Recently I gave a talk on how I’ve navigated my career path as a generalist and I thought it worthwhile to share.
In 2011, I was asked “Do you want to be a specialist or a generalist?” by my manager. After some thought, I decided I wanted to be a marketing generalist – and made career decisions based on this. I have now realised that I am now a
marketing generalist and will focus on the stories that explain this transition.
There are three themes that have set me up for success, and can relate to any career:
- Own your career
- Share your vision
- Get comfortable feeling uncomfortable
Own your career
It was only 6 years ago that I took control of my career. I had taken jobs to try new things and expand my marketing capability, however I wasn’t thinking strategically about it. I also thought if I did a good job and worked hard, it would be enough to progress to the next level. And now I realise I was leaving my career to chance.
I started thinking about what I needed to do to separate myself from my peers and get promoted. I created my development plan with this in mind. I thought about what I needed to focus on technically (the minimum requirement) and then on the leadership capabilities that would demonstrate that I was ready to lead a team. Even whilst I was on maternity leave, I powered through podcasts (the easiest way to absorb information when you have a baby!), maintained my contacts at work, and ensured I stayed up to date on the industry. I successfully secured my first management role on my return in part due to my previous successes at work as an individual contributor and part due to my understanding and demonstration of what it would take to lead a team.
I took control. I thought about what would differentiate me. And all of the pivots I’ve made since have been driven by me, with the help of my mentors, managers, and my support network. And at the core of every decision has been a balance of how I could add value to a team whilst continuing to grow.
“The key to successful action is making the distinction between what you control and what you don’t control. Separating the two is essential for being effective. When you eliminate worrying about, thinking about, scheming about the things outside your control… it frees you to focus 100% on what you do control”
Share your vision
Where are you going?
What would your ideal role look like?
What drives you, and why do you want it?
What do you need to develop to be best placed to achieve it?
These are all pretty deep questions, that you don’t need to be 100% sure of, but you do need help from your support network to help refine your thinking and then help you on your career path. Your support network can involve your manager, your peers, a more senior boss, your partner, family, friends, mentor, or even a random person you meet at a networking event.
I’ve now had a lot of ways that my support network have helped me secure a new role or a stretch assignment – and its ranges from discussions 2 months to 4 years prior.
One example was an executive role I was recently in. I had read the job ad and decided that I did not have the skillset for it. However a senior leader that I had worked for previously thought I’d be a great fit for it and was speaking on my behalf to the hiring manager without my knowledge. The hiring manager reached out and we ended up discussing the role and what he was looking for, and I realised that my skills were absolutely a great fit and were exactly what the team needed. I was exposed to a whole new department and grew so much from this role and was able to deliver a different perspective which was highly valued. Because I had shared my vision with my network, someone in my network could see something in a role and in me that I did not.
People want to help you, they just need to know how.
Get comfortable feeling uncomfortable
When I first took a role outside of my marketing comfort zone and entered the world of product and portfolio management I had a number of insecurities.
- Would I understand the data?
- Could I think strategically beyond marketing?
- How would I develop my team when I’m not an expert in their discipline?
- Could I add value?
- Would I be respected?
- As a working mum with other priorities, could I cut it?
I was scared of failing.
Having recognised all of these insecurities and fears, I was able to develop a plan to overcome them. For example, for the data insecurity, I enlisted my new colleagues in finance, product management, my boss etc. and asked all of the questions I didn’t know. I put my hand up to dissect the monthly finance results and explain the impact on our team and ideas on how to address the issues or opportunities. I still had moments of doubt but I backed myself and grew A LOT.
Each career move since I’ve done this. And it’s like a muscle getting stronger as I am getting more comfortable being uncomfortable – and I’m not as scared about failing now.
To sum it all up
- Own your career and where you’re heading. You don’t need to follow conventions – it’s yours to dictate
- Share your vision with your support network. If you don’t have a network, build one. People love to help and often they just need to know how.
- Get comfortable feeling uncomfortable. Acknowledge what you’re feeling and move beyond it. And back yourself.
And one last piece of advice… think of this with a longer horizon (more than 6 months). If you get setbacks, don’t think its game over. It might be the thing that ultimately propels you forward.