Corbette Doyle, a former risk management and financial executive and Chief Diversity Officer at Aon Corporation, who is now in her second career as a lecturer in workplace diversity and women’s leadership at Vanderbilt University, offers Vanderbilt women 7 Ways to Make the Most of Your Career. The tips are based on a presentation Doyle gave at the 2013 annual Women in Business Symposium at Vanderbilt’s Owen Graduate School of Management.
1. Early Choices Matter: When starting your first job, whether out of business school or undergraduate, go for the best employer, not the best job. This will pay long-term dividends for your career as a whole. In addition, don’t be afraid to take risks and try new things early in your career before launching down a particular path.
2. Link What You Do to the Bottom Line: Understand the big picture and how you contribute to it. Study. Ask questions. Be intentional in your work. Also, try to over-deliver as much as possible — excellence is the fastest route to differentiation.
3. Prioritize and Make Choices: For starters, work smarter, not harder. This means following an 80/20 rule, knowing that “perfection is the enemy.” Also try making a “To-Don’t” list. That is, learn to delegate and outsource tasks you shouldn’t be doing. Second, define success on your terms. We can all learn from Marissa Mayer, now CEO at Yahoo. She talks about making choices that she can live with. Make your own rules for how you work best. My mom had a sign in our kitchen growing up that said, “My house is clean enough to be healthy and dirty enough to be happy.”
4. Brand Yourself: Internally, consider “I vs. We” when thinking about your accomplishments. Also, keep track of what you have done and how you have contributed. Externally, become an expert to increase your professional value. And when it comes to money, you get what you negotiate, not what you deserve. To be a skilled negotiator, however, you must signal a degree of confidence — beware of verbal and non-verbal behaviors that can derail you, and practice your elevator speech about what you do, for whom, and the benefits.
5. Embrace the Skills of the Future: You must be willing to take risks, which entails a willingness to fail and move on. You must also be able to learn from the past and apply those lessons to new challenges. When it comes to working in groups, master the key skills: speak up, experiment, reflect, listen, integrate.
6. Find Your Passion: You need a life/professional strategy for the long-haul, one that ensures that rewards outweigh the personal costs. This is the key to sustained motivation.
7. Build a Spider Web, not a Bridge: Maintain your network by dedicating minutes a day, one hour a week, or one lunch a month. Then put that network to work: Tell your network what you need, do business with others, make three-way connections. And especially for women, be a mentor for others. Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright says there is “a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.”