In honor of Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day, we kicked off an online community series, where experienced Everwise Mentors address a collection of questions submitted by the community on a designated topic.
For this first Ask Her Anything, we highlighted women mentors from the executive ranks:
- Dina Keswani, Adjunct Instructor, Project Leadership and Systems Design and Leadership, eCornell
- Lauren Fogel, VP, Production & Digital Studio, STEM, Pearson
- Felicia Guity, Channel Officer Worldwide Public Sector – Education, Microsoft
- Mylene Pollock, EVP, Creative Director, Leo Burnett
We’re grateful for the time each woman spent responding to community members on the platform.
Below find their advice on developing a professional network to learn from, communicating your goals, and progressing in your career to achieve leadership roles within an organization.
When you meet someone who you’d like to build a professional relationship with, what would you suggest as a next step?
Many successful leaders have had great mentors along the way and enjoy sharing advice with others who are eager to learn – they want to pay it forward. Plus, people generally love to talk about themselves!
I think that it’s completely fine to ask someone out for coffee or for an informational interview… “Cynthia, we met at the XYZ conference and I really enjoyed your talk on PDQ. I’m very interested in this area as a focus in my career growth and would love to have an opportunity to discuss your career path and any insight that you have about how I could expand my expertise in this area….”
Any tips or tricks on how you have initiated conversations and built an external network if you are naturally on the shy side or are more introverted, and it feels inauthentic to reach out to people?
Stay in touch with the people you respect from each job you have. This can be as simple as following them on social media, sending an occasional email or having a cup of coffee from time to time. Same for suppliers or vendors, people you meet at conferences, clients, etc.
LinkedIn is a good tool for researching some background on someone new before you are scheduled to meet or talk with them. And afterwards, if you felt a connection, invite them to join your network. It’s about quality more than quantity, so do what feels natural and authentic to you.
For employees with an entry level position, what are some tips to establish a useful network with senior colleagues in the company?
From personal experience I have found opportunities to volunteer or work on pro-bono projects, where the stakeholders I may interact with are typically involved. Make an investment in people you like to know, ‘coz if people do not know you, all they have is assumptions about you.
If you do not have a way to get to these stakeholders, you will probably have to research a contact who always has a recommendation. These connectors know an unusually wide variety of people and are willing and able to make introductions. Your professional needs and focus will change over time. You will always need to expand your network, and connectors play an instrumental role in that.
As a remote employee, how can I grow and leverage my external networking efforts so that it can have a positive impact on my team?
I’ve had a couple remote employees on my team and my experience says they have to network both internally and externally. It’s easy to get tied up in the task(s) at hand and lose sight of the bigger picture–and your role in it. Schedule conversations with your boss (or team) that are focussed on your current work, personal/team feedback, learning, training, conferences, future opportunities, etc.. Email your boss/team ahead of time with your objective and a short agenda. After the call, ask for feedback and discuss how frequently you want to connect going forward. Quarterly might work for bigger topics, monthly for smaller, you’ll figure out a rhythm that works for you.
For your external network, take advantage of the fact that you are in a different location to attend meetings and conferences. Volunteer for travel to HQ, other offices, clients, etc. so you are continually broadening your contacts. And use your current contacts to gain new ones. Ask a friend or co-worker for a recommendation for someone who could help you with something you’re working on. As long as you have someone to broker an introduction, you’re good.
I’m not sure what your team is like or how you want to impact them, but inviting them into the conversation makes sense. Start with a shared goal and it will all be more clear on how to proceed.
What is your one key piece of advice to step up the ladder in a corporate organization like Microsoft?
I am smiling as I write this. I decided about 7 years ago that I would tell my own story. I felt like others were not telling my story in a way that amplified my capabilities and value. So I hired an executive coach. I had her do a face to face 360 with my team and key leaders. They were asked to describe me using adjectives. Once I saw how they saw me I picked three adjectives that I would use to describe myself whenever I could. Those words were inclusive, decisive and directing. All within the context of leadership.
I also had my coach ask key leaders what role they played in my career advancement. Were they a coach, mentor, advocate or sponsor? This was very helpful when I was looking to find a new role or amplify my leadership.
The key message for you is that EVERYTHING I do is intentional. Thanks for asking!
These represent just a portion of the guidance offered by experts in the Everwise mentor community. Read more of the conversation here, or sign up to be a mentor and offer your own perspective to our community.