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What is the single most important piece of career advice you have ever received?


careerMy clients often ask me, ‘What is the most important piece of career advice you have ever received?’ and I always find it very hard to pinpoint one particular example, as I have had so many useful nuggets of advice that have helped to shape my career path to date.

However, I remember clearly one of my former managers pointing out one day after a team meeting that the key variable in ensuring a fast and successful (or slow and cumbersome) career progression is the quality of the relationship you have with your boss or immediate supervisor. Your manager is the main driver of your career development within your company and can ensure your ideas get heard, you are portrayed in the most favourable light and that you are introduced to the senior management. He or she can also be detrimental to your success if there are feelings of competition, jealousy and general negativity between the two of you. Since then, I have always been conscious of the importance of working on and improving relationships with my managers. And I would like to pass on this advice to everybody looking to strengthen their status and ranking within the company and ensure a smooth climb up the internal career ladder.

Another useful piece of advice was given to me by one of my mentors – “Get to know people in your target (current) company but get to know them well. Learn when their birthday is, how many children they have, the name of their partner, their hobbies – do everything in your power to avoid knowing somebody superficially”. I think it is critical to acquire knowledge about your contacts to nurture a stronger relationship with them, and get them to like you.

It’s also crucial not to project an impression of using someone simply to achieve your own goals. How many times I see people asking others for favours connected to their employment and never offering to do anything back. Don’t just get– try to give back too.

I have also asked some experienced contacts of mine about their own experience and the best piece of career advice they have ever received. Here are a couple of quotes that I hope you find useful and thought-provoking:

One person I spoke to recalled being told “Don’t leave school – you should go to university”, and followed this advice all the way to PhD level, emphasising the importance of education to achieving your career goals.

Another man I spoke to shared a quote that he follows in his career and with which I truly agree: “If you are average and unimaginative, do what the others do and pursue a decent career. If you are brilliant and smart, try to think deep, be bold and take professional risks.” (Gerd Gigerenzer)

One of my friends mentioned she was advised not to ‘put all her eggs in my basket’ and make sure she considers various career paths within her industry of choice. I would completely agree that similarly to financial markets, diversification plays an important role in achieving success in your job search (but within reason of course!)

“Don’t give up even if you get rejections at first”– is another great example from somebody I spoke to who faced a lot of disappointments during their initial job search phase and then re-grouped and ended up getting an attractive offer. I would add here that rejections (not matter how disappointing they can be) teach you resilience and make you thick-skinned – two of the most important variables determining your future career success.

Another career insight, this time from my husband who now works at a large think tank, “I remember after starting a new job my manager telling me that I had been chosen over an alternative candidate who had a more relevant background and expertise. The reason I was successful was not that I knew more than him, but that I knew more than they had expected given my lack of experience. So ultimately what won me the job was my preparation for the interview, and the fact that I demonstrated the desire and the potential to learn quickly. That is a lesson that has stayed with me”.

A friend of mine who is a senior director in one of the biggest global media conglomerates shared something her first boss said to her on the first day of her internship, “You don’t look like a wallflower. I hope you are not one. If you have questions or want something, ask for it. I won’t have time to read your mind and figure out what is wrong.” “It was hard to hear and even harder to implement coming from a culture (my friend is originally from India) where you don’t really ask but I learned that it was necessary to ask and be heard in the US to be remotely successful”.

Two other people I spoke to have shared their career wisdom: “Work smart – not hard” and “Be fearless and without limitations!”

I would love it if you share some key pieces of career advice you have received in your life from your managers, mentors or anybody else.

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