What do MBA students need to know in order to achieve career success? This is the question I asked myself before presenting to students at Georgetown University's McDonough School of Business as part of their 2010-2011 MBA Leaders Series.
I decided to condense 20+ years of experience in International Finance into 7 Super Shortcuts to Career Success. These are the tips they do not teach you in business school:
1.Speak up – this is in fact the best career advice I ever received. It sounds very strange to people who know me, but in my early 20's I was definitely more reserved, shy even. I was not aware that this was how I was perceived (and perception is everything!) Until I had asked an experienced consultant at the firm I was working for whatever he could write me a recommendation for graduate school. His recommendation letter was flattering, but what served me the most was his personal insight.
2. Network – I grow up in business before the internet, LinkedIn, Facebook etc. (I can not believe I'm that old either!). I learned that networking was absolutely the best way to find a job and that it was a two-way street. What do you have to offer an older, more experienced professional in a networking situation? First and foremost you make them look good when they refer you to a colleague. They are confident you are effective at what you do and that you will deliver results. Also remember that networking is about developing relationships. Let someone get to know you and vice versa. Do informational interviewing if you're looking for a job – ie talk to others about what they do, what they like and dislike about their role. Your interests and plans are bound to come up in a non-threatening, natural way within the conversation.
3. Invest in yourself – this not only means educating yourself through seminars and courses, but it also means going after opportunities in your current job which will stretch and challenge you. Investing in yourself includes taking care of yourself physically and mentally – exercise, healthy eating and interests outside of work. What does this have to do with a successful career? Keeping yourself healthy will allow you to withstand the pressures of business and enable you to maintain a positive, can-do attitude. During one of my daughter's rotations in medical school the teaching doctor asked the medical students to be at the hospital by 7am. She called me to tell me how ridiculous this was, how students do not get up at that hour etc. I just listened (for about 10 minutes). I then said, "Sarah, do not ever pass up the opportunity to learn something. This doctor seems dedicated to teaching. I recommend being there at 6.45am."
4. Start saving now – it's never too early. The earlier you learn the discipline of sticking to a budget and putting money as the better. Again, what does this have to do with career advice? Is not this personal financial planning? Starting to save now will put you in a position of freedom later – freedom to change jobs / careers, freedom to express your views without fear of being fired. In today's fast-moving global economy restructurings are now the norm so be prepared to be flexible. Having savings will make the work environment less stressful and could provide the launch pad to a new career or degree.
5.Take control of your own career – no one is going to look after you. You have to look after yourself. Think about what makes sense for you according to your own goals, time frames and personal situation. Do not forget that the human resource department represents the first, you second.
6. Do not leave before you leave – this refers specifically to men and women who have young families or are thinking about having families. Sometimes we choose to take on less challenging positions because we have concerns about how we'll be able to handle it. (Studies show that this is more prevalent in females than males, sorry Ladies). This can be a dangerous strategy as it can lead to lower job satisfaction, and you've taken yourself out of the game without even trying. Focus on getting the right partner who will support the whole you. The rest will work itself out.
7. Do the right thing – in an environment that focuses on short-term results, there can be a tension to brush away the "right" thing to do. What's the best thing for the client, the employees, and the community we live in? A savvy capitalist takes all of these aspects into consideration as it will absolutely lead to a sustainable business. One benefit of having a family is that it promises to keep you straight. Personally I have found that having kids has really helped me focus on making the right choices. What would I expect my own kids to do in this situation? How would I expect them to be? Do not I have to live up to the same standard I set them?
So there you have it! 20+ years of experience in 7 concise bullet points! Enjoy the ride.