Advice I Wish I’d Received Earlier in My Career

Whether you’re mentoring younger professionals or simply reflecting on your own career, the question often comes up: What business lesson or career advice do you wish you had learned or received earlier in life?

For me, it’s recognizing the importance of building relationships in your personal-professional network—and capitalizing on them. I’m not talking about commoditizing relationships or making them more transactional; there’s a difference. To me, capitalizing on these relationships means staying connected, and not just when you’re looking for a new job or need a professional reference; it means going beyond just friendship and includes showing what you can offer to others in your network or professional circles without seeking anything in return.

When we don’t do this, as I realize was my case earlier in my career, it makes it more difficult—especially for Black, Latino, and women workers—to develop social capital. And this is the real shame, because capitalizing on these relationships is useful, not just for landing a new job or climbing your way up the corporate ladder, but also for serving as sounding boards and amplifying each other’s accomplishments. Capitalizing on relationships means forming symbiotic connections with smart, driven people with whom you share similar interests. It also means offering yourself as a mentor and guiding people through professional and personal milestones who might not otherwise achieve those goals.

This is something I wish I’d learned earlier, as it would’ve made career transitions easier. I would say I took more of an organic career path, almost accidentally falling into the financial services sector. Ultimately, I was able to learn this lesson further along in my professional endeavors (better late than never), during my tenure as executive director of a trade association with tens of thousands of members all across the country. Then, last fall I began a new role where I thought I could make an even larger impact on affordable homeownership and bridging our nation’s racial wealth gap. How’d I land this new position? It came thanks to a personal relationship that has spanned nearly a decade.