When I graduated from college, I remember thinking that I would take my newly earned Spanish and Psychology degrees and be a translator or maybe a bilingual secretary. Little did I expect my early skills to help put me on the path I eventually took. Today, I am the chief human resources officer of SunGard—a global Fortune 500 software and IT services company with over 20,000 employees. Rising to an executive level was not a straight career path. I made several turns along the way that helped me build a strong foundation of knowledge and skills. over the years, I’ve had stops in several different industries—government, financial services, consulting and law—and have even owned my own business. Each experience gave me the preparation and new skills for the next opportunity.
Careers rarely have a single trajectory. What you do at each step of the way impacts the opportunities that may come your way. I stood out early in my career because of my linguistic and translation skills. These skills made me valuable and sought-after, and gave me access to opportunities and people i would otherwise not have had.
My advice to the next generation of leaders is to think of your career as a marathon with many twists, not a straight-line sprint. You may have to take many different paths to reach your goals but a good indicator of whether you’re on the right path is whether you are truly happy and fulfilled with what you are doing. If you’re not, it’s time for a change.
While women have made significant inroads into leadership and executive positions, there is still much to be accomplished. And, it’s up to every individual to take control of their own career and steer it in the desired direction. Persistence, resilience, tenacity and the ability to not take no for an answer are skills that are absolutely essential. I was lucky in that I learned these skills fairly early in lifelong before I even started my work career.
My current job gives me a lot of satisfaction, and there’s nothing I’d rather be doing. The lessons I learned earlier in life about career success are still applicable today. You need to demonstrate your value so others will seek you out; surround yourself with strong people; don’t let setbacks discourage you; and lastly there is no such thing as a “draft”—always make your work product the best it can be.