As we head into the second half of 2020, we thought it was time to reflect on the first six months of a year we are all unlikely to forget. Faced with the spread of an unprecedented global pandemic, we’ve all been forced to shift gears and redefine what is ‘“normal.” We’ve spent more time this year catching up with professionals to hear about their experiences and how they’re approaching the changes in the market. With that in mind, we’ve decided to compile some of the best advice we’ve heard through interviews, conversations with professionals and a variety of other sources.
This article will be broken up into the following categories:
- Tips for excelling in your current role
- Tips for getting into your next role
- Tips for managing your career during unprecedented times
Be willing to take on any role, flexible skill sets are key
Having a versatile toolkit and demonstrating that you are willing to take on new initiatives, will always be well received in any organisation. This is especially true in early-stage startups where you will often have to wear multiple ‘hats’ and take on responsibilities that aren’t always in your job description.
Mike Goodman, Chief of Staff at the healthcare startup Oshi Health, explains how versatile his role can be: “If you’re a Chief of Staff at an early-stage company, your primary role will be to keep the organization on track and pitch in against high priority gaps that need filling. One day you can be a de facto COO and the next you can be a de facto commercial lead.”
This is true across other roles, like in consulting which can at times seem a bit like individuals playing a team sport. A McKinsey & Company, Engagement Manager shared, “Good things happen to people who raise their hand to help out.”
Be intentional and proactive with communication and relationships
Building relationships within any organisation is vital to ensure there are open channels of communication across teams and functions. Ultimately, these channels will enable success across the business. This can also create easier pathways if you’re interested in moving internally to a different role.
A Senior Manager at Amazon said, “Relationship building is by far the most important skill at Amazon. While other leadership principles are often touted such as delivering results, it's the relationship-building that matters most. Amazon is huge and it’s empowered managers with quite a bit of control over your career. Building those relationships will be more important than any individual product you produce, no matter the impact.”
Most people know how important networking is externally, however, at Amazon networking within the company can open quite a few doors. The same Manager shared the following, “Network internally early and often. The company supports moves internally and has locations all over/ industries all over so you never know when you'll need those connections. And sign up for all the beta programs you can! You learn a ton about Amazon and it may help you find your way into interesting roles and teams”
Mike Goodman, Chief of Staff at the healthcare startup Oshi Health, shared the following, “To keep everyone moving forward efficiently, you'll need to help build and maintain alignment across a variety of functions. To do this effectively, you must invest early and proactively in building relationships across the organization. It can be hard to make time for this during busy weeks, but these relationships will pay dividends in the form of organizational progress and efficiency, especially as organizations scale.”
Proactively think about your progression and career track
When looking for a new role, starting a new role or even just in your current role; the best way to move up and ahead is to have a clear understanding of where you're headed. This is critical to your growth and success in any role.
For example, not every role has a natural trajectory to C-Suite, as outlined by Simon de Jesus Rodrigues the former Chief of Staff at Nested.com here, “In terms of progression, the Chief of Staff role in and of itself is a dead-end role. You need to proactively think about what your next step is going to be and what you want to get out of it. We still live in a time where there is no natural progression from it. It's not like you're going from ‘Operations Manager’ to ‘Head of Operations’ to ‘COO’.
Steps to best define personal development plans
McKinsey & Co consultant, Lulu Chang, explores why creating personal development plans are detrimental to your success in her article, “How and why you should define a personal development plan with your manager.” Here are 8 steps to create a personal development plan for any role, check out her article for more details.
- Set and align your goals
- Independently identify what you’re best at
- Have your manager and direct reports (if applicable) identify your best traits
- Independently identify your areas for improvement
- Have your manager and direct reports (if applicable) identify your areas for improvement
- Identify someone as your goal
- Set monthly meetings with your manager/direct reports about this
- Write things down
Make decisions based on who you want to work with rather than what topics you want to focus on
In consulting, many consultants tend to prioritise types of projects and content over the team they’d be working with. A McKinsey & Co, Engagement Manager shared, “that it can be a much better experience if you make decisions based on who you want to work with. Even if one is nominally hired to consult in a specific industry, they'll often have some autonomy with regards to which projects they take, and I've seen a lot of people regret taking engagements with exciting topics but terrible leadership.”
Working with a team you enjoy and leadership you trust can make even the toughest projects better. He also shared, “Ask for help, and do so often - even when you think you know the answer, extra eyes on the problem tend to help more than they hurt.” Which is a useful bit of advice for any role.
Be aware of personality traits and compensate
In our article, “Thriving as an Introvert or Extrovert in Management Consulting: Part 2,” we explore the characteristics that make up a strong management consultant. We primarily wanted to address the stereotype that all consultants are extroverts. The truth is, both personality types face challenges, and being good in the role simply means you have to be self-aware and compensate for potential challenges you may face.
Consulting challenges associated with introversion
Consulting challenges associated with extraversion
One of the more positive side effects of COVID-19 has been the opportunity to slow down across every aspect of life and take the time we previously wouldn’t have had. For some, this has provided the much needed time to really take a step back and reflect on their professional projection and ponder what next steps might be. This section compiles our learnings on how to prepare for recruiting into some of the key roles we cover at Hiperpool.
Recruiting into a functional strategy role
“The best way to get into a functional strategy role varies from industry to industry. Generally, my advice would be to specialise in the industry before shifting to a functional strategy role within that industry. So maybe taking a year to do a Master’s or gaining actual industry knowledge from either working within a merchandiser or a buyer role if you were to join the fashion or luxury industry would be helpful, giving you an edge to be more commercial, with on-the-ground and on-the-job experience. [...] Because at the end of the day, within fashion luxury if you’ve never started as a sales assistant or a shopkeeper, you'll never be seen as one of them you'll always be seen as a consultant who just makes pretty slides and that’s not very effective when pushing for results and impact.”
Recruiting into a corporate development role
“[...] the most successful candidates in Corp Dev are ones that have a variety of professional experiences so you can bring a unique perspective to the various teams and executives that will rely on you for a broad variety of advice. Typically, our ideal candidates are those that have a combination of finance (investment banking, private equity, etc.) or consulting with some level of operational experience. A strong corp dev person has to be able to engage cross-functionality across all role types (Product, R&D, Sales, Marketing, Legal, etc.) to be able to think through the implications of buying or investing in companies on each of those business units so a good mix of prior work experiences is invaluable.
From a behavioural standpoint, we look for people who are incredibly proactive and go-getters, have exceptionally strong communication skills and feel comfortable engaging with senior execs on a daily basis, have a growth mindset as you will be continuously learning on the job and being pushed to stretch outside your comfort zones, and most importantly, someone that knows how to balance work with fun and can bring a unique personality to the job!”
Recruiting into a corporate strategy role
“The main difficulty of getting into Corporate Strategy lies in getting your CV noticed. I would recommend reaching out to current members of the team and setting up coffee chats. During the interview, really think about how the company makes money and what the avenues for growth are. Then take that train of thought and apply it to the company's competitors. A lot of what makes successful consultants translates almost exactly to what would make a successful person in Corporate Strategy. This is one of the easier transitions, someone looking to move from Management Consulting to Product or Operations would require more research and work to make a smooth transition.”
How to look for and evaluate Chief of Staff roles
First, they're hard to find, typically Chief of Staff roles aren’t advertised, and if so, they're probably a later stage company. [...] So it's tough to find a Chief of Staff role, you might need to find the company, the segments, or a specific stage of company and then see if they need a Chief of Staff type role.
Another element in terms of finding and searching is just being very forward about what the company is looking for in that role. [...] Titles can be exceptionally malleable, and Chief of Staff is definitely subject to a good bit of title dilution and inflation. You’ll want to be very proactive in asking what the role entails, which may feel weird because you think you know what it is, but it's very easy to get misaligned.
If you find a role and you’re trying to scope it out, write out the JD and talk about the JD if you want to be aligned on what the role is, otherwise, it's very easy to fall into ambiguity or cling to what you know. If it feels chaotic, then it's probably going according to plan, because naturally, you should be working on [...] a combination of fixing things before they're broken and also fixing things when they are broken. That's proactive, sometimes reactive, and that naturally just feels uncomfortable.
It would be difficult to discuss 2020 without bringing up the obvious, COVID-19, and how it’s impacted professionals all over the world. We took some time to work with a few individuals to compile the best learnings and provide some insight on how to navigate the current professional landscape.
Also, if you want more details on how you can specifically help and volunteer right now please check out our article on How you Can Support your Community During the COVID-19 Crisis.
How should young professionals think about their careers during these difficult times?
One piece of advice I’ve always focused on - regardless of economic climate and what your peers are doing - is to focus on what you can control and think about the longer term. Don’t feed your anxiety and self-doubt monsters by dwelling on external factors beyond your control - or trying to optimize for the best possible outcome. It’s not productive.
Careers are made up of a series of zig-zagging challenges that you learn from and build upon. Turn your energies into understanding what you want from the next opportunity, learning how to better assess if that opportunity is the right fit, and positioning yourself for it. Remember that this will pass. The economy will recover, and new, unforeseen opportunities will present themselves.
If you’re searching for a new role in this environment, leverage your top asset: time.
- Understand what you want
- Position yourself for opportunities
- Keep networking
- Be resilient and flexible
If you’re happily employed during this time, change presents opportunities.
- Be proactive and evolve
- Focus on learning
- Help Others
Tips on getting mentored during COVID-19
- Be proactive: If you’re finding yourself sitting on your couch for inordinate amounts of time, this could be the perfect time to begin building your network and finding a potential mentor…
- Don’t be afraid of cold emails: While this is a great time to re-warm existing connections, you should certainly feel empowered to reach out to new contacts…
- Cast a wide net: With so much uncertainty in the job market, this pandemic has truly created the ideal time for you to pull out your digital Rolodex and begin to think broadly about the types of leaders you respect, the industries you’re interested in, and interests you may have…
- Make it mutualistic: Having a two-way, mutually beneficial mentor and mentee relationship is always a good idea, but this rings particularly true during this pandemic…
- Keep up: [...] Too often, these mentor/mentee “relationships” feel more like transactions, with only minimal contact cropping up when there is something to be gained…
At Hiperpool we managed to take advantage of the momentary slower pace of work to increase our efforts in some areas that otherwise get less attention; we increased internal training efforts, took more time to build out strategy roadmaps, worked as a team to better understand our mission and purpose, etc. Although brief, we were able to use this time to our advantage, especially as we have now resumed back to the normal fast pace of things. Stay tuned for more great content coming your way in the second half of 2020.
Interested in sharing some tips that might help our community? Get in touch with our Content & Digital Marketing Manager to find out how.