Mon, 09 Apr 2018 10:47:20 GMT
This is chapter 4 of a 6-part series called A Handbook for the Next Generation of Ambitious Female Leaders. The series is based on 18 interviews from top women and aims to empower young women in the transition from university to their first full-time workplace. Read the intro to this project here. Chapter one here. Chapter two here. Chapter three here.
It may be hard to believe, but even the people you admire the most right now for their smarts and professional success started somewhere. They have been in your shoes. The women I spoke to as part of this project took me back in time to when they started their careers, sharing with me that they were incredibly anxious to start working somewhere other than the local bar.
Once you’ve landed your first job, it’s only natural that you want to exceed everyone’s expectations of you. This whole project started as I was on a mission to get together as many pieces of advice on how to make the most of my beginning career. Naturally then, I asked the women I interviewed what their best and broadest nuggets of wisdom would be for the next generation of women entering the workplace.
The insights below have been categorised in three sections, somewhat intertwined: the mentality to develop, the traits and skills to hone, and the behaviour to exhibit. Prepare for an information overload.
To start, what came up repeatedly and what to me is a good mantra to live by, is the following: Be that person people love working with.
The women involved in this project couldn’t be more different. But there was a certain mental pattern that I noticed, and that many of them verbalised.
First of all, early in your career, it’s easy to get caught up in the many distractions that come your way. Be purpose driven and stay focused. Go to sleep every night knowing you were your best self and that you dealt with every situation graciously so you can be proud of yourself. Make decisions consciously and own them. Shuffle away your ego and stay honest and humble.
“The better I feel the more productive and effective I can be” — Amy Wanke
On that note, it’s also important to keep perspective. Some women noted that 'it’s only work'.
Self-care remains incredibly important and, perhaps unsurprisingly, your personal well-being affects your work. Whether it’s cooking, running, yoga, ceramics, being around friends and family, reading, or even devouring chocolate, all women mentioned pass-times they did only for their own, personal pleasure. Make sure you take time for the things that allow you to recharge.
Young people tend to assume that in order to stand out in the workplace, they need to work more hours than anyone else: come in earlier and leave later. The Women disagree slightly. They suggest that, although hard work definitely shouldn’t be underestimated, it’s not about doing more necessarily. It’s about doing better. Overtime doesn’t make you a better employee. Work smart and be productive.
The Traits & Skills
Soft skills are increasingly being recognised as just that: skills. In their pieces of advice, the women almost unanimously spoke about the importance of honing skills and traits like kindness, bravery, curiosity and a sense of humour. Practice being persistent and to keep pushing forward. Ideas don’t fail, people give up.
Be bold, but don’t get arrogant.
Learn to be comfortable with yourself, as well as with the uncomfortable. Enter a room by yourself and own the space. Surround yourself with people way smarter than you so you initially feel legitimately small - it’s the best thing you can do for your learning curve.
Work hard to get some critical introspection going and learn to detect your own biased judgements and behaviours. Always stay reflective.
And finally, have the courage to be sacredly unapologetic.
“The pie is big enough for us all” — Maartje Blijleven
Every single woman strongly advised the younger generation to speak up. Open your mouth during meetings. Putting it bluntly: you will not get what you don’t ask for. Don’t rely on people guessing. Or wait for them to notice and proactively give you what you think you deserve. Speak. Up.
If you have something to say, share your thoughts and your ideas all day. And if you don’t (yet), read, listen, ask questions, travel and explore so you’ll have something to say the next day.
Another important point many women agreed on was to be assertive. It helps your self-esteem. Keeping yourself in the background and remaining silent creates more insecurity and hopelessness.
When it comes to your behaviour towards your coworkers, be inclusive. Welcome everyone, invite people along. The pie is big enough for us all, so let’s graciously help each other become our best selves.
Finally, one of my favourite pieces of advice: take charge of your career. Don’t wait for someone to show you the way. Don’t wait to be promoted to start doing a better job. Don’t wait for a mentor to mentor you. Don’t wait; just do. And while you’re at it, dare to ask others for advice, help and their opinion.
And When Insecurities Strike...
When you find yourself feeling especially low and insecure, be the person that tells yourself you can do more than you ever imagined. There are more than enough obstacles along the way that try and get you off your game, so you don’t need the constant hum from that little voice inside your head. Be your own biggest champion.
As we all know, sometimes, things don’t work out the way you intend them to. Avoid dwelling on what could have been and instead focus on the exciting things that are happening and keep a sharp eye out for new opportunities. They’re never too far away.
Remember that your employer is not expecting you to get it right every single time. Let’s get real for a second: you’re a junior, after all. They hired you because they simply believe you have a better chance of getting it right more often than others they could have hired.
Finally, what’s often under-appreciated in the workplace is kindness - to others but also (and maybe especially) to yourself. And, it’s often only in retrospect that you can see how everything in your career makes sense. Trust the process and let yourself be guided by your heart and by your gut. They got you.
Charlotte Rubesa is Strategy Trainee at 72andSunny Amsterdam