As I look back at my corporate career journey of more than 15 years, I can say one thing for sure – I have had my share of good, bad and the ugly. While I did do many things right along the way, I also got several things wrong too. Whenever I crossed a hiccup, hurdle or hurricane at work, I have wished things could have been different. Little things that I wished someone had told me to do or not to do at different points of my career journey. And of course, the big things that would matter in my long-term career and life trajectory. After all, as someone who survived the ‘4M’ madness (MBA, Marriage, Movements across the globe, and Motherhood), I know for a fact that every woman needs a good slice of grit, focus, passion, common sense, well-meaning guidance, resilience and support to keep going.
So, in my first post for this series, I will write about eight things every woman should do at the start of her career (0 – 3 years’ work experience) with the hope that it will help, inspire and guide women in their career path.
- Aim to become an expert in some area at work – I was a Jill of all trades for a very long time in my career, and while that was good, because I could move across different assignments easily, it did come at a career price – key ones being limited access to premium work assignments (top priority is given to the experts) and relative incremental compensation. It took me a while to figure that specialist knowledge is power. So I would strongly recommend investing in building your knowledge base and be an expert in any one or more subjects of relevance to your business/industry. And while being an expert is one part of the coin, it is equally important to ensure that others perceive you as an expert too. The workplace is a function of what you are and what others think of you, so ensure you manage both right.
- Work hard – In the long run, there is no shortcut to hard work. Specially at the start of your career, the quality of working hard shines from the very first day at job. How much effort you can put in to accomplish a task and supersede expectations is the most visible aspect in the starting years of one’s career. Hard work is what will get you to learn and earn, and help you gain professional trust in your team at work or company at large. “Hardwork is irreplaceable, so don’t try to cut corners early on in your career if you are aiming for the corner office in future,” emphasises Ansoo Gupta, COO, Pinstorm. More importantly, it will also be critical in others’ perceptions of you.
- Say yes to learning and any work opportunities – What I realised very early in my career is that no work is too big or small to shy away from. As a result, I have worked on very diverse opportunities early on in my career which was great because I became well-aware of what my strengths were, and that was useful in navigating career choices and opportunities over time. Marketer and e-commerce expert Deepali Naair adds, “Focus just on the learning. Don’t worry what your batchmates are earning. The balance can tilt in favour of work instead of home”.
For the first five years of your career, I would suggest sponging up every new learning that comes your way. It always helps you appreciate a business in a holistic manner. “Do whatever comes your way and seek more – the best way to learn and show great attitude. No job is small or beneath you,” advises Shalini Kamath, entrepreneur, executive coach, and Chairperson of FICCI – Women on Corporate Boards Mentorship programme.
- Invest in your health – The longevity of your career is directly proportional to the quality of your health, so make time to exercise and learn about food. Be aware of your body, as it is your best personal guide to good health. Be sure to track how your food and exercise choices are affecting your productivity, creativity and efficiency. Early investments in your health will pay rich dividends in your long-term career.
- Hire a financial planner – If you are earning, you better know how to manage your money and make your money work for you. Personal financial management is a complex and dynamic subject, so unless you are really interested in the subject – it is best to leave it to qualified professionals. Solutions like BigDecisions, Arthayantra are definitely options that can be leveraged on a self-service mode. “Focus on financial independence – It provides any person the means to pursue what they want and lead the lives they want to on their own terms,” emphasises Arpana Rawat, Director at GE Capital.
- Be professional – “No matter how you feel, get up, dress up, show up. Unless you’re really really unwell,” says Kiran Manral ,author, qualitative market research consultant and media professional. This is one of the key points to live by, especially in the early career years. Exhibit professional behaviour in how you conduct yourself at work, how you interact with colleagues and managers, and how you honour work deadlines.
“Focus on being Miss Dependable. Once you take up a responsibility, ensure you deliver without any one following up. Mostly, when one faces challenge one gives up. It’s important to have a solution-oriented mindset. If not you then who can solve it? Don’t give up easily,” adds Divya Agarwal, Co-founder at ProEves.
Do note that the display of unprofessional conduct in front of someone in power is enough to have an adverse long-term impact on your career. Little things like how long your tea breaks are, how much time you are on the phone or surfing the Internet, your work attire, how you communicate to your team when you are on leave etc., all make a difference.
- Build a professional network – The best part about being new to the workforce is that it is easy to create and form new professional networks, so ensure you choose a group of colleagues who are like-minded in one or more ways. And ensure that you continuously nurture these relationships.
Amrita A Singh, mindfulness coach and senior consultant with OD Alternatives Consultancy, says, “Build networks of peers and seniors through simple things like remembering their birthday, sending them a festive greeting etc., and make a conscious choice of how you wish to be perceived, as you will be making your first impression. The way you dress and the manner in which you articulate your thoughts are both equally important.”
- Be YOU – The modern-day workplace is competitive, and there are comparisons and judgments passed at every step of the way. A common impact of the work environment is that before you know it, you morph into someone you don’t truly identify with. While positive change should always be embraced, changing just because everyone expects it of you is not wise. Clinical psychologist Sonali Gupta states, “Be authentic to yourself. Learn to be compassionate towards your own self.” In simple words, be YOU!
Did we miss any career hack in this list? Leave a comment to let us know. Know a woman who will benefit from reading this? Be sure to share it with her.
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory. Nor does the author’s employer subscribe to the substance, veracity or truthfulness of views mentioned here)