She’s Geeky 2015 – Taking Charge of Your Career

Last week, we did a She’s Geeky session on “Taking Charge of Your Career“.

Most of the questions centered on two themes: 1) How do I decide what to do? and 2) How do I advance in my career?

Here are some of the answers and tips we discussed. Thank you Ines for taking notes!

1. How do I figure out what to do, and where to go next?

Here’s a technique I learned from Michelle Florendo at UC Berkeley’s Women in Leadership conference last year.

Create a table with 3 columns: skills, passion, and values:

  • Skills are what you’re good at, or what other people tell you you’re good at.
  • Passion is what you enjoy; what are you doing when time flies for you?
  • Values are what’s important to you.

Evaluating opportunities against these three areas will help you decide whether the opportunity is a good fit for you. Reflecting on these – particularly the intersection of all three – can point you towards potential career paths.

If you’re the planning type – ask yourself, “Where do I want to be 3-5 years from now?”. Write it down. Tell someone about it. Research shows that when we write down our goals and tell at least one other person, we are much more likely to achieve those goals.

2. How do you find your “next thing to do”?

Opportunities are available all around you. Go to conferences. Meet people.

Talk to friends or acquaintances who are doing the kinds of jobs you are interested in – ask them what their work is like, what challenges they face, and what skills they need to be successful.

Look up people you’d like to talk to and send them an email. Find a connection. If you’re new to a company, you can reach out to co-workers with “Hi, I’m new to Company XYZ and would like to chat with you about…”. Or email a speaker or blog author and let them know what you admire about their work.

By talking to people, you’ll learn about what they’re doing. And you’ll learn about yourself – you’ll find new interests to explore, and you’ll discover what you don’t want to do.

Do informational interviews. People love to share their expertise.

(Read “How to Land and Ace an Informational Interview” at Fortune).

3. What can I do to advance in my career?

There are some basic skills we can all benefit from learning:

  • Networking. Networking is about building relationships. It’s a skill. It can be learned. To build meaningful relationships: 1) Remember that it’s not about you, it’s about what you can do for the other person; 2) Make a connection – find something you have in common, or something you’re genuinely interested in about the other person; and 3) Always follow up. (A great place to meet SF Bay Area professional women is Palo Alto Lean In Circle).
  • Negotiation. Read the book “Ask for It“. Start with small things to build your confidence – like requesting bank fee waivers or asking your cell phone provider to give you the same discounts they give new customers. Do your homework. Learn good negotiating techniques and practice.
  • Develop your expertise. Aim for “T-shaped” expertise. You should have 1-2 skills where you have deep expertise, so that you’re in demand for those skills. At the same time, you should also have broad knowledge of several different areas, so you can connect the dots, see the big picture, and adapt to new situations.

Focus and set goals. Ask yourself, “At the end of 12 months, what do I want to have achieved?”

Interested in learning more?  Check out the Q&A notes for Palo Alto Lean In’s Office Hours session on Taking Charge of Your Career.

In it, 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.

Thank you to everyone who joined the session, and I’m looking forward to seeing you again at next year’s She’s Geeky!

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