50 Things I Wish All Women Knew (And Understood) At The Start Of Their Career

08/03/2015 8:16 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
Hindustan Times via Getty Images
NEW DELHI, INDIA - DECEMBER 5: Women staff member working in first branch of Bharatiya Mahila Bank in Delhi after its inauguration by Finance Minister P Chidambaram and Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit at IFCI Tower, Nehru Place on December 5, 2013 in New Delhi, India. Set up with a corpus of Rs 1,000 crore, BMB is a pioneering initiative to empower women and provides loans keeping in mind specific needs of women. (Photo by Sonu Mehta/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

A lot of times I get asked questions about what it takes to be a working woman in the corporate world. My answers vary based on whom I am speaking to, but there are a number of things that go into the mix - the desire to work (or need to work for some women), performance, passion, dedication, commitment, hard work, experience, qualifications, personal brand, political savviness, professional / personal networks and advocates, and just the kind of person you are. But like life itself, being a working woman is to be a work in progress.

In this post I am sharing 50 things I wish I'd truly understood when I started my corporate career. While I have burnt my fingers many times because of my own ignorance at the time, I hope that my insights will help you in your career journey.

1) The word CAREER starts with CARE. So take full responsibility to CARE for yourself, your professional growth and success.

2) Have clear career goals and objectives for yourself -- both short-term and long-term. You will go and grow only as far as you aspire.

3) Plan your career in line with your goals and objectives. Have a Plan A. Plan B. And Plan C. Many women are guilty of having no real career plan.

4) Know yourself. Discover your strengths and weaknesses. Be aware of them, accept them (including the fact that you are a woman) and find ways to improve and improvise things that can be made better.

5) Believe in yourself. If you don't, there's a fair chance that others also won't.

6) Value yourself if you want others at work to value what you do.

7) Learn to say NO -- at the workplace and at home. And No means NO. Make sure you understand it, and those around you understand it too.

8) Find a mentor. Having one early on in your career can sometimes determine how long your career will span, and how far you will go.

9) Invest in professional networks. They will hold you in good stead on rainy days.

10) At work: Show up. Own up. Speak up.

11) You are the "CMO" (Chief Marketing Officer) of your work and career. Promote yourself and your work. Again, a lot of women lose out because they don't get due credit and visibility for what they've done.

12) Be aware of the news. Knowing about the world around you is always good.

13) Invest in your physical health and wellness. This will be one of the most important determinants in the quality and quantity of your career.

14) Learn to use technology for your benefit. Make an effort to know what you need, understand the power of technology and find ways to make technology work for you.

15) Stay relevant in your field -- read, take examinations/certifications, participate in community discussions, etc.

16) Build your personal brand image, both at work and elsewhere. Brand YOU should stand for something unique and reflective of you.

17) Communication is critical to success. Invest in enhancing your oral and written communication skills. This can sometimes be the most key aspect of your career growth.

18) Presentation skills are important. Invest in learning how to create and make presentations effectively.

19) Learn to negotiate. It does not come naturally to most women, but it can be learned over time.

20) Learn to ask for help. It is OK to ask. You don't need to re-invent the wheel always!

21) Make a personal resolution to learn something new periodically. Learning is one of the best ways to love yourself.

22) Find ways to improve productivity at work and home. Small things make a big difference. Use tools/technology, optimise processes, make plans, etc.

23) To have a fair chance at success as a working woman, learn to prioritise your work.

24) Knowing when to shut up and when to speak up is a personal asset. Speaking when you shouldn't, and not speaking when you should, can become a liability.

25) Choose your battles wisely in every sphere of life. You have finite energy and time, and not every issue is worth a fight.

26) When in doubt, use common sense, presence of mind, a smile or some good humour. They almost always work!

27) Every now and then ask yourself the difficult questions. They will burst your bubbles and show you the clear picture.

28) Develop a daily routine and stick to it. For at least three months before you make any changes.

29) Periodically, think and measure your ROTI (Return on Time Invested) for the things that you do at work and out of work. If the returns don't justify your time and efforts, pause and reflect and change course.

30) Give yourself some "ME time". AT least once a week keep aside 30 minutes to do something you love. This will rejuvenate you.

31) Understand that while emotions define most women, control on your emotions will define your career path and its longevity.

32) Have "genuine" interests outside of work. Cooking, dancing, writing, whatever!

33) Have friends out of work. They will be critical to keep you going through the rough tides, and will provide the much-needed ears, shoulders and perspective on those gloomy days/nights.

34) At work, it is about business. Don't make everything personal.

35) Office politics are real and here to stay. Find a way to deal with it.

36) If you are at a cross-roads or a tough situation at work, make sure you speak up and share it with the right audience at the right forum. Even if it does not directly help you, it will indirectly help women who may face a similar situation in the future. One small voice can be the start of positive change, right?

37) While earning is important, managing your finances and investments is even more critical. Save regularly, invest wisely and review your personal finances periodically. If you can't/don't have the time, hire professionals to do it. It is a worthwhile investment. Again, a lot of women are guilty of being clueless about where all their money went.

38) "The most important career choice a woman makes is who she marries," says Sheryl Sandberg. This is 100% true. Understand its depth and accept its reality.

39) Work-life balance is elusive, and somewhat of a misnomer. Bottom-line, it is your work, your life and your balance. If it works for you, then all is well.

40) There is great inspiration and power in all-women social network. Find one or two that interest you and become a member. Listen, express and share. They may be even better than the "old boys' clubs".

41) If and when you become a mother, there will be a time-period (ranging between weeks to three years or more) when there could be a career break -- you may need to apply the career brake. That's OK! If you are serious about a long-term career, positive and objective, things will fall in place over a period of time.

42) Focus, flow and flex are the three foundational pillars for a working mother's career continuum. They all play their role in the career graph of a working woman.

43) Once in a while, help another working woman. Just imagine the difference it could make if every working woman supported one other working woman for some time.

44) No matter how complex, formidable, complicated and unique you think your situation is, remember that there is at least one other woman in the world who has faced something similar and found a way out of the adversity. So it is possible. Believe in it. Looks for possibilities, alternatives, paradigms that might work.

45) Every now and then, connect and speak with a working woman who is finding her way amidst the career maze to find her spot in the sun. You will almost always take away some wisdom, nuggets or insights from such an interaction.

46) Try to stay positive no matter what. It is easier said than done, and might even cause some harm, but it is worth a try!

47) Have an open mind to try out unchartered territories at work. Better to try, (learn) and fail/succeed than not try at all.

48) Age and Karma almost always catch up with you -- no preferential treatment for women here.

49) Your happiness is in your hands. You are the "Chief Happiness Officer" of your life. Play the part, and play it well!

50) Thank (often and in your own personal way) your parents, your education, your teachers, your friends, your colleagues, etc. who all played their bit in shaping your career. Nothing takes you from good to great as fast as gratitude.

This post first appeared on the author's blog.

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