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Navigating Career Growth as a woman (Part 2) - my steps towards becoming a Principal

Updated: Oct 20, 2023

Welcome back :).

This is the 2nd part of what became a 3-part series about career progression and a series of lessons which I learnt … at some point.

Before going any further, I need to preface this article.

 

Q: “What to do if I get no support from my lead?”

In the corporate world, you will often hear that employees need to drive their own careers.

While it is true, this should not remove the load off your managers. And sometimes, regardless of the things you do, you may find yourself in situations where the leadership is just…not going to be on your side.

There may be times when you will need to make some radical decisions, for your own mental health, to avoid burnout (or to recover from one), for your career progression, for further development and learning, or, anything else.


These decisions may include - leaving, asking around for an internal move, escalating, or, being fearless in providing feedback and setting up deliverables for you both, ultimately, you can even seek support at the level above.

I’ll only briefly touch on the latter in this post.

 

Welcome back back 🙂

Let me ask you, does this sound familiar to you? “If I work really hard and produce results and also go out of my job’s remit, clearly they will observe it and reward it!” Or…

  • “I always give 110% in my job”

  • “Can’t remember when I ONLY worked 40h a week”

  • “I was taught that hard work is always rewarded”

  • “I really care about my job and the quality of my work, and I get really positive feedback, so this must mean something”...

And then you think this will get you promoted, right?

Sorry.

Wrong. Partially wrong.


We often stumble before we learn to stride confidently. I've had my fair share of missteps, and I believe they've shaped my career in significant ways. This is the 2nd part of our discussion on navigating career growth as a woman (though I will argue that this actually knows no gender difference, I cannot speak for others).

In the previous post, we delved into the lessons from "How Women Rise" by Sally Helgesen and the power of sponsorship.


Now, I am ready to dive deeper, focusing on the lessons I learned from past mistakes and the strategies that have (finally) proven successful in my promotions, particularly in the realm of my domain - Talent Acquisition. (I would argue that they can easily apply to any job, but I would not want to generalise).

What this post is about:

  • this is a post about “I wish I did it differently” or “What would you tell your 25-year-old self”. I will share my own experience growing in my career from a sourcer/recruiter to a principal recruiter and the multiple ways in which my approach to business has changed. Together with my mindset.

  • A practical “do this and not that” set of ideas.

What this post is not about:

  • “Implementing these steps will get you 100% promoted”. There are multiple reasons why one is not getting promoted and, as Nikhyl Singhal - VP of Product at Facebook shares in one of Lenny Rachitsky podcast, they can fall in 4 categories:

  • Lack of advocacy (this we will cover, there is a way to get it! Got you covered!)

  • The next role does not exist in the company yet (or there is no need for it)

  • Impatience (people need time to grow and prove new skills)

  • Development areas that are not really addressed (from the leadership or employee side).


4 big topics (here’s a TL;RD so that you can jump to what matters to you. OR to wait for the next post):

A. The land of Mistakes (and what to do instead)

B. Embracing challenges - adaptability

C. The importance of networking and personal brand

D. Personal evolution - emotional intelligence (EI)

 

A. The land of mistakes (and what to do instead)


Competitive vs. Collaborative Approach:


Early in my career, I distanced myself from my direct talent acquisition team, viewing them as competitors rather than collaborators. I thought I needed to be at the “top of the class” to be seen and compensated.

Over time, I've learned that collaboration, not competition, is the key to success.

I was building processes, and documentation and somehow “hoarding” them, being afraid that people will steal my work. And they did at times.

It made me furious and even more distant.

Until I learnt that in order to become the Principal I was aiming for, this was actually part of MY JOB!

  • Be the multiplier, do, and give.

  • Identify problems, come up with solutions, work towards implementing them and share your learning with the wider team.

  • Identify areas where your team struggles and instead of running ahead “cause you can do it better and this will help you prove yourself”, pick them up along the way and run together towards the finish line.

I wish I would have learned earlier that it is not a “me VS them”.


This fear often prevented me from using my colleagues as sounding boards, which in turn limited the potential of my ideas. Over time, I've learned that sharing ideas and inviting feedback can lead to better outcomes, even if it means taking the risk of having your ideas “borrowed”.


You may be educated by your folks like me, “you have to be the best or else…” (fill in the blanks). Or you may still think that you have to push and shove to get to the top.


The best people around me are those who take everyone with them to the top.

(I do acknowledge that there are very many nuances to this, from cultural to religious, even gender specific, etc. however, try to hold on to the bigger picture here as much as your environment allows it).


What to do:

  • Collaborate

  • Share your work

  • Elevate others on your way up

  • Open ways and get others to walk with you

  • Document and put boundaries in place to avoid your work being “stolen”.

  • Always think of becoming a multiplier.

  • And remember that “if you want to go fast, go alone but if you want to go far, go together”.

  • Drop your ego. Accept that you have something to learn from everyone, no matter how big or small the learning will be.

What not to do:

  • Hoard, be overly protective of your ideas, work

  • Push competitiveness to an extreme

  • Distance yourself from your immediate team, seeking feedback and endorsement only from your business stakeholders

  • Show up as the “only one who did X, completely alone” in front of your leadership

  • See others around you as pure competition instead of brainstorming buddies


Complaining without solutions vs. Taking ownership:


Who does not have bad days at work? When all you want to do is complain? About anything and everything?

The more senior I became the stronger a boundary started appearing.

That: “If you complain about something, you better come up with an idea of how to solve that problem”.

I've been guilty of complaining without proposing solutions. It's an easy trap to fall into, but it's not a productive one. I've learned that it's far more effective to approach problems with a solution-oriented mindset. Not only does this make you a more valuable team member, but it also makes your work more fulfilling.


Luckily for me, I have the right strengths to help me get this mindset as an “automated pilot” (Gallup words, not mine: Command, Restorative, Achiever, Activator, Communication).

Nonetheless, time and time again I would complain about things and only when I started coming up with solutions (sometimes only to my own problems) I started moving things forward, and changing. I somehow took that autonomy (granted or not) and just ran with developing solutions.

Developed a mindset of “asking for forgiveness later” and it has worked wonders.

(I acknowledge that this can be harder for the more introverted individuals, or if the organisation has a very top-down, bureaucratic or rigid leadership / culture, etc.).


👀 My idea?

  • You notice a problem? Good - take note.

  • Before bringing it up to your leader, colleagues or even dwelling on it on your own, ask what could be 2-3 potential solutions to it.

  • Dedicate 15-30 minutes for this.

  • They don’t have to be big, radical, revolutionary solutions.

  • Then, when you do bring it up to your lead, your colleagues, you can share the “problem + potential solution” and start from there.

📌 This will:

1. Help you release some of the anger and anxiety when all you see is THE problem and

2. Will position you in front of those around you (or in more senior roles) as an individual with critical thinking, a problem-solving attitude, and with ownership.

You will just have to take my word for it here. There will rarely be that career progression you aim for, without shifting your mindset to “problem solving” mode and being recognised as the person who takes ownership and is accountable for deliverables.

What not to do:

  • Observe issues and stay silent,

  • Observe problems and only talk to your colleagues about it,

  • Constantly complain about how things are bad and how they could be better, but without providing any insight about “how they could be better”.

  • Raise problems with no data to back up “why is this a problem”.

  • Expect that it is (almost) always someone else’s responsibility to solve the problems you (or others) identified.

What to do:

  • Observe areas of improvement,

  • Ask yourself what the impact on the business should that particular issue get solved,

  • Have a clear definition of “why is this a problem”.

  • You do not need to have the solutions fully developed - however, you need to come up with 2, or 3 working solutions and their implementation plan and bring them up. You do not need to know who to bring them up to, ask your manager, ask your colleagues, ask your stakeholders.

  • Ask others around you how they feel about a particular issue, ahead of you proceeding to come up with solutions. Maybe it is a problem only for you, in which case, what is the scale of your impact in the end?

  • Know and choose the battles. If you have identified a total of 5 issues, will you aim at solving them all? At once? Do not. Instead, use the Pain/Gain method to help you decide where to start.


Stakeholders vs. Team Colleagues:

I will openly admit that it took me longer than necessary to understand that, as I want to progress in my role, I need to stop being really good at one and quite average at the other. (insert 😨).

I may have been praised for great stakeholder management, as I used to be strongly focused on building relationships with stakeholders. While this is still important, I've learned that bettering my own department can have a more substantial impact.

This ties in with the first point we touched on above (collaborate vs. compete).

What not to do:

  • Do not put all your (proverbial) eggs in one basket.

  • Do not rely on feedback being very positive only from your stakeholders. It will not hold in case of a promotion case.

  • Do not ignore time with your team for always spending time with your business counterparts.

  • Do NOT speak badly of your colleagues or department in front of your business stakeholders.

  • The more senior you are, or aspire to become, the more advocacy and support for your own department you must show. If you have nothing nice to say, then say nothing.

What to do:

  • Remember the end goal. Focus on the long term “Who will I want feedback from and who will I need feedback from?”

  • Mix and match your time and energy spent, between the business owners and the colleagues in your direct team/domain.

  • Praise your colleagues to the business.

  • Help other colleagues navigate patchy relationships with the more complicated stakeholders, especially if you have a good relationship going on there.

  • Be clear about what benefits you have from both types of relationships and be mindful of areas where you may step on people’s toes (this is not about being opportunistic but rather mindful of your environment and how the networks mix and match).

B. Embracing Challenges - adaptability

The journey from a Recruiter to a Principal is not an easy one. It requires you to step out of your comfort zone, take on new challenges and responsibilities, and constantly learn and grow.

My background is in #consultancy . This builds a really thick skin and strong competitiveness (like this was needed :) ). It builds resilience. And good negotiation and sales skills. Great.

It also builds resentment.

Because in consultancy you get paid a commission for your success, on top of your salary. In an in-house role, however…


The reward for good work is:

...often more work 😵.

It might seem daunting, but it's actually a great opportunity.

More work means more opportunities to learn, to grow, and to prove your worth. So, don't shy away from it. Embrace it.

Use tools and techniques to prioritise (check here the Eisenhower Matrix, as one of many tools). And if your leadership overloads you, one skills you need to learn is “setting boundaries”. Complaining about your workload to your colleagues will not solve much.

Instead, put everything on paper.

  • Use the tool below to prioritise the importance of the tasks that you have (or are being allocated) in relation to the company’s bottom line.

  • See how all and any of your tasks connect with the department’s OKRs (if you do not have OKRs, then goals. And if your department does not have any, go to company level).

  • Come up with a suggested prioritisation of tasks, including the amount of time required for each task to be performed. With this, you sit down with your lead and ask them to review and offer their support to redistribute tasks, postpone deliveries or purely cut some workload off.

Navigating non-promotable tasks:

Non-promotable tasks are tasks that are essential but not necessarily recognised or rewarded.

 

According to Harvard Business Review, “Non-promotable tasks (NPTs) often play a crucial role in an organisation's success, yet they are not typically seen as contributing to an employee's career progression. Examples of NPTs include duties such as training new hires, taking notes at meetings, organising events, or other tasks that support the broader team but are not directly tied to the organisation's core mission. While these tasks are necessary, they can often be less visible and do not typically require specialised skills .”.

 

These are some ideas for how to navigate this:

  • Use opportunities for meeting note-taking (and then sending the summary to your team to showcase your organisational skills.

  • In time, teach others how to become good at this.

  • Put your hand up to onboard new people (even if for only some topics) and this can help you develop into the “go-to person for X or Y topics” - this will turn into your SME - unique selling point.

  • Champion your teams’ social gatherings, birthdays, etc. Become the reliable person who always has the team’s best interest at heart when it comes to culture and engagement topics.

Bragging about my work:

AKA - asking for what is rightfully mine.

It is not a fantasy story when you hear that women are % less likely than men to ask for a promotion or to negotiate salaries. BBC shares that women are 14% less likely to be promoted than their male counterparts.

Now, I would like to believe that my article can help any gender and all representations.

🙋♀️ But the truth is that I am a woman and these were my challenges. So take what resonates.

It took me 10 (!) years to learn to stand up for myself.

I was thinking that I will be observed and rewarded for my work. (Which did happen to a certain extent).

Until I reached a point where I started realising some of my potential - which was underutilised and underappreciated.


What did I do?

  1. Brag documents - I literally became very organised, a bit OTT one may argue, at recording everything I did and adding “what value did this add to the team, company” and “What was the impact”.

  • This helps me understand, for myself, where I have blind spots (I used to cross-reference with my company’s career frameworks)

  • This helped me tremendously in my Self Reviews (for performance evaluations) to have a full and transparent and reliable overview of my work to dat

2. I started asking people for feedback throughout the performance cycle while also sharing what my aspiration is (this last part is crucial).

  • I would ask my most senior and/or most relevant stakeholders for feedback sessions mid-way through the performance cycle

  • This allowed me to have enough time to address their feedback and, if necessary, course correct.

  • Same for my colleagues and leaders.

  • I would prepare the feedback conversation, with a clear agenda of what I want to discuss (and book 30 mins sessions) - this would give them time in advance to think and prepare.

  • I then openly asked them if they consider that my current role level is reflecting my abilities

🔑If they said “yes” - I would ask them for 3-4 things I should do in the next 3-6 months to showcase that I am on the level above.

🔑 If they said “you seem to be matching the level above” - I would openly ask them if they would state exactly that in my performance review. Not one person rejected this idea.

Rinse and repeat.


This did not make me an arrogant person, or oblivious to my shortcomings. Quite the opposite.

It helped me get real, honest feedback and gave me enough time to course correct.

Also, it showed me that people are open to helping others if they are being asked.

It helped me loosen my fear of rejection and it made me realise that I am not out of line for asking.

What’s the worst that can happen? They say “no”.

Can they blame me for advocating for myself? Not quite - because actually I start by asking for their help with becoming better (feedback).

 

That's a wrap on part 2 of our trilogy :).

We've delved into the complex dance between promotable and non-promotable tasks, bagging about our work, competition vs. collaboration, feedback, problem-solving mindset, etc.

In the final “chapter”, we're going to tackle the remaining two big topics, building on the foundation we've established.


I can't stress enough how important your input is in this journey. I'm not simply here to share my thoughts, but also to spark a conversation that could lead to new insights and understandings. So, send some feedback my way.

Do you agree with the points made so far? Or perhaps you disagree with some of my observations? Whatever your stance, I want to hear from you. Feel free to leave a comment below, sharing your thoughts, your agreements, and your disagreements.

So, stay tuned for the grand finale, until then, let's get the 👂 started!


Thank you,

Andreea

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1 Comment


Unknown member
Dec 27, 2023

I really like the intro on what if you lack support from your lead? I have often found that sometimes managers do not want to deal with people that have a stronger personality than them. Most of the time i felt lost or pulled in many different directions. But the truth is Managers need to manage especially if you are in an early career trying to grow and move up. But after reading this trilogy of navigating career as a women I realise my mindset needs to change and that there still a long journey for me in this field of TA and EB


Loved the articles

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