to, regardless of the subject matter. I was like a child that got to wake up in the morning and head straight for the playground.

While the perks of being an associate were amazing (as an intern they were pretty great so I can’t imagine what being a permanent employee would be like) the lessons I learnt from talking to people were better. I took every opportunity I could to ask people I looked up to at this firm out for coffee, lunch or just a chat. I would then take this opportunity to pick their brain about the lessons they had learned during their careers. I felt like sherlock Holmes trying to solve a mystery and everyone around me was suddenly a clue. Why this obsession you ask?

I am currently in school pursuing a Masters. I began my MBA journey because I had come to the end of another. I had always wanted to work in a recruitment capacity in order to work with people. I found people fascinating. Recruitment would allow me to deal with the core of humans, namely their motivations, a subject I find insanely fascinating to this day. After school I was lucky to find a recruitment role that I to this day call my first love. This is also where I found my first mentor. My life as a recruiter had turned out exactly how I had imagined and it was time to break up with my first love. While I had been able to work with peoples motivations, as a recruiter I couldn’t help but get caught up in them. I had wanted to watch motivation and understand it like wild life photographers watch peacocks dance in the rain or ostriches bury their head in the sand. I wanted to revel in its beauty. But instead there I was fighting it to the ground, covered in dirt and scratches, week after week. So I applied for business school, got in, and quit recruitment.

The second time around, it was important for me to find a career that would last the honeymoon period. I chose a co op (mandatory 4 month internships) program that would allow me to sample organizations and roles so I could pick the “right” one. So while my first co op placement felt like I hit the jackpot I needed to talk to people to make sure. If I had to leave wonderland for good, I wanted to capture it’s secrets and take them with me in order to build my own organic wonderland .

This led to the conversations I had with some amazing folks these past few months and the gems I picked up in my quest to find the formula for a successful career. I lay these gems out for you on an imaginary silver platter covered in a Navy velvet blue cloth, if you would care to imagine such an extravagant thing.

1. Risk : The days of sticking to one career for life are long gone. Longer that I had thought. I thought the 3 careers and 8 jobs a lifetime was more of a millennial thing but apparently not. People that are successful and content with their lives have chosen to take risks in their careers. While it has set them back a few steps on the corporate ladder they are happier for it. It turned out that at the end of the day it was not about growing vertically but also linearly. One woman after 7 years in her first job out of school clearly identified her weakness to be interpersonal relationships. On a mission to turn her weakness to strength, she found herself quitting a very comfortable and lucrative job to work in a company where she wouldn’t typically fit in. She took this risk solely with the goal of improving as a professional. Turns out the risk was worth it.

2. Love : This is another word for passion. It turns out love is one of the key ingredients for a successful career. I believe without love you have no energy or strength to carry yourself through really tough times. There has to be something at the end of the tunnel that is worth bearing the darkness. Something worth missing your kids birthday party if need be. The importance of love and passion for ones career was a common theme running through all conversations I had with me peers. Many people pointed out that we as a society spend more time at work than home. This makes it important to pursue a career that you are passionate about or life can get really depressing really quickly. I would know. I had been through it. It is also this love that pushes us to perform better and accomplish great things. If you haven’t found it yet you just need to keep looking and refuse to settle. This was again echoed by everyone I talked to. I have taken this advice to heart.

3. Networking : That word makes me want to shoot myself. I mean a bullet has to be less painful than forcing small talk with a stranger right. Those are common sentiments around networking. It’s icky, it’s fake and degrading. But it’s also invaluable. Turns out it’s how most people get new roles these days. It’s the hidden job market available to the brave. Or maybe those with a different perspective on this. That’s what I gathered from my conversations anyway. It’s about having a genuine interest in the person you are approaching and asking questions that matter to both people. Another tip imparted by a very smart and social man was to carry 5 standard questions that would apply to anyone. This way you will never find yourself tongue tied.

4. Attitude: This was a big one for me. We were at the Town hall (semi annual company wide meeting) and I watched as someone got awarded for solving a problem no one expected him to solve. It wasn’t his problem to solve. But the guy did it, as one of my amazing co workers later explained to me over coffee, because when everyone said “Oh that’s been a problem forever, we have come to accept it as a roadblock” this guy said “in sure there is a fix” and he went looking. He eventually found the fix within the firm but he had to learn a while new language (analytics) to figure it out. His curious and positive attitude kept him going.

5. Get out of your head : Avoid analyses paralysis. I leave this one to the end because it’s super important and because it came to me as a present from a mentor at the end of the semester. She said to me “I see you spinning in circles unable to break through. You need to get out of your head and use your body. Try something new every week and see where that takes you. Do something. But get out of your head. You won’t know what you don’t know until you try something. Go out and job shadow, volunteer for a day and explore what path is right for you.”
This scared me silly. I knew that she could see me clearly and that she was right but stepping out of my comfort zone would take living outside my comfort zone. All the time. And she acknowledged that if I wasn’t living outside my comfort zone I wasn’t living.

I guess it’s time to live. And blog about it. Woot! Time to start a new blog 🙂


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