Everyone—women, men, old, young—can use some guidance in their careers. Mentorship has long been established as a huge difference-maker, especially for people just starting out or people embarking on a new professional path. This level of support has proven especially beneficial for professional women, who do best when they’re able to get insight and advice from other professional women.
Yet according to a study of professional women by talent scouting firm Egon Zehnder, only 54% of women have access to that kind of mentorship by other women. That doesn’t mean that those of us without those resources have to go it alone—rather, we can take inspiration from successful women who have been willing to share some of their hard-won knowledge and insights. Let’s look at some of the most inspiring career advice out there, from women who’ve made it.
Be open to opportunities.
“Be prepared to spot growth opportunities when they present themselves—because they are the key learning opportunities. You’ll know because they make you uncomfortable, and your initial impulse may be that you’re not ready. But remember: Growth and comfort never co-exist.”
—Ginni Rometty, chairman, president, and CEO of IBM
“Always take on new challenges—even if you at not sure you are completely ready.”
—Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook
“If a job’s not scary, it’s not worth doing.”
—Jasmine Whitbread, Chief Executive at London First
“Don’t cut off your career branches too early. Don’t step away from your career based on what ‘might’ happen.”
—Mary Barra, chairman and CEO of General Motors
If you wait around for the exact right opportunity, you might find yourself waiting around while your skills and experience go to waste. If you’re a new grad, or looking for a new job, it can be tempting to not go for opportunities that aren’t exactly like you envisioned your career, or that feel like a stretch for the experience and skills you have. But really, what do you have to lose by stretching a little? The worst possible outcome is the word “no,” which is rarely fatal. And in the best case, you could be hired for a job that challenges you and makes you grow as a professional.
“Life’s a marathon, not a sprint. When things go wrong, dust yourself off.”
—Kate Grussing, Founder and Managing Partner at Sapphire Partnership
“Take criticism seriously, but not personally. If there is truth or merit in the criticism, try to learn from it. Otherwise, let it roll right off you.”
—Hillary Clinton, former U.S. Senator and Secretary of State
Failures and disappointments are going to happen occasionally, no matter who you are and what industry you’re working in. Sometimes these will be your fault, and sometimes they won’t. The one thing that all failure scenarios have in common is that you can move on from them. No matter how embarrassing it may feel, or how dire, all you can do is accept that things happened the way they did, understand why things happened what they did, and learn what you can do next time to help avoid the same kind of catastrophe.
Build your team wisely.
“You are only ever as good as the team you build, so be a talent magnet and surround yourself with the best and the brightest.”
—Marianne Lake, CFO of J.P. Morgan Chase
“”Never be afraid to recruit people brighter than you are, and never be afraid to recruit people who are different than you. That is sometimes hard to do, but incredibly powerful if you want to create a team that is really effective.”
—Judith McKenna, COO of Walmart
Think of it as career #squadgoals. Every successful person has worked as part of a team at some point in their careers—and in fact, teamwork is one of the qualities most prized by employers. The important part is making sure that your team is able to support your goals. That may mean being a more engaged and supportive colleague yourself, or if you’re in a management role, it means recruiting the best possible people to help you grow achieve your own goals.
Everyone has his or her own career goals in mind, and it can feel like we need to step on others to achieve those, but things will go much more smoothly—not to mention more easily—if you focus on building ways to work together instead of taking everything on yourself.
“Be who you are. You’re unlikely to be first or last—your journey is your journey.”
—Desiree Clarke-Noble, Director, Head of Brand and Marketing at Royal Bank of Canada
“Sit down and ask yourself, ‘What is the most important thing to me?’ What grosses me out the most? What makes me the most upset — is it healthcare? Is it so many people being hungry in our culture? Is it sexual abuse? Mix that with doing something you love, something you could keep doing forever and ever. For me, it was ending violence against women, and I mixed it with music. And I’ve had a 25-year career. So that’s my advice: Find something you really care about and mix that with something you love doing.”
—Kathleen Hanna, musician and activist
If your professional self is more aspirational than authentic, you’re likely to find yourself dissatisfied with the career path your persona has chosen for you. Whatever choices you make—job, relationships, skill-building—should be ones that fit with who you are, not necessarily who you think you should be.
Find your focus.
“The thing people want most is your focus and attention. You destroy that when you think you’re multitasking, because you’re not accomplishing either.”
—Wendy Clark, president and CEO of DDB North America
Multitasking can be seen as a prized skill, in a world where there are about 40 digital distractions every minute and ever-increasing demands. Instead of focusing on the number of things you can do this minute, try thinking about the quality of what you’re doing and learning in the moment. Being able to send an email while half-listening to a colleague and compiling a report will get more things checked off on your to-do list, but how many of those things are you actually doing well? If you try to bring mindfulness and thoughtfulness to your to-do list, you are upping the quality factor of your work.
Project confidence in all you do.
“Speak slower; be more executive and more authoritative. When you speak quickly it’s hard to distil big messages and put a good case forward to your customers and your team.”
—Helen Sutton, Vice President of Enterprise in Northern Europe at DocuSign
“Don’t be afraid to ask questions; that’s one thing that differentiates women from men.”
—Claudia Palmer, Chief Business Officer and Chief Financial Officer at Reuters
One of the best things you can do for your career is to take control and ownership of your professional path. That means expressing yourself clearly, and being an advocate for your own interests. Whether it’s negotiating a salary increase or trying to get ahead, being timid or hesitant is unlikely to get you what you want. The more you can project confidence and competence, the more you’ll be able to build confidence in your abilities.
If you have any of your own favorite pieces of career advice for or from women, we’d love to hear about it in the comments.
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