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  • Jonathan Max
    Jonathan Max

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    What I wish someone had told me about how to progress your career

      Time to read: 4min

    I started at Lehman Brothers in 2005 in their HR team; they had been a client organisation of mine for a few years and was I extremely excited to be joining in the heady days of a raging bull market. While an industry contact had informed me of the potential role; there was the ‘standard’ interview process of seemingly meeting everyone. Did I really know what to expect or how to make the most of the opportunity? Not really is the honest answer.

     

    I learned how to progress my career as I went along; but, in truth was more focused on being accepted and delivering in what was a culturally unique organisation. I stayed at Lehman Brothers until it reached its dénouement in 2008. After the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy, I transferred to Nomura and was again part of a fascinating journey with many twists and turns along the way. The market was clearly in a very different place; the next years were a seemingly endless journey of organisational ‘Re’....Restructuring, Realignment, Repositioning, Reorganisation and so on. I left Nomura in 2017 and now reflect on what I wish someone had told me in 2005 about career development; so I have summarised as follows: 

     

    Find a mentor
    My approach here was somewhat ad-hoc. I had a great relationship with my line manager and then an organisation change resulted in a different reporting line. To placate some pre-existing hostility between my former and new line manager; the safest route was to form a ‘mentoring relationship’ with my previous manager so I could still benefit from his considerable insight and advice. I developed several mentoring relationships; both within and outside the companies. A couple were more formal, the others less so but equally valuable. They were people with different backgrounds and experience who could share information and provide guidance. 

     

    Sun Microsystems undertook a body of research around its own mentoring programme, which came up with some very compelling results Mentors were promoted six times more often than those not in the programme; mentees were promoted five times more often than those not in the programme. Having mentoring in your early career is obviously going to speed up progress, but according to the Harvard Business Review article on mentoring “Everyone we spoke with over age 40 could name a mentor in his or her professional life, but younger people often could not”.  Therefore, to get ahead of the game and progress your career you need to think carefully about how to develop the right mentoring relationships and do this early on. Or, put another way, when you can gain practical advice and learn from the experience of others; why would you not seek mentoring relationships?  
     

    Join Networking Groups
    I founded what was to become the largest employee driven network at Nomura; comprising over 750 people in the UK and beyond and holding several events every month. So why did I do this? Because I thought it would be a bit of fun and with the support of my manager and head of diversity something that would bring a bit of variety to me professionally and personally. 

     

    With this decision, I completely missed the significant benefit this would have on my career. I was able to find new ways to navigate the organisation and find the find answers I needed. I had ‘friendly’ contacts in many departments; if they couldn’t help me they would point me in the right direction. As my day-to-day work became complex and involved working across several different groups and businesses; I had the right contacts to make things easier. I’m not saying you need to form a group but being part of internal and external networking groups is absolutely essential to successful career development. This article; 10 Important Benefits of Networking is a very accurate overview of why this needs to be part of your game-plan.

     

    Leverage the appraisal process

    I don’t think I was in a group of one in my early approach to appraisals and performance management. Typically, following a number of automated reminders, I would complete the mid-year or year-end process with seconds to spare and that was that until the next reminder arrived in my inbox. Most of the completion time was spend on ‘refreshing’ myself on the objectives I had set and then trying to recall enough information to make a decent attempt at well considered response.

     

    My advice here is embrace the appraisal process to your advantage as I started to do after realising how I could benefit from a more structured approach; how you evidence your achievements is just as important as how you determine your goals and where to focus your skills. Contrary to popular myth, a sense of entitlement on how your career should progress doesn’t work! What is truer is that management talk and discuss people; so make sure you are in the group of people that gets discussed for the right reasons and opportunities will come your way. Even if the traditional annual performance appraisal process is giving way to more frequent conversations between a manager and subordinate; make sure you are ready to have discussions about your future.


    Know your Industry

    Earlier on in my career, I was too focused on my immediate environment and in trying to deliver day-to-day. Therefore, my perspectives were too internalised, and I wasn’t able to draw on external sources for new or alternative perspectives. I started to change this; attending industry events; reading and learning to increase my understating of the industry and how different elements knitted together.

     

    What I didn’t realise immediately, is that managers are having to demonstrate this very thing to their superiors and don’t necessarily have the bandwidth to get into all the detail. Making yourself a ‘go-to person’ for information enhances your personal brand and with that you get to get involved in more interesting projects and assignments and hence career development is a beneficial consequence.


    As Abraham Lincoln said, "The best way to predict the future is to create it.", that’s not something you can leave for someone else to do if you want to progress your career.

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