Tips for Taking Control of Your Professional Growth
Frankly, I never thought I’d write a blog. But I recently read the post by my Advanced Energy colleague Christina Liebman and found myself thinking about her challenge to each of us to continue to set stretch goals. This made me reflect on my career, and how my experiences might help someone, and in particular women in our industry, with their professional growth.
I’m not a career counselor, I am legal counsel. However, I didn’t start by going to law school, and I have not been with Advanced Energy for my entire career. My path began in accounts payable, in a small manufacturing company in Northern Colorado. I moved into international purchasing because I was fascinated by learning about other cultures, and I wanted to be in a role where I drove decisions for the business. That led to materials and warehouse management because I have an affinity for the logistics of importing and exporting, that is such a large part of international business. As you might suspect, that role required understanding the laws surrounding global trade, which led to my first job at AE, as Trade Compliance Manager. This put me in a position to work closely with the in-house legal team and rekindled an old spark of interest in law. Finally, after getting my law degree, I became Director of Global Trade.
All that didn’t happen by accident. I had some help from supervisors, but mostly it was my determination to build on experience and interests, that drove me to reach my next professional goal. Here’s what have I learned along the way that I think can help women (and anyone, for that matter) take the next step in their career.
Five Tips Based on My Experiences
- Be a risk-taker and lifelong learner – You’ve heard this before; if you haven’t taken it to heart, do so. When was the last time you saw a job that you thought you’d be great for, but didn’t go for it because you didn’t meet every single requirement listed? My daughter recently saw a position that called for experience she didn’t have, although she did meet half the job requirements. I convinced her that she should apply anyway and be prepared to discuss those gaps and point out that she is a quick study in the interview. I think women and men approach this situation differently; men seem more willing to go after an opportunity if they meet part of the qualifications on a job description, assuming they can learn the rest on the job. I encourage women to take that same attitude, and to do what they can to bridge the “confidence gap” that’s discussed in this article in The Atlantic. Be sure to take a look at LeanIn.org when you can for more tips and inspiration. Everyone needs to make time to invest in continued learning, whether it’s formal education or “home-schooling” yourself, because it’s important to stay on top of industry trends as well as tools of the trade and best practices.This investment in continued learning will enable you to keep pace with the speed of technology change and how businesses operate today, and tomorrow.
- Learn positive self-talk – Fear of failure can dredge up the negative internal dialog that each of us lives with. Learn to coach yourself through doubts, accept that mistakes happen, and forgive yourself when missteps occur. This directly relates to the point I just made about risk. Fear paralyzes. Positive self-talk gets you moving through transitions.
- Be open to moving around in the company – A well-rounded employee often has a greater ability to solve problems and get results. Signing on for a new challenge demonstrates a willingness to take risks and the more you know about the entire system, the better you can function in your current role and understand the challenges for other groups. An enterprise is a complex machine in which each department’s operation affects others and it is critical to be able to anticipate issues faced by the rest of the organization.
- Don’t be afraid to hand off and move on – It feels good to say, “my work is done here” and trust that what you’ve created is in good hands, and that they can improve it. To have the bandwidth to take on different challenges, you must be able to take the next step after a hand off or optimization of tasks. I once advised an employee how to make certain aspects of her responsibilities more efficient, taking less time to complete. Her response was: what will I work on? I replied, something else! Trust that there is always other work to be done, and forge ahead to tackle new tasks.
- Let people know that you want to keep advancing – inform your boss and other decision makers in the organization what you see as the next step in your career. When I was in law school, I made it clear that my goal and expectation was to move into my current role. Also, keep in mind that hard work in itself doesn’t always get recognized. Hard work is expected from everyone in every role. To advance, you need to champion yourself. It’s not that leadership doesn’t care. They often are focused on the big picture, the “macro,” and simply don’t have the bandwidth to be as aware of everything happening at the “micro” level.
Reach in Both Directions
As I wrap this up, it occurs to me that this advice may be of value to many people in the organization, including management. Make it a point to coach the people on your team, providing the skills and experiences they need to advance. “Hiring your replacement” is good for everybody and the enterprise.
I welcome your thoughts. And, whether you are in your first job or well on your way in your career, good luck. Finally, don’t forget to ask for what you want, and back it up with your best effort.