Practical Career Advice From Successful Women

Starting out a career and achieving success is not straightforward, or easy. Workloads, deadlines, colleagues, big decisions and all the complexities of our hybrid and uncertain working world can make things tricky. Over the past two years I’ve had the privilege of interviewing and sharing the career journeys, tips and wisdom of hundreds of inspiring role-models across numerous sectors.

Listening to those who have gone before us can make things a lot easier, and so for International Women’s Day, here are 16 inspirational women from a variety of backgrounds, sectors and countries giving their priceless advice on what to focus on as you progress your career:

“For me, the values of an organisation and what they want to achieve are important motivators for doing your best work. I would say, look for organisations you want to work for and worry about the specifics of the role afterwards.”

“When I was younger, I focused all my energies on “being right,” having all the answers and managing upwards internally. I wish I had spent more time asking questions, going to conferences and building my network externally. I don’t know if you know Gracie McKinstry-Smith at Target? She won the Quirks award for Best Young Researcher. The first thing she did was reach out to me to connect. I was so impressed! We need more Gracie’s in the industry!”

“Intentionally build your network: A group of people that you trust, that will challenge you, inspire you! Remember scary is good – it builds your resilience. And fight the right battles. We are surrounded by so much you can’t fix and have a voice in everything. Be present in what is important to you.”

“Keep your eyes open for opportunities. Keep looking. Yes stay connected to recruiters even if you are super happy in your current role. (Making decisions about next roles when you are not happy in your current situation can lead to wrong moves). Stand taller, stretch yourself. Surround yourself with a diverse network and lean on it often.”

“Network. Get out of your company to attend events. Be bold and systematic but also be experimental. Some of the best connections can come from the least obvious places. Most people will always give time if asked for advice, so step forward. Be yourself learn how to be your best self, but stay true. Authenticity is important to those you meet and to your own mental health. But note this is not an excuse not to be authentically rude.”  

“Try a lot of different things! We don’t always know what we’re good at, or passionate about, until we try it. If you’d told me when I first started in my career that 15 years later, I’d be running a company and primarily focused on sales and marketing. Or that 25 years later I’d be running a consulting firm and working as an investment banker. I would have thought you were insane!

Be business first. Of course, as researchers, our job is to be advocates of the consumer/customer, but first and foremost we must deeply understand the business priorities and needs so we can provide real value to it.

“Create opportunities for yourself. Show curiosity and willing. It’s easy to wait for opportunities to come along, or not know it’s okay to ask, but please do! They can only say no, and if they do, that’s fine, ask someone else!”

“From my experience, professional networking is No 1. For many people, that’s outside their comfort zone. This is how you create the visibility you need to advance your career. People go to networking events to connect, so they expect to be approached by a stranger, they know they need to do the same themselves, so don’t feel shy about going direct to someone and saying “Hi, I’m …” I bet they will be so appreciative of you making the effort.

Be yourself. Which isn’t always as easy as it sounds. I spent the first year or two not being my full self at work. It definitely impacted on my performance and confidence, and it took me a few years to really be comfortable. Once I was, I found everything a lot easier.

Be Authentic! It’s okay to bring your whole self to work. Your unique perspective and experiences in life are beneficial when designing materials, moderating groups, responding to proposals and more generally the workplace dynamic.

“Stop and think about what you want from your career.  Are you doing what you want to be doing?  Do you have a plan for growth?  I am a huge believer in the power of positive thinking, having a plan, putting it on paper and holding yourself accountable.  Because that can be hard to do.”

“Stay objective! Staying objective will be one of the hardest things you do as a researcher but is the most important goal for us professionally.  Avoid the tendency to let personal values or preferences shape your hypotheses or interpretations.  As a profession, we are also human beings that bring our own selves to work each day.  But as researchers, we must separate ourselves from the population we are studying and not let our own minds betray the people we study.

Stay curious and don’t get complacent. Human beings love to feel safe and secure – don’t we all?! However, if your current role doesn’t excite you or the company you work for doesn’t support your aspirations, take stock in that and make changes!”

“Ask for opportunities and make sure people know what you’re passionate about. In a hybrid world and you’re not around people all the time, you don’t have the same opportunities to stick your nose in and say ‘ooh, what’s that, I’d love to get involved?’. So, keep an eye out for updates on new projects or initiatives that are underway and stick your (virtual) hand up to get involved.”

“The truth is that no-one is going to love all elements of their job equally, all of the time. And you’re not going to be able to get everything right all of the time. And it’s going to be hard. But believe me when I say you will be moving forward. I firmly believe that the ability to learn from your mistakes, to admit when you get things wrong or you’re out of your depth, to surround yourself with people who challenge you, whose views differ from your own and who think differently to how you do (however tough that can be at times) is what makes us not just better researchers, but better people.