I was recently invited to my Alma Mater to deliver a talk on what I’ve learnt through my many years in the corporate world. While the talk didn’t go as planned due to scheduling issues (story for when we meet), I thought I’d record my thoughts here. If you’ve been in the industry long enough, you’ll hopefully agree; maybe even reminisce about your own stories as I share mine. Here’s a throwback to the past 8 years of my life in HR (gosh! I’m getting old).
#1: Ask for what you want: I’ve likely referenced this story before but I am going to narrate it again. Fresh out of college, my first job, I was asked to shadow an HR Business Partner for a week. So I followed her everywhere she went, sat through her meetings, took notes, did some odd tasks and then at end of the week decided I liked the job. Then out of the blue, my boss calls me to his room and talks about this amazing new role that he has identified for me. It was a brand new function being set up in the organization called ‘central services’ (now an old horse) and I was to be one of the two people who worked on designing and setting it up. Now for better or worse, I decided I didn’t want to be a part of it and I told him I wanted to be an HRBP. Mind you, this was me with an overall experience of one week in the corporate world. Thankfully he was kind and while he was taken aback, he promised that he’d work on it. Lo & behold, a month later, I got my first HRBP stint and I was a happy camper.
This isn’t the only instance though. There have been many that followed but never with great confidence. It was only when my then manager, current mentor told me to ‘Just ask. There isn’t any harm in it’, did I make it a habit. And it has worked magic.
#2 Take Risks: It’s easier said than done. However, it is easier when you have less at stake. I cannot boast of taking on any large scale risks but there are plenty of examples out there. I have taken smaller risks though. While moving from my previous organization to my current, not only did I move into a role that didn’t excite me, I also transitioned at almost the same salary because of the long term promises it held. I also moved into a city I have never lived in before. I was miserable the first year but I stuck with it because I knew there was light at the end of the tunnel. Five years later, it all worked out and I am at the verge of taking the second very large risk.
Risks are scary and it is often easier to stay with what you know. You are constantly second guessing yourself. However, the luxury of taking risks is usually higher in the first ten years than the next ten. So take as many as early as you can.
#3: Don’t Always Listen: This is my favorite. Sometimes those who know better and have your best interests in your heart can be wrong too. Learn to trust your instinct. When I first thought of starting this blog, my then manager (the same one mentioned in #1) told me to wait it out. ‘What will you write about? People will be more inclined to read when you write once you have been working for longer. Invest your time elsewhere.’ I didn’t listen and thank God I didn’t. Look how far we’ve come.
#4: Find a Mentor or 3: Finding the right mentor can be hard and it is ok to stumble through the process. If you have enjoyed working with someone and they aren’t natural intersections at work, turn them into your mentor. There doesn’t have to be a well formed agenda every time you speak to them. Let them be your friends who know you well. Talk about the weather, about sport or beer and then slowly begin talking to them about what you want to do with your life. You’ll always learn a thing or two. I currently have two mentors who I try speak to at least once a month and will likely have a third soon. It is a myth that you need just one mentor. The number of people who shape your career are always going to be greater than one. If I end up having ten mentors, then so be it. The more, the merrier.
#5: Network: Don’t tell me this is not you. It does not come naturally to me either. Every day is a struggle and I rather snuggle into a hole than go out and meet people. Yet every time I do, I realize how tiny my orbit is and that there is a larger world out there that I know very little about. Over time, this network yields several people with who now I have a bond that otherwise never would have existed. Think of them as work cousins who you will run into every once in forever. You never know when you will end up helping one out and when one might save your life. Get out and circulate.
There are of course many more lessons learnt along the way. However, if I had to carve out just 5, it would be these. They are mostly common sense but not enough people lean on all 5 pillars. You should. They are easy to knock off the list too.
What are your top five?