A friend was recently talking about mentoring young women in technology. I thought this was a great idea. Although it wasn’t something I could take on right now, it got me thinking, what would I say if I was to mentor young women? What would be my advice to young women who are newly into their careers? I thought my advice might be vastly different than the advice most people would provide. Maybe it is and maybe it isn’t but here’s my advice to young women starting their careers.
- Take time to travel. If you are just graduating from college, and are financially able to do so, go travel. Don’t worry about finding a job and starting your career. Don’t worry that you’re behind or all the good jobs will be taken. Don’t worry that employers will think poorly on you for taking a year off. These things aren’t true. At least they wouldn’t be for me if I was interviewing you. I know a lot of really intelligent, successful people who also wouldn’t think these things were true. If I was interviewing a recent grad and they told me that they took a year off to travel the world before starting their career, I’d say, “Fantastic! What a great experience. Tell me – what did you learn about yourself? What was the hardest thing you experienced and how did you deal with it? What did you miss most while you were away?” The answers to these question would give me a more dynamic insight into who this person is and give me some real world examples of how they handle life.
- Learn to say “no”. When you’re young you want to do a good job. You want to contribute and you’re eager to do so. You say “yes” to every opportunity as a way to gain experience and move forward in your career. You’re afraid if you say “no” you’ll be considered uncooperative, not a team player, and not worthy of greater responsibilities. Here’s why you need to learn to say no. If you say yes to everything all the time, you may be taken advantage of. You may also find yourself in over your head, unable to manage your duties and as a result, not perform well. Saying no is also a way to create boundaries in your life. When you’re young, boundaries might not be considered. But they’re important and the sooner you learn how to set a boundary, the better off you’ll be down the road. So, don’t say, “No, I won’t do that project”. Instead say, “I’d love to help on this one but my plate is full with my current workload”. Offer a solution of how the issue can be solved. This allows you to say “no”, set a boundary, and look like a team player. Win, win, win!
- Turn off. You don’t need to work 24/7. You don’t need to answer emails on Saturdays. Unless you’re working on an immediate deadline, you don’t need to be on 24/7 to do a good job. Actually, if you were my employee and I saw you were working strange hours, and there were no urgent deadlines you were trying to meet, I’d talk to you about it. I’d tell you to not check email after a certain time and to certainly not check it on weekends. Here’s why – you need down time. You need time to refresh and rejuvenate your mind, body, and spirit. You can’t do this if you’re constantly checking email and you can’t wait for vacation to rest. You need to take care of yourself daily. If you don’t take care of yourself, you will not be productive or have any longevity in your career. You will burn out.
- Have outside passions. Do you love to cook? Practice yoga? Play tennis? Volunteer? During my tenure at Microsoft, I never signed up for classes or pursued anything that required me to sign up and commit. I always felt that there wasn’t a point because I would often miss half of the classes due to work conflicts. So, I didn’t pursue various interests for that one reason. I had a bit of an all or nothing mentality at the time so I missed out. I could have considered that 6 out of 12 classes was better than none. It was hard for me to grasp that concept. You need to pursue outside passions and activities away from work. There’s a whole world happening outside of your job and company and you can learn from it. It could enhance your career or help you take the step to your next job.
- Keep learning. This is partly why you need to have outside passions. Life is all about learning. If you think you know it all, guess what? You don’t. The smartest people listen more than they talk. They are okay saying, “I don’t know”. If you say “I don’t know” you are open to learning more. No one expects you to know everything about everything. If you don’t know something about your job, say “I’ll find out”. Never stop learning. Be curious. Be open to hearing others. Learn from everyone. Don’t discriminate. You never know who will teach you something. I used to think people that were younger than me couldn’t teach me. HA! Isn’t that funny? They might teach me the most! Everyone is learning, exactly where they are. No one is right or wrong. We’re all just learning.
- Hire a financial planner. You may feel too young or that you’ve got time to do this later but a financial planner is a great friend to have in your life. Right now you might not know what you want when you’re 60 but I know what you don’t want – debt and zero savings. Start talking to someone now about the baby steps you can take today. You may find in five years you want to quit your career and travel the world. If you started financial planning today, you would probably have the money to do it when that whim strikes.