Yesterday I had a great time with a group of women at Boston Digitas. We discussed three communication challenges: speaking up at meetings; professionally disagreeing; and how to handle situations when someone else takes all the credit for your work. By the end of the session, these women had many tips and were well prepared to take on new challenges.
“I just feel stuck.” It’s the phrase I hear a lot these days. The underlying reason may vary but the goal is always the same: my client wants to move from their current job, company or profession and they want help doing it.
I work with clients through a three-phase journey that starts with identifying the work they are uniquely good at and the work they are overly passionate about. Determining this career “sweet spot” is a critical first step.
The next phase is what I call “getting your house in order” which involves everything from developing a resume and a LinkedIn profile to creating a strategy for identifying new opportunities.
The third phase is preparing for job interviews. We focus on how best to present yourself and how to answer the questions every interviewer wants to assess: 1) Does this person have the skills and talents to do the job? 2) Why does this person want this particular job? 3) Will he or she fit in with our company?
No one wants to feel stuck or trapped in a career. Taking action and developing a concrete plan is a great way to gain some control over your situation and to start working towards a much more satisfying and meaningful professional life.
While I love the Eleanor Roosevelt quote, “Do one thing every day that scares you,” I can’t say that I have lived it. A scary task on a daily basis just seems too much. But, I have lived by the rule of doing one thing every year that pushes me way beyond my comfort zone.
Early in my career I started an annual ritual of sitting down and having a very frank conversation with myself. The conversation typically occurs in the fall when the leaves are turning and the air is becoming cooler. I prepare one of my favorite beverages, a mug of piping hot tea or a glass of a hearty Cabernet.
I spend time thinking about the past year and identifying my strengths and weaknesses. The area of focus for the year always emerges with great clarity, sometime before I have finished my tea or wine. I then devise a plan for how I ‘ll tackle the thing that truly scares me. The plan involves establishing a bold goal and then crafting a step-by-step plan for how to achieve it.
I remember the year when the “thing “was public speaking. I dreaded public speaking so much that I honestly hoped to get hit by a bus on the days when I had to stand in front of others and try to be coherent. But, I could see where my career was headed and knew that being able to speak well, and perhaps even enjoy it, would be a major asset in my career.
I signed up to speak at a major conference, knowing the audience would be in the thousands. In the eight months leading up to the conference, I hired a coach, I picked out my outfit, I thought about the audience, I developed my speech, and I practiced, practiced some more, and practiced even more. The day of the conference I didn’t think about being hit by a bus; I only focused on how I could deliver the best and most authentic speech possible. And, well, I must admit that I nailed it.
I discovered that it is truly invigorating to tackle something really hard. Forcing myself to do this practice year after year made a significant difference in my career.
At this stage of my career, my annual thing is sometimes professional and sometimes personal. My thing this year is to learn how to sail. I’ve spent hours on a sailboat; I’ve even taken some lessons. But, for some reason I still have an extreme lack of confidence and comfort out on the water. In June I will board a sailboat with a group of women and a master instructor and we will sail in Casco Bay for three days straight. The instructor assures me that after three days I will step off the boat as a true sailor. I’ll admit that I keep wondering if there are busses that run in that area of Maine.
My oldest daughter will graduate from Syracuse University this week and start her professional career next month. Here’s the advice I gave her:
1) Be professional- recognize the difference between your personal and professional life. Dress for work. Speak and write professionally. Don’t use social media for personal purposes. Never have more than one drink at a work event. Limit how much personal information you share.
2) Be thankful- recognize how fortunate you are to be given a professional opportunity. Thank those who helped you along the way. Thank those who will help you at work.
3) Be kind-don’t talk about others; leave the gossiping to others. Recognize that we all have our strengths and challenges. Remember that you were once that scared and nervous intern. Help others. Embrace diversity.
4) Work hard. Even if the task is to make 25 copies of a document, make the best damn set of copies possible. And then ask if there is more you can do to be helpful.
5) Work to understand your boss—what he/she needs, how they like to be asked questions, updated on information. It is your job to adjust your style to what they need and not the other way around.
6) Be resourceful- try to figure out things on your own. If you identify an issue be sure to also identify some possible solutions. Learn as much as you can about your department, your company, and your industry.
7) Be accountable. If you mess up, admit it and take responsibility for correcting what needs to be fixed.
8) Be honest- always. The real test of integrity is what you do when no one is looking. Be known as the person who always does the right thing, even when it is difficult.
9) Be humble-recognize that you have weaknesses and have a lot to learn. Set a yearly goal to become better at something- public speaking, building relationships, developing a professional network, working with difficult people, etc.
10) Believe in yourself. And if you ever find that you’re doubting yourself, call home. We will be there to remind you just how wonderful you are.
The numbers continue to be depressing. According to Reuters, the number of women in senior technology positions at U.S. companies is down for the second year in a row. The Harvey Nash Group reports that only nine percent of U.S. chief information officers (CIOs) are female, down from 11 percent last year and 12 percent in 2010.
And if all that wasn’t bad enough, a nationwide survey released by Dice, a job search website for technology professionals, found that men out-earn women in the tech industry sectors. An online poll of 15,000 employers revealed that male tech workers made $95,900 compared with $87,500 for women in these industry jobs. However, the compensation gender gap has narrowed, with average salaries equal for male and female tech pros with comparable levels of experience and education and parallel job titles.
These statistics are part of the reason I focus my mentoring services on women in technology. No matter what the challenge, chances are that I have been there and done that during my twenty-five years in technology, and I welcome the opportunity to help others achieve their full potential and create the life they desire.
Recently I went on a winter hike with my husband. Ten minutes into the hike I wondered if I could make it to the top. The wind was howling, the grade was very steep and within a matter of minutes I went from feeling underdressed to overdressed. Not wanting to give up and ruin the hike for my husband, I strategized on how to make it to the top. I decided to stop thinking about how far we had left to go but instead to stay focused on the ground right in front of me. I kept looking at the ground in front of me while I counted out a hundred steps and then I looked up to see if the top of the mountain was in view. I continued this approach, over and over again, until finally I looked up and saw the top of the mountain. Once our endpoint was in view, I knew I would make it.
This experience reminded me of the number of times during my career when it was helpful to chunk, or break down, work into manageable pieces. Whenever I faced a really challenging problem or became overwhelmed with a complex situation I broke down the work by focusing on the very next thing I could do to move towards a solution or move the initiative forward. Sometimes it would be just a small task, such as identifying people I had to speak to for more information. No matter how stuck I felt I reminded myself that there is always another move.
The art of chunking is a useful tool, especially in large and complex organizations, where it is easy to feel overwhelmed and stuck. You want to be known as someone who can get things done and the art of chunking is one approach towards that goal.
Throughout my career I’ve been passionate about helping others achieve their full potential and create the life they desire. After twenty-five years working in technology, I decided to devote the next chapter in my career to this passion by becoming a full time professor and a part-time executive coach/consultant.
You can learn more about my coaching and mentoring services on this website.
I welcome your questions or comments below.