It’s easy to get in auto-pilot mode when it comes to your career, but to make better decisions about it and deliberately head in a more fulfilling direction, good advice from those who’ve “been there, done that” can come in handy.
Great job advice can be transformative. It can set you on a whole new trajectory, land you a new role, or even prompt you to make a big change. Through her podcast, Amantha Imber has had the opportunity to interview and learn from some of the most successful business leaders, musicians, writers, entrepreneurs, chefs, and entertainers. Here is some advice from them:
Not all feedback is created equal. Take a moment to reflect on the feedback giver. Ask yourself: Do they have your best interests at heart? Do they have experience or expertise in the subject they have given you feedback on?
Flirt with your future self. It’s normal to get urges to try out different roles or career paths. But instead of doing something dramatic, think about small experiments you can do in your current role that can help you understand your choices better.
Schedule a life check-up. A life check-up involves asking yourself how you’re tracking with your career and the job you are in. It ensures that you’re not blindly following a career path you’re going to regret years down the track.
Do your current job well — even the boring bits. Every single job is a mix of good bits and bad. Do them all well to stand out from the pack.
I once sat across from a boss and listened as he gave me a brutally honest performance review. At the time, I was working as a consumer psychologist for a multi-national advertising agency. My job involved advising big brands on how to best persuade their customers to engage with their products and services.
While I have no recollection of the positive feedback I received that day, there is one piece of constructive feedback that stayed with me.
“Amantha, the problem with you,” my boss said, “is that you’d rather be right than be liked.”
What he was referring to was my unwavering commitment to telling my clients they were wrong if they suggested anything that contradicted my research-backed insights. I didn’t care about building relationships. I only cared about reporting on the facts and making sure everyone else based their work on said facts.
It turns out, this is not the best way to persuade people — which, ironically, is what my job was all about.
While I resisted my boss’s advice at first, I slowly started to make an effort to build a good rapport with my clients and understand that interpersonal connections are just as important a method of persuasion as supporting evidence. For me, that lesson fundamentally changed how I think about communication, and I still use it to convince people that my ideas are great ones.
The many successful business leaders, musicians, writers, entrepreneurs, chefs, CEOs, and entertainers that I’ve interviewed for my podcast agree — great job advice can be transformative. It can set you on a whole new trajectory, land you a new role, or even prompt you to make a big change.
Below is a list of the advice my guests have found most valuable and used to propel their careers forward. Maybe you’ll find it just as useful as I have.
Not all feedback is created equal.
Alison Watkins, group managing director of Coca-Cola Amatil, started her career as a self-described “insecure overachiever.” Due to her insecurities about her work skills, Watkins was someone who aimed to please, which made her very vulnerable to the judgments of others. However, she eventually realized that people who pass judgment may not actually have particularly good judgment.
Having spent many years in very senior roles, Watkins learned to adopt a different perspective when she realized that taking on everyone’s judgments wasn’t serving her. “I’ve become a lot better at accepting that not everybody is going to agree with the choices that I make or the things that I say or do,” Watkins told me. “I have learned to value the judgment from those who are well placed to be wise or considered, and their feedback is really important to me. And I try not to leave myself vulnerable to the judgments of less informed people.”
Pro tip: Instead of reacting to all feedback immediately, take a moment to reflect on the feedback giver. Ask yourself: Do they have your best interests in mind? Do they have experience or expertise in the subject they have given you feedback on? If the answer is no to either question, you might want to re-consider taking on the feedback to heart.
Flirt with your future self.
It’s normal to get urges to try out different roles or career paths. But instead of doing something dramatic like jumping ship or enrolling in a two- or three-year degree, Scott D. Anthony, a global innovation thought leader and senior partner at Innosight, is a fan of Herminia Ibarra’s suggestion to “flirt with your future self.”
“The idea is that you consciously experiment and ‘try on’ different roles, and indeed leadership styles, to see what fits the best,” Anthony said. “For example, I think that a natural next act for me someday would be to become a teacher. But will I actually like teaching? There are small experiments I can do in my current role that help me understand that better, which includes talking to people who have made similar transitions to see what surprised them.”
Pro tip: Try to get out of work mode and get into play mode more often. As Anthony suggests, treat it as a little experiment. Feeling inclined to make a new career move? Make a list of five people you can speak to who can provide insight into this career. For example, if you want to pivot into travel blogging, ask colleagues who they think the best travel bloggers are and reach out to them on LinkedIn or other social media channels for a chat. Turn up your curiosity and make a list of things you want to know and questions you might ask. For example: How do they make money? How did they get their start? How many hours do they work?
Schedule a life check-up.
We go to the dentist and the doctor every year for a check-up of our health. Yet most people don’t deliberately stop and do a check-up of their life. Organizational psychologist and author Adam Grant says we should all be scheduling twice-yearly life check-ups. A life check-up involves asking yourself how you’re tracking with your career and the job you are in. It ensures that you’re not blindly following a career path you’re going to regret years down the track.
Adam schedules these in his own diary for January and July. “In July, I do a rethinking of my teaching approach and what content I’m going to cover that semester,” Grant said. “And then in January, I think about what I want to be working on in terms of research and writing and podcasting.” For Grant, doing a regular life check-up has led to new book ideas and projects. For example, his podcast with TED (WorkLife), came as the result of a life check-up.
Pro tip: When doing a life check-up, it can be tempting to assume that the grass is greener on the other side. If you are contemplating a moving to a new company, for example, it’s worth reflecting on what drew you to your current role and organization in the first place and then think about whether it’s really necessary to leave in order to fulfill your goals. Once you have that clarity, you could make time to have a conversation with your boss to share your goals and ask if they see any opportunities for you to meet them where you are.
Do your current job well — even the boring bits.
Millennials are well known for having high expectations of their job. That’s a good thing. But it’s also good to accept that no job is exciting or challenging 100% of the time. And ironically, it can be the less “fun” parts of a job that allow you to shine.
For Wendy Stops, a director on the board of Commonwealth Bank of Australia, the largest bank in Australia, the most fundamental piece of career advice she gives to people is to do your job well. Stops admits that people’s first reaction to this advice is, “That’s obvious.” But she says it’s not. “If you’re asked to go and photocopy 200 pages,” Stops told me, “show them that you’re the best damn photocopier that they’ve ever seen.”
Stops has observed younger people who are ambitious in their careers shying away from tasks they see as more menial or complaining about doing tasks that might be boring. But she advises that when you do your base job well, it gives you license to be a bit more creative in how you do the bigger things. It gives you permission to put your hand up for things that are outside of the scope of your day-to-day job, providing you with additional opportunities. If people trust you can do the small things, they are more likely to trust that you can do the big ones, too.
Pro tip: Don’t complain about the boring or tedious parts of your job. Every single job is a mix of good bits and bad. Do them all well to stand out from the pack.
While good advice is helpful, it’s also worth noting that there is plenty of bad advice going around. If the advice you’ve been given doesn’t sit well with you, doesn’t help you get closer to your goals, or won’t serve you in the long run, don’t take it. It’s easy to get in auto-pilot mode when it comes to your career, but to make better decisions about it and deliberately head in a more fulfilling direction, good advice from those who’ve “been there, done that” can come in handy.
Copyright 2021 Harvard Business School Publishing Corporation. Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate.