Lean In – Taking Charge of Your Career

A week ago, Michelle Florendo and I had the privilege of hosting a lively online Office Hours session for Palo Alto Lean In Circle.

The session was called “Taking Charge of Your Career“, and we answered questions on figuring out the right career, landing that coveted project or promotion, how to find mentors and sponsors, breaking into the inner circle, and making a great impression on senior leadership.

Most of the participants granted us permission to share their questions – here are our notes from the session.

Lauren asked: How do I make an impact in the application process, especially if I don’t have a large network?

Only about 10% of people find their job purely by applying online. Approximately 65-85% of people land a job through networking. That said, the most effective way to stand out in the application process is to connect with someone who can give you access to the inside track.

Start by leveraging the network and relationships you already have. Even if you feel like you don’t have a “large network,” don’t forget that you are a part of this wonderful network of women in the Palo Alto Lean In Circle!

Make sure your friends and connections know what you are capable of, and what you are looking for.

Once you get into the interview process, you can make a great impact on the hiring manager by keeping in mind that they’re looking for two things: 1) can this person deliver what we need, and 2) is this someone we’d like to work with? Build rapport with the interviewer and demonstrate that you’ll be a great addition to their team.

(Tip: Learning how to build your network? Read Keith Ferrazzi’s “Never Eat Alone: And Other Secrets to Success, One Relationship at a Time“)

Suzanne asked: What resources can I use to determine what career would be a good one for me?

Though assessments have their limitations, there are a few that my clients have found helpful:

Marcus Buckingham’s StandOut Assessment: To take the assessment: 1) Go to this resource page on the Lean In website, 2) Watch the video (approximately 20 minutes), 3) Go to https://standout.tmbc.com/leanin, 4) Enter in the code LEANIN00 to take the assessment

Gallup’s Clifton Strengthsfinder: Purchase access to the assessment here, or purchase the book (which comes with a code to take the assessment) here

Imperative (free): Developed by Aaron Hurst, author of The Purpose Economy, this assessment is inteded to help bring purpose into the workplace. Check it out at https://www.imperative.com/

Careerleader: This assessment is much longer than the ones above, and is cost quite a bit more, but is commonly used at top graduate schools. Check it out here

Still, careers options and jobs evolve so quickly that career assessments can easily get out of date.

The best way to go about finding out what path would be a good fit for you is to reflect on your work experiences thus far and craft a description of your ideal role, and then engage in a series of ideation/brainstorming conversations with people in different fields.

If you’d like a packet of exercises to help you craft your ideal job description, sign up to download Michelle’s Quickstart Guide to Figuring Out What’s Next.

Maria and Anna asked: How can I shine among my peer group, and get that coveted project or promotion? When asking for a pay increase or promotion, how can I put my best self forward in that conversation?

Some companies have a very structured process for approving promotions. If your company does, learn what the policy is, and what you need to do to qualify.

Here are two potential paths:

1) Figure out what your business unit needs, and start doing the work that is required at the higher level. Expand your scope of responsibilities, perform at that level – this makes it easy for your boss to recommend you, and the promotion will simply be a formal recognition of the work you’re already doing.

2) Make an internal move into a new position that is at the level you want to reach. This may mean applying for positions internally, or getting a recommendation from your manager or sponsors endorsing you for a new, larger role.

Either way, it helps to proactively create a “file” of your successes, documenting the results you’ve delivered, and keeping track of emails that others have sent recognizing your work. Here’s a link to my achievement stories template.

Angela asked: How can coaches, mentors, and sponsors help support my career? That seems like 3 different kinds of interactions; how can they help differently and how do we know which is best for us individually?

A coach gives you specific feedback on what you’re doing well at work, how you can do your work better; sometimes this can be done by your manager or a senior member of your team.

A mentor guides your personal development, and gives general advice to help you navigate your career. This person gives their time and guidance as a gift, and often doesn’t expect anything in return. It’s usually best to find a mentor one to two levels above you, but not in your direct reporting line – such as a peer of your boss, or someone in a different department.

A sponsor is someone who has a stake in, and benefits from, your success; in return, they help place you in key projects or roles where you can shine if you deliver well. Look for a sponsor who has the influence and clout to move you forward in your career. When you approach your sponsor, remember that the focus is not about you – it’s about what you can do for them.

First, build rapport. Connect with them over time, and understand what it is that they need that you can help with. Offer to contribute to a project or initiative that is important to them.

After you’ve built rapport and have a good working relationship with the person, make an ask. Be specific about 1) What your goals are, 2) Why they are the best person to help you, 3) What will it take (e.g. time commitment).

“If I do well on this project,” you can ask, “would you recommend me for ___?”

Check out Sylvia Ann Hewlett’s “Forget a Mentor, Find a Sponsor: The New Way to Fast-Track Your Career“.

Anna asked: How do you penetrate the “old boys’ club” or the inner circle at work, especially when they know what is going on first, or when you are new?

Getting to know people outside work is a great way of building relationships. Find ways to interact with the group socially.

This can be a simple as inviting people to lunch, or as creative as joining fantasy football.

If you travel frequently for work, or are in a location where your colleagues frequently travel to your city – take advantage of the opportunity to organize dinners or weekend activities. Business travelers will be grateful for the company, and you can invite local teammates along too.

Angela asked: How can I be collaborative without seeming too accommodating – balancing being perceived as having a point of view vs. considering ideas from all participants in a meeting?

Having a point of view is great! That’s one of the ways you can define yourself and make a strong impression.

One way of building a collaborative environment is to ask questions. “What if…”

A good technique for sharing your point of view is to use your effective listening skills. At key points during the discussion, pause to recap what you’ve heard so far – summarize the different points of view, and then add yours.

Angela asked: How do I make an impression on senior management, especially in those brief moments when you have their attention?

Always be prepared with a good 10-20 second answer to the question “What do you do?”. Great answers cover four things: 1) Who are you, 2) What do you do, 3) Who do you serve, and 4) Why do people keep coming back to you?

Once you’ve gotten their attention and interest, you can expand into a quick 2-minute story about one of your key achievements.

Prepare beforehand by thinking of the 2-3 achievements you are most proud of. For each achievement, write a brief outline that summarizes the challenge you faced, the action you took to solve the problem, and the result you achieved. Practice telling your stories until you can do them naturally.

Michelle provided templates for Crafting your Personal Branding Statement, and a Success Stories worksheet for talking about your strengths. These are posted in Palo Alto Lean In‘s online Mightybell community.

Asked a question at Office Hours but didn’t see it posted here? Contact us and let me know we have your permission to include your question and your first name!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *