I am often asked to share my perspectives on career planning and success. While I would like to believe that these invitations come because I have some level of expertise in this area, the reality is that many look at my path and only see what appears to be a quantum leap for a PhD chemist turned Human Resources Leader. There is, of course, the question of why anyone would endure graduate-level statistical mechanics and ultimately end up leading an HR organization. However, I believe that what people really want is some insight into the bold career decisions I have made along the way, so that they too can understand how and when to make career moves.
The truth is that there is no prescription for this. In fact, I often attribute my early career decisions to a gut feeling, which, for me, always manifested itself as an overwhelming sense of peace. While I still use the peace compass today, over the years I have crystallized my thoughts into three simple criteria that I always consider when I am working toward or presented with a new opportunity:
1. Passion: Is this is an area that I am passionate about today or can develop a passion for? More importantly, is the new opportunity fun? For me, fun is not a nice-to-have, it is a requirement. We spend an incredible amount of time working, and I believe that the time should be enjoyable.
2. Skill: Do I have something unique to contribute? I am not suggesting that you have to know how to perform every aspect of a job before you take it. In fact, more often than not, I found myself in quite the opposite position. However, in all cases, there were certain transferable skills I had developed that made me the best fit for the opportunity in spite of a lack of direct experience.
3. Impact: Do I understand the impact to the company or organization if I am successful in the role? Now more than ever, it is critical to understand how a role brings value—to the organization and to the person taking on the role.
For most, knowing when to make a leap to a new role doesn’t always stare you in the face. However, for me, these three simple criteria help bring an amazing amount of clarity to the decision-making process. I have found that when passion, skill, and impact intersect, one’s career can flourish!
On Finding Success and Staying Competitive
Establishing credibility through your work, while adding value to the corporation, should be your primary focus in order to be successful and remain competitive. Those who set themselves apart are willing to learn new things, embrace and lead change, challenge the status quo, influence at all levels of the organization, and develop others along the way.
On the Importance of Role Models and Mentors
I have several role models, mentors, and sponsors—each of them impacting my career and personal life in a different way. The very best among them are more than willing to share their knowledge and experiences, take a vested interest in the mentoring relationship, provide feedback and criticism to ensure continued growth and development, and encourage me to take risks.
On Facing Challenges
One of my greatest challenges is managing competing priorities in the workplace in addition to interests and obligations in my personal life. I weigh choices based on my goals for both personal and professional success.
Alveda’s Advice to Young Women Starting Careers
Define what success means to YOU early, and re-evaluate as necessary. Your level of success will then be dictated not only by how you define it, but also by the tradeoffs you are willing to accept and embrace as you pursue your own personal definition of success.