BUILDING A SUCCESSFUL CAREER: 5 USEFUL TIPS
During the first week of December, I had the privilege to talk to a group of young women at the University of Dar es Salaam through ‘Her-Initiative’, a young girls’ empowerment platform. I was asked to give a presentation on “building a successful career”, a topic that got me reflecting on my own personal career and what key lessons I can share from it.
I realized that I have had the privilege to discover right from the cradle that I wanted to work in communication and media. That is after it finally dawned on me that I had the slimmest of chances of being a super model! (Blame it on the height genes, a big let down!).
After graduating from my ‘A levels’ (secondary school) in 1999, I straddled onto ITV Media (the largest media house at the time) and pretty much demanded for a job (in a much more courteous manner, of course!). Never one to be content with formal employment, my insatiable appetite to wade into the informal/private realm of communications and media continued to be whet as years wore on.
It is a lot easier when you know what you want to do with your life by the time you graduate from University. However, a lot of people don’t know, and that is ok too because you can immerse yourself in self-reflection and soul searching and the final outcome, could be the road-map for a successful career. The ability to have a vision for your future, a passion for what you do, and the drive to stick to it is key to building a successful trailblazing career.
Here are my top 5 lessons from my personal journey:
1. WHAT DO YOU STAND FOR?
When you don’t know what you stand for, you will fall for anything! The foundation to building your career begins with yourself: What are your values? I am talking about the important and lasting beliefs or ideals about what is good or bad; what’s desirable or undesirable for you.
Values have major influences on a person’s behavior and attitude and serve as broad guidelines in all situations. From deciding what career to pursue, to growing up a career ladder, values will guide you on “what, when, where, how, and with whom” to involve in making decisions that will help you determine your next phase of action.
One of my paramount personal values is leadership. This value pushed me towards opting for self-employment when I graduated from University with my first degree. When my peers were seeking formal employment, I knew the reverse was for me. So, I pursued the trail that my values curved out for me and that’s how I opened my own Public Relations company.
When you have your values in place, you will align with a career choice and path that satisfies and fulfills you as it will be adaptable to your principles of life and therefore worthy of your stand.
2. WHAT’CHU GOOD AT?
I think somewhere along the way, I got so tired of trying to make amends for my weaknesses (trust me; it’s a draining and weary path!) and just started playing and highlighting my strengths. To do that, one must first come to terms with what those strengths are, right?
So, list them down and have a field trip with them, enlist help from friends and family to enhance the list. Knowing your personal strengths and weaknesses not only gives you the insights into understanding and developing yourself, but also helps you make the right decisions.
Your greatest strengths will be what seems easy for you and probably might not be easy for everyone else. These are the things you do best and where your real talents are.
As you play out your strengths, learn to leverage on other people’s strength for the areas that you fall short on. You cannot know it all, but you can learn to exchange knowledge and skills to achieve your goals. Focusing on using your strengths to the fullest is critical because that’s where you have a competitive advantage and where you can create the most value for yourself and other people.
3. GET OUT THERE!
A job is not going to find you at home in your room, chilling and blaming it on your personal inadequacy, no! And the career ladder is not going to suddenly appear to you at your comfort zone. You must get out there and network, build a support system, enlisting assistance from people in your grid who are in positions of influence.
There are so many platforms where one can use to socialize and network with the right people, or at least the people who know the people ‘who know the right people’ (if you know what I mean).
Be strategic in your approach to career advancement: Where do you need to be, what do you need to get there, who do you need to help you get there, how do you go about it and when should you do what?
To date, I continue to plan my career roadmap. I envision where I want to be in 5 years and/or 10 years and work out a strategic map on what I need to do to get there. This requires honest, constant evaluation on whether or not I am on track and if not what must I do to get back on track.
When you approach your career path strategically you will never be caught off- guard, as you will be ready when opportunities present themselves. Think of it as being in the army: one must keep training, every day, for when war breaks, one must be in perfect shape and have the right skillsets or else… (Get the picture?)
4. GET A MENTOR
It helps a lot when you have someone to guide, shape and nudge you towards the right direction. At every step of your career seek out people who have gone through a successful path at different levels and ask them to mentor you.
People feel good when they are asked to share their knowledge and skills; it’s very rare that someone will say no to mentoring and pulling somebody else up. Make it your business to find the right people and approach them. Yes, APPROACH them!
However, you need to have done some soul searching and know where you are going so that you make it easier for the mentor to play the role of an aide. Be very specific of what it is you need help with. Learn to articulate your needs; be as direct as you can be and you will be amazed at the response.
Oftentimes we meet people who could help shape our ideas or even point us towards the right direction but fail to articulate that need and end up gushing about everything else but “the need”.
I remember when I got the opportunity to meet with the heads of Porter Novelli during a global mentorship program that I participated in, I directly expressed my interest to partner with the global PR Company. It was something that was in my “vision” from when I started my company. So I was ready, and articulate enough to present my wishes when the right opportunity reared its head. And when the partnership with Porter Novelli came through I sought out mentors to guide me. Mentorship is an evolving process where mentors get updated with times and situations.
5. DO GOOD, AND YOU SHALL DO WELL
What comes first: Money or Greatness? Some people choose to pursue Money, and that’s all they make. End of story. Some pursue Greatness after they have made the money once they realize that all the money in the world does not bring the satisfaction they long for. Others pursue greatness from day one, and the riches of the world follow, and, as promised in the Holy writ, it always does, without fail.
As you pursue your career think of the good you can do from your area of influence. Doing good should be part and parcel of your modus operandi: From the word go, how you deal with people, how you reason, your intents, your motivation and your actions should reflect the “goodness” that will ultimately add to your legacy.
When we started our company Frontline, right at the beginning when the company was still struggling, we launched Tanzania Women of Achievement (TWA), our women and girl’s empowerment platform. It later dawned on us that our passion to empower and transform marginalized girls’ lives became a reflection of what we stand for so much so that we gained incredible business credibility. And that same passion continues to ground us in how we engage with stakeholders and ultimately deliver our work.
At the end of the day we will be remembered by the mark we leave in people’s lives. How are you using your area of influence regardless of how small (you think it is) to effect positive change around you? This is a fundamental element on how great a career you will have.