CareerJournal.com spoke with Helene Cruz, assistant director of M.B.A. programs and services at Pace University in New York City, about what young professional women can do to advance in their careers.
- What do you recommend most as a career strategy for women starting out?
Start building a network early on in your career. You can do this by joining professional organizations, but you have to keep building and maintaining your relationships. For women who are working, this is hard. You are spending long hours at work, so it’s difficult to go to a networking event, workshop or seminar at night. But we recommend that women build those relationships by attending these conferences and workshops. It could be meetings of alumni of their college, in-house training offered at their company or a networking reception. You should get to know your colleagues in the industry.
Also, networking is relationship building, so when you meet someone, it is best to nurture that relationship, even if you believe that the person can’t do anything for you in the here and now. You may be surprised by how they can impact your career down the road or vice-versa.
While you are having lunch, dinner or breakfast, talk with the person next to you. You don’t have to talk shop. Talk about what you did this weekend instead of talking about work. Your conversation should be personal first — of course, not too personal — but building on everyday things that show you’re human and have a commonality. Then you can get into, “What do you do?” and “What’s your title?” and so forth.
- Men keep it casual like that, right?
Yes, they talk about the Giants and the Jets, and then business follows. They are out talking about the game or weekend trip. I don’t know if this is the case with women.
You should be connecting over outside activities. Women sometimes have a tendency to talk shop at business events. At Pace, we offer a workshop called “Schmoozing,” which is about the art of small talk. You have to learn how to schmooze, since that’s the beginning of networking. Schmooze first, and then the networking and professional activities will follow, whether you want them to or not.
- What should young women not do?
In terms of what not to do, persistence is critical, but women also need to know when no means no. You shouldn’t perceive no as rejection. Simply explore other opportunities. When you are making a proposal, you have to tune into the nonverbal and get a sense of the other person. When they want to hawk their ideas, people have a tendency to get caught up in business and exchanging cards and may not notice the reactions around them. You need to build relationships first, because the other person might feel like you are taking advantage of them or the situation. People don’t want to feel like they are being used.
Sometimes, I’ve sat at tables at meetings and watched people go in for the kill, they advance their agenda so quickly. You’ve just met the other person. You should let them breathe.
- What other things tend to get in women’s way?
Being a woman in corporate America may have its challenges, but pursuing future job opportunities with the attitude that, because you’re a woman, it’s going to be harder, isn’t the way to do it. Sometimes women and people from diverse groups tend to approach situations with the idea that it will be tougher for them because they’re different. If you go in like that, it will be different, because you are wearing this on your sleeve.
Confidence in what you bring to the table is critical. Women also need to know themselves and their worth and be able to explain everything that’s on their resumes. I’m not in the job market so, while I know what I’ve done at past jobs, I sometimes can’t recall the specifics. You need to know the highlights, so if you’re in an interview or meeting, and someone says, “What did you do at this company?” you know what your achievements were. Have something handy to speak about.
- What will make people take notice of you?
Networking is just a part of getting ahead, but some people are so busy schmoozing or building relationships that they don’t build their skills. You need to shine in your present position. That means not only networking but having initiative. This might mean taking on new projects and excelling at the ones you are working on now. Professional development activity also is good because it shows that you are taking an extra step forward to stand out from the rest.
- Do women you work with feel that it’s harder to get ahead than it is for men?
The students I counsel don’t give me the sense that it’s a man’s world and they can’t get ahead.
- What happens when you encounter bias against you because you’re a woman?
You can’t shout from the rooftop that things like long hours, travel or relocating internationally aren’t a problem for you. But when you’re networking, you can show that you have a well-balanced life, the initiative to take on these roles and that you can handle what you’re given. That will take care of it. I believe success at work is all in your relationships with colleagues and managers, and how you handle them. You have to talk about what you can do early on instead of what you can’t do. If you have a list of demands, you are seen as inflexible.