Everyone’s path to career success is different, but some pearls of career advancement wisdom can transcend boundaries and lead to “aha” moments that can bring about life-changing results.
Female executives Taryn Owen — president at PeopleScout — and Angela Hills — executive vice president and managing director, North America at Cielo — spoke during a panel discussion about their own paths to professional success. The panel discussion was moderated by Andrea Wagner, director of CareerBuilder’s Staffing & Recruiting Group, and took place during CareerBuilder’s eighth annual Staffing and Recruiting Executive Summit, held in Chicago earlier this month.
From the discussion, we gleaned the following for anyone seeking simple yet insightful career advancement tips to take their career to the next level.
1) Take advantage of professional development opportunities whenever possible.
Regardless of where you are in your professional journey or what rung of the career ladder you’re on, it’s good to have an “always learn and grow” mindset.
Owen, for instance, just completed a professional leadership development program at Harvard Business School. Meanwhile, Hills completed her MBA at Kellogg a few years ago while working full-time and pregnant with her first child. (So much for trying to come up with excuses, right?)
Consider taking up learning programs or courses in your field of interest to ensure you’re keeping your skill set up to date and staying on top of trends outside of the four walls of your organization.
“Doing a formal education experience while working was phenomenal because every day I would learn and get the connect point between what I was learning from the classes in the evening and what I was doing during the day,” Hills says.
2) Don’t be afraid to try new challenges that stretch you — even if you don’t think you’re fully qualified.
There will be multiple occasions over the course of your life when your natural inclination might be to say “Who me?” or “Are you sure you want ME to do that?” or “But I’ve never done that before.” But don’t be afraid to embrace it if it’s the right kind of opportunity and take on the challenge head on, Hills says. After all, we have all been brave enough to try new things for the first time that we haven’t done before — so why should it be any different when it comes to professional development?
Hills remembers asking her CEO before she joined the company: “’Are you sure you want someone who hasn’t been a recruiter in a really long time to run your recruiting business?’ [The CEO] said, ‘Absolutely, I want you to run it because you bring some skills that we don’t have and you have a lot of other [strengths] and we need to complement that.'”
Just because the next step is scary doesn’t mean you’re not ready for it — in fact, it’s probably quite the opposite, if you see it from Hills’ perspective.
“If I’m not a little bit nervous inside [or] a little bit freaked out, I’ve probably waited too long and I’m not challenging myself enough,” she says.
3) Pinpoint your weaknesses and work on them intentionally.
This is a particularly hard one for many of us because we’d probably rather skip over our weaknesses and focus on developing our strengths. However, making a proactive effort to identify our weaknesses — or at least what WE perceive to be our weaknesses — can be incredibly beneficial and impactful to us not only professionally but also personally.
Owen, for example, used to be terrified of speaking in public, to the point where she might even be physically ill before going in front of a crowd. But her perceived weakness — public speaking — was actually something that others around her saw as a strength. That’s why she decided to take her own advice and confront her fears by taking the stage in front of a large audience as part of her course at Harvard Business School, after being nominated to speak by her peers. She says the feeling of accomplishment she felt after doing this made it one of the most impactful experiences of her life.
“Try to stay fearless and stay out of your own way,” she says. “Pursue the path that you want to pursue and do it with confidence and without fear.”
4) Don’t be afraid of making mistakes — it’s all part of the process.
Do you have to recover from your mistakes? Absolutely. Do you have to recover from them at a faster pace the higher you move up the ladder? Without a doubt. But part of the journey of being successful is making mistakes and facing failures along the way.
Take, for instance, when Owen once made a mistake back in the day that cost the company $25,000. She went up to her boss to ask if she was fired, and get this — her boss said: “Are you kidding? I just spent $25,000 to train you!” That’s such a different perspective than you’d expect. And that’s the perspective Owen says she has learned to have.
As Hills put it: “How long do you sit there and relive it over and over again if you’ve made a mistake? You come back around, and there are then insights that drive different behaviors.” What’s important is to figure out how to make it OK to make mistakes and learn from them.
“What did you learn from that? What would you do differently the next time? What would you do the same if you had the chance to do it again?” Hills says that by getting in the habit of asking yourself and others around you these questions, you can start to change the common notion that mistakes are always a bad thing.
5) Don’t think how you can be a great FEMALE leader; think how you can be a great leader.
Too often we inadvertently put ourselves in certain boxes, and it’s time to think outside of the box.
For example, Hills says that some of us worry about how to be a great female leader. And while it’s good to think about that sometimes, she says it’s also important to keep something else in mind.
“Be a leader first and don’t worry about the gender piece of the puzzle. I think that’s what we all hope for in business — that we’re not recognized as a strong female leader, but just as the best out there in whatever field we’ve chosen to partake in. …At the end of the day, if you focus less on the fact that you happen to be a particular gender and more on the relevance of ‘What does it take to be great in my [profession]?’ you’ll get there,” she says.
And that isn’t just sound advice for female executives. It could be “African-American” or “individual with disabilities” or whatever else you find yourself saying. So try inserting your word in the blank: “Don’t think how you can be a great _____ leader; think how you can be a great leader.”
6) Surround yourself with a good mix of people so you get a good mix of ideas.
Diversity of thought often gets overlooked, perhaps unintentionally, in the corporate setting. But bringing together and surrounding yourself with different kinds of individuals with varying perspectives can help your business to be creative and innovate.
For about a decade Hills was the only female member on a senior executive team at a different company, and contrasted that with being on a female-dominated executive team now. “It shouldn’t be different but it is — and to be a part of something like that was incredibly a unique experience and something I wanted to try,” she says.
Tell us in the comments below or tweet us at @CBforEmployers: Which of these tips are most helpful to you as you seek to take your career to the next level? And we want to hear YOUR tips, so share them here.