The first four to six years of a woman’s career is considered to be the most critical and defining phase. This is simply because it sets the base for her future career and life path. In this post, I have listed the key points which can truly help you craft a long-term meaningful career.
As I crafted this post, I reached out to my professional network to garner their inputs and insights, and I received several nuggets of wisdom which I have embedded in this post.
“People with goals succeed because they know where they are going,” said Earl Nightingale. This holds true with regard to women and careers. If you don’t set career goals for yourself, then chances are your career path will be defined by everyone but you. While it may seem to be all right to those who don’t have a clear view on what they want, it will come at a steep price in the long run. “Understand your environment and your client / business,” said Mansi Zaveri, Founder of India’s largest parenting platform Kidsstoppress.com. And that is possibly the first step in identifying opportunities aligned with your strengths and skills.
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It becomes pertinent to set goals defined by time – short (one to two years), mid (four to six years) and long term (eight to ten years). This will compel you to think about your career in an objective manner and will definitely help you navigate career choices at your work place. No matter how hard you try, if you still find it difficult to come up with a career goal for yourself, talk to people who you aspire to be like and discuss their career paths. These conversations will definitely give you lots of food for thought, and hopefully help you chart out your own career goals.
“You should figure out if your current industry is the one that you like and can imagine yourself spending next 20 years or not. If not, start looking at other options. There’s no harm in changing tracks if for any reason, you don’t feel comfortable making a career in that industry. If you do want to stick on, start figuring out the specific functions that you should deep dive into for next five years or so if you want to start emerging as a front runner. You are still at the start of your long professional careers so be very open to learning and do not shy away from any work thrown at you. Stay away from politics and game plays at workspace but if you can, start understanding the finer nuances of how people behave at workplace and equip yourself to understand different kind of human beings and what drives them,” said Ansoo Gupta, COO of Pinstorm.
Go the extra mile and get visibility and good will of leaders in power or position in your workplace. One of the key reasons is that you have some understanding of the world of work, and should be able to identify areas that you can add value and contribute meaningfully. It could be to support a corporate initiative, or to help tide a crisis, or supporting an employee engagement event. They all add in building your self-confidence, professional network and visibility.
This is a good time to enhance and/or upgrade your professional skills and resume by enrolling for a certification course. Ensure you pick a course which is valued by your employer, and which will catalyse the next phase of your career growth. “Decide long term academic goals,” said Monica Jasuja, Head of eCommerce and Digital payments, MasterCard – South Asia. She added, “If you need money to study higher or specialise, earn to afford a degree but set a timeline by when you will enroll in school. Certifications or specialisations should be discussed with your manager/mentor/coach.”
This was the time I enrolled into a management programme at IIMB. Not only did it was a great learning opportunity, but it also opened up new career opportunities and possibilities in addition to building a great professional network.
“Be sure to stay current on your industry / company / new trends that may affect your line of work. Look into MOOCs for valuable free courses. Look into industry subscriptions and podcasts that are relevant for your line of work. Use social media to follow industry leaders and stay informed,” added Ila Zeff, a school friend of mine, who is as an ex-corporate ninja turned jeweler-in-chief for controversial causes.
Sheryl Sandberg said, “The most important career choice you’ll make is who you marry.” Being married for more than a decade now, and having been through a lot of career ups and downs during this phase, I can say that this statement is 100 percent true – more so in the Indian context, where marriage is really the unison of two families, and almost always increases the number of influencers in the decision making. This is a great time to think through your views on marriage. Here is a list of questions to help you reflect.
“No office romance. Keep the heart tightly under control and find your partner outside the immediate work arena,” advised Shalini Kamath, entrepreneur, executive coach, and Chairperson of FICCI – Women on Corporate Boards Mentorship programme. It is especially critical to stay clear of romance when direct lines of reporting / conflict of interest are involved.
Two key points to remember – One, have a well thought point of view on marriage in your personal context. Make sure you share this with family, and your potential spouse. Most important is to have career discussions before marriage.
The one skill you should master in this phase of your career is knowing when to shut up and when to speak up. Both of these can cost you in the long run in your career. And when you speak up, make sure you think before you speak and can justify your stand based on data. I have paid a steep price on both counts – Not speaking when I had an opportunity, which made people in power question what I knew, and also speaking without adequate preparation, which made people in position again wonder if I was ready for the next big opportunity.
Ila added “Also, when you’re preparing to speak up, talk to potential supporters/detractors offline to understand where you stand and how your viewpoints will be received when you speak up in a formal setting.”
This is the best time to make independent investments. For example, investing in a property. And of course, it may be fine to take some help (should you need it) – from family, friends or the bank. By help, I mean for little things like investigating the property options available or financial help to make the investment viable.
“Diligently put away a certain percent of your salary every month as savings. Don’t be in a rush to co-mingle all your savings/assets as soon as you get married. It’s important to have a nest egg that’s all yours in case of emergencies. Talk to financial advisors about stock investments/tax benefits and learn to maximise your earnings,” advises Ila.
Too many women I know (self-included) have got a raw deal at work simply because they did not get the negotiation part right – specifically related to salary and career role negotiations. Negotiation is really about knowing what you want, going after it while also respecting the others involved. This means that you need to look out for yourself, but also be willing to compromise in order to satisfy other parties. While negotiation does not come easy or naturally to many women, it is important to consciously build that skill.
“This is one time women HAVE to learn to speak up! I’ve met too many Indian women who believe if they do good work, they’ll miraculously be recognised / compensated for it. They’re bitterly disappointed when this magical karmic system doesn’t kick in. Don’t be naive ‑ it’s not how corporations work. Research and understand what your position garners at your company / competitors / freelancers, etc. Understand what perks / benefits are part of the package and can be put on the negotiation table. Completely comprehend the value of your work by seeking active feedback. Grasp the key times in the year when you need to talk to the right people to get the negotiation conversations started,” highlights Ila. “A really good practical guide to collaborative negotiation (which I believe is the best approach in long term relationships be it work or personal, where you’ll continue interacting with the party post negotiations) is this book called Negotiation Fieldbook. It’s got exercises that you can practice on to hone your skills.”
Lastly, stay invested in your own health and wellness. The quality and quantity of your career will depend on how fit you are physically, mentally and emotionally. Also do note that personal grooming and appearance add that charisma to your personality and others perceptions of you. Most importantly, stay healthy and fit to stay on track in your career and life.
(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 or veracity of views mentioned here)