Early in my career, I focused on building my skills and experience. I took on any assignment given to me. I built a strong reputation for doing great work and became a go-to person for difficult assignments. I believe it’s important to seek out challenging assignments and tasks that others avoid. It builds your credentials and reputation.
As I became more senior, I recognized the importance of building networks. I realized that clients make decisions based on qualifications and, just as importantly, on relationships—whom they trust and who is top of mind. I knew I needed to focus on building my network.
I think this is often difficult for women. We tend not to self-promote. We think that if we work hard and do good work, we’ll be recognized. Realistically, that’s not enough. We need to push ourselves out of our comfort zones and build networks. For me, it felt like trying to break into the old boy’s club. For instance, networking often happens on the golf course. Having never been a natural athlete, the thought of golfing with clients was horrifying to me. But, it was the best way to get to know certain people, so I decided to try. Initially, I wasn’t very good, but I soon found that people appreciated the effort and were very encouraging. Over time, I got better and now, I actually really like to golf!
My advice to women is to start building your network early. Make time to connect with all of your contacts, not just those you feel comfortable with today. Don’t be shy about discussing your strengths and successes. Always have your personal elevator pitch ready. Ask for opportunities. Don’t be afraid to step outside your comfort zone and take on something new.
On Finding Success and Staying Competitive
First, build your reputation as someone with deep knowledge and experience, and an ability to apply it in a strategic and effective manner.
Second, you need a strong network of go-to people to help you deliver results and find new opportunities.
On the Importance of Role Models and Mentors
I was fortunate to work for a particular partner who recognized my potential early, continually gave me new opportunities to grow, and was my strongest sponsor both internally and in the market. I’ve also benefitted from a diverse group of other fabulous mentors within and outside my organization. I work in a male-dominated field, so I didn’t limit myself to seeking out female mentors. I’ve learned that the best role models are often different from us, and learning from people with varied experiences, backgrounds, skills, and perspectives is invaluable.
Sharon’s Advice to Young Women Starting Careers
Young women should take charge of their careers. Set specific goals for yourself, build your network, both within your organization and across the broader community, and establish a personal brand. Articulate your goals. Make sure people know who you are, what you can do, and what your aspirations are professionally. Set time aside monthly to revisit your goals and your progress, so that you stay on track.