The corporate world can be a daunting place. You’ve got the skills but never thought you’d be using them in such a complex and male-dominated industry. So how do you build your confidence when you often feel overwhelmed by the career experience of the ingenious minds around you? We’ve got the low-down on identifying your edge.
Coming from a creative background, stepping into the unknown realm of law and then later engineering was never an option after university. Frankly, it had never crossed my mind. But like many kids fresh out of university, bright-eyed and eager to dive in and prove my worth, I took up a marketing post with an intellectual property law firm.
Suddenly I was immersed in export, legislation, science and innovation. These words weren’t even on my radar!
Networking or sitting down in a boardroom full of CEOs, experts and innovators is daunting enough. So too is when you realise you are one of the few (if not only) females in the room.
Self-doubt was my number one enemy. I didn’t belong here. I was the youngest by at least 20 years and my CV certainly didn’t have the credentials to even compete. No PhD or nationally-recognised status as an expert. Nope, I hadn’t led a ground-breaking trial testing New Zealand laws, or sat on a board of directors enabling start-ups to make their mark globally. So what did I have to offer?
Ah, the many internal dialogues I had. But the first step? Getting my head around the scope of my role as a business partner in a support capacity – not as a technical mind. Comparing my qualifications wasn’t going to serve anyone, and besides, I had a specific skill-set to offer and as simple as it seems, it is one that is often overlooked. It was my ability to communicate.
With an inquisitive mind, I was empowered to speak up, ask questions and challenge where appropriate to drive conversation and get to the root of the problem. I had a knack for being able to take that content and make it palatable to share with a wider audience – key when you’re taking that information and using it to launch a new service or as a brand awareness exercise.
I also realised that the key to success would include being upfront and acknowledging when I didn’t understand something. Honing such simple skills shows engagement, and above all, a genuine interest. You’re also making a conscious effort to build and strengthen relationships, which will enable you to understand the business and its vision that much more.
Hone in on what sets you apart
The ability to identify your edge will empower you and it is this confidence that will translate in the way you address peers, speak up during meetings and essentially enable you to make your mark. Are you a problem-solver, communicator, motivator or technical whizz? Step up and say yes to as many challenges as you can. Word will spread of your skill-set and your willingness to pitch in and help-out. A team-player is always appreciated.
Don’t compare yourselves with others
As hard as it is for us females, understanding that we’re all at different stages of our careers and each bring a different skill-set to the table is vital. Comparing yourself also sends out a negative vibe that translates into the way you interact with colleagues. It causes resentment and that’s the last thing you need when building up your work network – your colleagues are your greatest asset, and as females we need to have each other’s backs. As Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg puts it, “lean in”.
So many of us fear raising our hand because we believe we’ll be perceived as, well, put simply, stupid. I know I’ve felt that. While you may not want to speak up at a meeting, pull a colleague aside and ask up front. Asking that question could save you some serious time and avoid mistakes being made.
Learn the language
Research, research and then research some more. Ideas could include signing yourself up to industry newsletters, mentoring or even setting your Twitter account up so that it reflects your industry (or set-up a separate personal-work account). It’ll become your own personal newsfeed and keep you on top of the latest developments in the industry, keep an eye on what your competitors are up to, engage with your clients and help familiarise yourself with the lingo. LinkedIn is also a great tool for this too!
Give yourself a break!
You’re not expected to know everything! A career is a life-long learning curve and you’ll always be taking something from someone else – just as they’ll be learning from you. As long as you remain proactive and open to learning, you’ve set yourself up for success.
Rachel Mayall is a Business Development Coordinator with a background in professional services. Having held various in-house communications and marketing roles which sees her work alongside a variety of stakeholders, Rachel understands best practice when engaging in an industry where time is quite literally money.