“You can’t just be a member. You have to chair a committee or run events. You want others to see you as a leader,” says Jill Granat, senior vice president/general counsel of Burger King Corp. and president of the Burger King McLamore Foundation. But she cautions that you need to choose an organization you are passionate about or you will come off as superficial. “Don’t do something you don’t like.”
Granat also advises positioning yourself as a leader inside your company, too, by showing you are flexible and seizing opportunities. “You need to be willing to make your mark where the company needs you. You might want to do X, but if you are willing to do Y, you will get a foot in the door.”
Of course, today’s college graduates feel more comfortable than prior generations building connections online. Building and maintaining social networks are worth the time investment. But that is only one step of the process, says Mary Leslie Smith, a partner in the Miami office of Foley & Lardner and the newly installed president of the Dade County Bar Association. Be bold and invite people to enjoy experiences with you, she says.
“I just went with a client to a Madonna concert and now we have that experience that we enjoyed together. You can’t get that by connecting on Linked In,” Smith explains, adding that building a vibrant network in your early career includes forging relationships at all levels. “Ten years from now that associate next may be a general counsel who becomes a client. The more friendships, the more relationships you build, the better.”
Smith also believes one of the best time investments a young professional can make is financial education, particularly for those without business degrees. “Learn to read a financial statement, the key terms in the stock market, how to read a prospectus. It will pay off for you.”
It may seem overwhelming, but start now building a community invested in your success — mentors, sponsors or supporters. Jennifer Moline, senior vice president of finance and accounting at Terremark Worldwide, says it takes courage and a time investment to ask for advice and listen well, which becomes increasingly challenging later in your career. She suggests making a list of everyone you know and ask them to introduce you to successful people who have careers that you are interested in. An introduction by someone who knows you is most effective. “Don’t ask for a job, ask for advice.” Throughout your career, keep your network of supporters informed of your progress, which can be done on social networks, she says.
With this advice in mind, I wanted to dig deeper with Boris Groysberg, a Harvard Business School professor and author of the HBR article on women in the boardroom. Groysberg said while golf has proved key in board culture today, even he is not convinced it will pay off when college graduates are leaders.
“Having cutting edge skills is what’s going to be most important,” he said. To get those skills, he advises young people to scout for companies that will develop them by moving them around within the organization. In addition, he advises them to determine their strengths and then cultivate them. Though the likelihood of reaching the top is small, he says, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. “If you combine what you’re passionate about with your strengths, it can be a satisfying journey.”
Workplace columnist Cindy Krischer Goodman is CEO of BalanceGal, a provider of news and advice on how to balance work and life. Connect with her at email@example.com or worklifebalancingact.com.