My father’s playful saying, “You can tell a Smith graduate—but you can’t tell her much,” was a perfect illustration of my excessive self-confidence as a recent grad headed for Wall Street. It didn’t occur to me that I would be anything less than hugely successful. After all, I had a great education, I could work like a dog, and I was ambitious. I eventually discovered that those qualities didn’t necessarily separate me from the rest of the pack.
Like many of the other smart, capable financial analysts at my investment bank, I made lots of mistakes. It was after I became a senior officer and saw young bankers, especially women, replay some of those same mistakes that I decided to create a website, Advice for the New Careerist. It includes information that covers all aspects of a young professional’s career with a recurring theme of self-advocacy. Below I have distilled five of the most important career tips for young alumnae.
Make your boss look good. As a young professional, your first job is to do what your superior wants you to do. Many trainees believe they have to show creativity right away to separate themselves from their peers. That distinction, though, often comes at the expense of what your manager needs to do her job. So deliver your work accurately and on time. Once you have gained credibility by fulfilling your superior’s requests perfectly, she will welcome initiative on your part.
Plan your career as soon as you start it. In today’s transient work environment, it’s hard to know where you will be even next year. Despite the uncertainty, make sure you have developed the correct credentials to undertake a variety of jobs that you may want to pursue. Take a look at people in jobs you believe you may desire down the road. What additional education/training have they undertaken? In what areas of the company have they developed expertise? Do they have experience in international relations, line positions (jobs directly connected with the primary product/service produced at your company), staff positions (support jobs such as human resources), or other particular areas? Does your company/industry value a specific background (e.g., marketing for managers in consumer products companies). Even if you can’t envision a clear career path by viewing those of successful senior managers, determine if the managers have similar backgrounds in relation to training or experience and make sure you steer your career in the same direction.
Take tough assignments. The best way to stand out is to take on the more challenging, perhaps less attractive, projects. If you show success completing them, senior personnel at your company will take notice and consider you for future important work.
Be proactive about communication, promotion, and pay. Young professionals often assume that their superiors know what they are working on and what they have contributed. Often, however, they don’t. It is your responsibility to meet with your manager (the one who makes promotion and pay decisions) and inform her about your recent work and accomplishments, even if you have to initiate the discussion yourself. Assume your immediate supervisor tells your manager little about your role, and the only way to ensure that your manager understands your contribution is to tell her. Pop your head in her office, arrange to meet for coffee, call her from your project location, but make sure she is informed. If you do not express to your manager that you are interested in your career trajectory and your compensation, she might not promote you or pay you appropriately. To maintain the best staff, managers respond to those who demonstrate concern about their future. If you don’t demonstrate that interest in your career, your manager may not believe any extraordinary action needs to occur, even if you deserve it.
Network, network, network. Now, more than ever, networking is integral to career success. You need to develop relationships with colleagues and senior managers. It may not feel natural for you to ask a senior colleague to lunch or to join a project group for drinks after work, but it’s all part of developing your career. Some junior professionals think it’s cheating their work day to take time out to socialize with colleagues, but it may be more important than some of the work they do. Without a constituency of fans in the office, it’s difficult to succeed.
I hope these points have been helpful, and allow you to kick-start your career. It’s important to realize that you will always care more about your career than anyone else. Every successful professional self-advocated or she wouldn’t have become the success that she is.
Terri Tierney Clark ’81 has a website for young female professionals called Advice for the New Careerist and runs an advisory business, Summit Equity Advisors, which offers private equity-related services to buyout partnerships, hedge funds, and financial services companies. Previously, Clark was one of the first female managing directors in the investment banking division at Merrill Lynch, managed its real estate private equity placement business, and was elected to the firm's first women's steering committee.