It's been a month now since I was asked if I could mentor my cousin Robina who is a BBA student at Temple University in Philadelphia. She is a Sophomore - just finished, and due to start her third year in the fall. Both she and her elder sister who is studying at the Holy Family University in Philadelphia got scholarships to study. Their younger brother who is twelve years old has been nominated to study for IB (International Baccalaureate) due to his promising academic prowess. So instead of attaining a GED upon graduating from high school, he would walk away with an IB that is a globally recognized diploma.
I am proud and happy to hear that all three of them are doing so well. My uncle has asked me to guide and steer his son in the coming years, which I am more than happy to do.
With regards to Robina, her and I have been Skyping weekly for an hour or so to discuss her path at university and shedding some light on the world of work. In the preceding weeks I have been sharing with her my life as a management consultant. The ins and outs of what that entails and also life as a freelancer. We've also discussed my transition from the UK to the US and how I am finding work or employment.
I explained to her the biggest issue I am finding is not my skills, not my ability to do the job, nor my years of experience. I've even looked at the risk of automation of my profession due to the rapid way technology is making many jobs obsolete. The link below on the BBC's website came up with only a 7% chance of automation for my line of work, which is quite reassuring.
What I explained to Robina was that it is not what you know, it's who you know. Networking is a very important factor in getting certain doors open, and of course, once that door is open you have to deliver. Networking and maintaining those relationships is so important for all aspects of life but more so in one's professional area. Is it any wonder Salesforce.com has become such a dominant company in the field of Customer Relationship Management.
Robina asked me another difficult question a couple of weeks back, which was, "Did I impart any advice or made a presentation that may not have been the full picture?"
The answer was a "No".
Every presentation or advice imparted has been evidence-based. I have always highlighted what and where that evidence was obtained from, i.e. observations, testimonials, reports and so on. More often than not senior management may or may not know the full story of what is going on within their organization, and they are not expected to. They have cadres of middle management and reporting to inform them of what is going on. However, when a report, KPI, or observation is presented to them it is reasonable for them to get a bit wary. Hence, the importance of evidence when discussing any findings.
Our latest Skype call was Friday, May 22nd. Here, I was asked what advice would I give to someone like Robina, knowing what I know now having started consulting back in 1999.
It is such a wonderful question and it's a question that would have served me well back in 1999. Being a freelancer one is responsible for all of one's development, training and expertise. It had taken me ten years to become a Subject Matter Expert in my field on consulting. At around the ten-year mark, I was called upon my services rather than actively seeking projects. Which was quite eerie after having read Malcolm Gladwell's book "Outliers". In his book, he talks about how anyone can achieve expertise in a field within a ten year time period comprising of 10,000 hours of practice. This number equates to just under 3 hours a day every day for ten years. Needless to say, I did achieve those hours by 2009.
Even though I sought out training and material in my field, such as studying for an MBA, becoming an Executive Coach and reading voraciously on professional and personal development. I believe that with a more structured approach and goal setting I could have achieved the same result in five years.
So what advice did I give young Robina?
Firstly, if she were to join a company as an employee, and she is looking into some of the Big 4 accounting and consulting firms. I suggested that she followed the organization's career development program, especially if there was a fast-track one.
Secondly, and this applies to whether she worked for Accenture, McKinsey or as a freelancer my top tips are:
- Attend classes, seminars, training programs in your particular field and become a subject matter expert. Learning is life-long and does not stop after university.
- Read professional material specific to your industry and stay up-to-date on new innovation, tools, and techniques. Our world as a whole is in a constant state of flux and if we do not change, then kaput! we are redundant.
- Read personal development books, such as communication, relationship management, negotiation, goal setting and so on.
- Join a professional organization specific to your industry. CPAs, lawyers, insurance and pretty much everyone has a professional body that represents them.
- Write down goals, short, medium and long-term ones.
- Create a plan for those goals with actions, due dates and expected results. If you can get friends and peers involved to support and motivate you and vice versa, even better.
- Create a vision board for those goals, pictures help crystallize in our mind what we are trying to achieve.
- Learn how to become an effective communicator, to get your message out there and let people know that you are an expert in your field. The knowledge economy is growing at an exponential rate. Ideas have always been the bedrock of human advancement.
- If you admire or respect someone's work or achievements reach out to them. An email, a letter or a Tweet. Ask them if they would be willing to mentor you or share some golden pearls of wisdom.
- Physical and mental wellbeing cannot be underestimated. When one is fit and healthy it is easier to concentrate on personal and professional growth. This entails exercise, meditation and alone time.
This list is not exhaustive and there are many other actions one can take, I feel for now these steps would be a great starting point for any 19-year-old looking to supercharge their personal and professional development.
I am thoroughly enjoying my weekly calls with Robina. Most importantly for me I having to think critically and inwardly look at myself and answer some of the questions I am being asked. It feels almost like I am a patient on a couch revealing my professional life, decisions I've made and the future I am moving towards to a young inquisitive mind.
I shall remain to be of service to Robina and through my writings to others who may find this of interest.