The best career advice I ever had

By Lucy Nichols

It can be years before you begin to heed that well-intentioned career guidance
We are all in sales to some some extent, writes Lucy Nichols.
We are all in sales to some some extent, writes Lucy Nichols.

The "aha!" moment is that flash of clarity when you suddenly understand a previously incomprehensible problem or concept. When it comes to heeding career advice, it can be years before that internal lightbulb clicks on.

In the course of my working life, I've received lots of advice, some of which I initially scoffed at, but only understood much later. I don't pretend to be a career guru offering Sheryl Sandberg-esque insights, but I've included some of the more memorable nuggets below in the hope that they might resonate with some of you.

Understand your clients

As a child growing up in 80s middle-class England, the concept of "selling" for a living seemed slightly demeaning, with its connotations of Del and Rodney Trotter flogging knockoff gear down the market.

A Saturday job as a sales assistant in a posh shoe shop did nothing to change my opinion. My 16-year-old self simply couldn't conceive how or why women could afford or even want to buy several pairs of shoes at a time, let alone the matching handbag, so I thought parading up and down the shop, arms loaded with overpriced accessories, was a total waste of time.

Years later, I realised I simply didn't have the maturity to understand the psyche of my clients back then. They wanted to buy the shoes and the matching handbag and had the means to do so, unlike me at the time. I learned it's imperative to understand what your clients want but also never assume that they don't want a product or service you're offering. You don't live in their head, so always give them the choice.

Facebook your career

A former female colleague noted that many women embrace their inner critic with far too much affection.

We readily admit our perceived shortcomings to our boss, yet are curiously reluctant to trumpet our achievements, which doesn't exactly engender confidence in our abilities.

Compare this to how we represent ourselves on Facebook ... here we have no compunction about portraying a shiny, sparklier, more successful version of ourselves. Though not wanting to encourage raging narcissism, why not "take a leaf out of your Facebook" when you next meet your boss and talk more about the good stuff.

Be less Hare Krishna and more Church of England

Back at the beginning of my working life, I worked in a very traditional environment, with a clearly defined pecking order.

Blissfully unaware, I bounded up to my new colleagues/higher-ups like a friendly Labrador, flagrantly ignoring the implicit "rules" and engaging them in animated conversation. Given the office environment was so quiet you could virtually see the tumbleweed in the corridors, my performing-seal personality was clearly a jarring element. After a while, my manager took me aside and suggested I be "Less Hare Krishna and more Church of England" in my approach.

This wonderfully evocative metaphor really resonated, as it confirmed what I had known all along. As much as it is important to adapt to your environment, I was clearly the wrong fit for this firm. I was the corporate equivalent of Maria, the problematic nun in The Sound of Music, who "didn't belong" in the nunnery.

There is nothing more exhausting for everyone concerned than working in the wrong environment. A company's culture is a delicate ecosystem that has often been developed over decades. You cannot, should not and will not change this single-handedly, so stop "raging against the machine" and start looking for a new job that fits your personality and where you will enhance, not hinder, the existing team dynamic.*

We're all in sales!

It took even longer for it to register that we are indeed all in sales in some respect. A school friend, now a nurse, observed that anyone in the workforce who was trying to persuade someone to do something, be it taking their medication or buying a car, was essentially in sales. It's so true ... there is no magic formula, no alchemy. Getting someone to do what you want them to do is about building up a relationship, engendering trust, doing what you say you'll do, and communicating clearly. Shouldn't everyone in the workplace aspire to those qualities?

*Ironically, when I went for an interview for a new role, a group of Hare Krishna were bouncing up and down outside the office. I took this as a good omen ... and got the job.

Lucy Nichols is the client development manager for Madison Recruitment. lucy.nichols@madison.co.nz

- NZ Herald

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