Creating Career Confidence
By Victoria Carpenter
I am a financial services professional working for a large accounting firm. I joined the firm as part of the graduate intake straight from university 5 years ago. Unlike a lot of my peers, I have not set off on my OE but decided to stay in NZ and dedicate myself to my career and travel later. So far I have had a very good first working experience at first as part of the graduate program and now with some real face to face time with clients and I thought things were going well and that my career was on track.
Last week I had my review, my manager was quite positive about my work generally but strongly hinted that he was not going to put me forward in terms of managing client relationships nor expose me to new business development opportunities until I had more confidence and that my ‘presentation’ could be developed.
I was so flabbergasted that I just mumbled something and we moved on. I am quite a shy person. I don’t really know what he meant and I’m too embarrassed to ask for another meeting to talk to him about it.
This is a great one! There is so much competition in the workplace and career progression isn’t solely dependent on how good you are at your job any more, but how you present yourself, how well you build new business relationships and how well you represent your organisation.
This manager treated the very important issue of personal confidence and presentation with you in a ham-fisted manner, leaving the writer unsure of exactly what his concerns are and what to do to address them. Ironically, in the process, he has probably undermined the writer’s confidence further and exacerbated what he perceives to be the problem.
Confidence is an ephemeral but critical quality. Once achieved, it has far reaching ramifications. Building confidence isn’t easy but, just like watering a plant, the water seeps into the soil and from there it feeds every area of the root system. There is not one part of life that an increase in confidence doesn’t benefit.
Being shy is not a crime. However, when you are building your career it can act as an impediment to achieving your career goals – until you learn how to manage it.
Analysing the Problem
To begin with you have to establish exactly where your boss’s concerns lie. This will be your first big task. You will have to ask your boss to sit down with you and outline exactly what he thinks the issues are. You need to find out:
- Where does he think your challenges lie?
- What would he expect of you?
- What you would need to work on to meet his expectations?
- What are the measurables around meeting those expectations?
Establishing Where You Want To Be
After this meeting you should do two things: first, pat yourself on the back for taking the first exceptionally daunting step of addressing your confidence challenges, and second, establish a destination point.
In career management books, you will read a lot about cheese and parachutes, but seldom about crows’ nests. This is the look-out point on the main mast of tall sailing ships where sailor’s went for a bird’s eye view of their surroundings. It was from the crow’s nest that America was first sighted by Rodrigo de Triana, in fact, not Christopher Colombus! You need to identify your destination from the crow’s nest and plot a course to reach it.
Let’s suppose that you have had your meeting with your boss and he has given you a headline issue to work on, such as, “You are always very quiet in meetings and you come across as very shy when meeting new clients”. Well, that seems pretty clear, and in fact you are happy to agree, you are quiet in meetings and you are shy meeting new people – but you don’t see how that reflects on how good you are at your job!
Unfortunately, every job, no matter how technical, requires a certain degree of marketing. Whilst that marketing is of the work and the capabilities of the company, ultimately, the individual is the medium. Your boss is sending you a clear message: you are good at your job, but technical competence is only half of what it takes to get ahead. If you are going to rise through the ranks you must sell the products and the company, bring in new business and manage existing client relationships. YOU will be the selling point.
So what does your boss want you to do? Perhaps it is to be more extroverted when dealing with clients. That is your destination, and it’s important to be very specific when identifying it, because the next step is plotting a course to achieve it.
Plotting Your Course
To reach your destination, you have to plot your course. To sail it successfully, you have to have techniques to help you.
You would be amazed how even the bravest of people feel fear, nerves and paralysing self doubt; what sets them apart is how they address their fear, what they tell themselves (and others), which ultimately enables them to defeat their feelings.
Focus On Your Past Victories
Michael Schumacher, the greatest ever F1 driver, developed his own unique way of confronting his fear and re-educating his brain to operate like a winner at all times. Whenever he was confronted with a new challenge, he thought of his former victories and reminded himself that because he had survived those previous situations he would be equal to the new one. It’s a form of cognitive re-programming.
Attach No Emotional Value To The Outcome
Think of the way a cat hunts: it stalks a bird, pouncing at the last minute. Sometimes it catches the bird, sometimes it doesn’t. If it fails, the cat just saunters off and tries again the next time it gets an opportunity. Should the bird fly away, you never hear a cat berating itself with, “I’m no good as a hunter now, I’m hopeless, none of the other cats will like me, or want to play with me because that bird got away….I’m a failure as a cat”.
Try Something Else
If a new strategy doesn’t work out the way you had hoped or planned, forget it and move on. If one of your goals is to speak to strangers at a work function and you do so, but don’t end up having the conversation go as you’d hope, don’t despair. The success of your next attempt does not hinge on the success of this episode. Linda Lowndes, founder of Microskin International, says the most important advice she ever received was: “When you have been knocked down get up again, and again and again”.
Name and Shame Your Biggest Fears
What are you really afraid of, deep down inside? Are you worried that you’ll say or do something and look like an idiot? Articulate that fear. Write it on a piece of paper. Put it somewhere private but somewhere you will see it frequently, like in your wallet or diary. Read it out loud every time you see it. Notice how it makes you feel. After a fortnight, you may well notice that you become ‘sick’ of your fear, that it bores you, that you can’t really feel that afraid of it anymore. Familiarity breeds contempt! The more often you confront your fear the less likely it is to go on paralysing you.
Manageable Short Term Goals
It is imperative to review your goals regularly. Six-monthly planning sessions are recommended at which you review your goals. Are you veering off course? Are the destination points you have set still realistic and achievable?
To make it easier to evaluate your progress, trying setting up milestones. In this example, these might be: one unsolicited client contact per month, attendance at a client entertainment event and starting two conversations with clients other than your own per quarter. Don’t be too hard on yourself but be fair. If you are missing your milestones, renew your efforts.
Try to set goals in monthly or quarterly blocks. This is because you are setting off on a gradual and organic process and time frames that are too short will only put unnecessary and counter-productive pressure on you.
It is the feeling of surpassing yourself that is totally regenerative.
Mentoring – Getting The Help You Need
Though few women would regard themselves as pioneers in their careers, the fact that we often go it alone without real guidance or advice from women we trust who have gone there before us, really defines us as exactly that. This is not to decry those of us that are going boldly where no woman has gone before, but for most of us, a brave soul or two has trodden these treacherous career trails and is more than likely brimming with advice. In Japan, right from childhood, there is a long established practice of buddying up with a Sempai, someone who is older and experienced who guides, protects and teaches their younger acolytes.
Search out organisations that can help put you in touch with mentors. Groups’ sites come and go but you can always do an online search, or head to a Professionelle event to connect with like-minded women.
Rewarding Ourselves For Progress
What you are embarking upon here is every bit as important as your school or university qualifications. You are taking the reins of your own training, and you need to be responsible for generating the positive reinforcement and feedback that you’ll need, just as much as you are responsible for achieving the progress.
Plan something nice for yourself when you do achieve your goals. Maybe a new pair of shoes or a really nice bottle of wine, something that says ‘achievement’ and stands as a reminder of the progress you have made.
Professionals To Help You Along The Way
Whilst I have every faith that you can manage this process by yourself, you may choose not to. Depending on what it is you decide you need, there will be someone out there who can help you. Finding a coach, be that for career strategy or for confidence, need not be expensive. Most will want to help you get results quickly and cost effectively. While you may initially baulk at the idea, given that Kiwis are a known race of ‘Do-it- Yourselfers’, consider this: would you attend a school or university that had no teachers but relied on books and self teaching? No, of course not. Experts in their field are precisely that, and they want the same things you do: your success! It’s hard to stay motivated, no matter how important your goal, just ask any athlete heading to the Olympics; for them a coach is someone who has stayed the course and helped them to maintain focus. In this same way, a coach can help you and also remain objective about your progress along the way.
- All Topics
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- Build for success
- Successful working mothers
- Lead with success
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An Introduction to Emotional Intelligence
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If you would like to find out more about Professionelle and how we might benefit you or your organisation, please contact our Director, Jayne Chater on firstname.lastname@example.org or 021 779 967.