How to excel as a new college grad in your first career

I spent a day last week talking to recent college grads readying to launch their careers.  Among the things we talked about was how do you do well in your fist job.  There are a few things that everyone, regardless of experience level, can do to excel.

Get involved in as much as you can – learn the business

Completing your regular job tasks is critical, and it’s important to not take on so much that you are unable to do that. But if you do have the capacity, taking on additional projects is a great way to grow professionally, learn parts of the business you may not be in, get to know others, and really help out your management team. When your manager asks for help – think of each ask as an opportunity for you professionally.

Take Initiative

We all know that when we finish one task, we should ask our manager what more we can do. However, you don’t always have to wait for direction. The best employees take the initiative to add value beyond their day to day work. Whether that’s thinking of ways to improve work processes, creating new ideas to serve clients, solving a problem that has yet to be addressed, or developing your skills there are plenty of ways to add value without waiting for your boss to tell you what to do.

Admit to problems early

No one likes problems, but problems are inevitable. The important thing is to not think that you can avoid them, but to be prepared to deal with them as they arise. The worst thing you can do is hide a problem that may impact your team. Instead, meet with your manager as early as possible, tell them about the issue that has developed, and provide details on how you’re working to quickly resolve the issue. If you aren’t sure of the best way to resolve the problem, ask for help. Asking for help is always better than risking making the problem worse.

Do your best and stay positive

When we start our careers, it’s not uncommon to be doing something that we don’t love or aren’t yet experienced at. The first part of our careers is about developing our skills and finding our interests. It’s also the time when our colleagues and managers learn how we work. So no matter what you are doing, whether you love it or not, do your best and show your manager that you can be counted on to take on bigger tasks.

Equally as important, is keeping a good attitude. Let’s face it, work can be hard work. It can be stressful and chaotic and having someone around who takes changes and challenges in stride can make a big difference. You can always teach an employee a new skill, but you can’t teach character.

You don’t have to be an expert to make a positive impact.  Managers appreciate employees who take on additional tasks, add value to projects, keep problems from getting bigger, and do their best while staying positive. The key is to be a positive contributor, add value, and expand your capabilities in the process.

Join me for a tweetchat on STEM

Join me tomorrow, Thursday, November 6th at 12:00 PM ET for a tweetchat on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, & Math) and how we as leaders and professionals can increase participation. Joining the tweetchat is easy, see the directions below!

How to join a tweetchat:

  • The easiest way to view and contribute to the tweetchat is by going to: http://tweetchat.com/room/LetsTalkSTEM (You can also tweet directly from Twitter or a tweet dashboard using the hashtag #LetsTalkSTEM, but it is not as easy to see the conversation)
  • Login with your Twitter information to start tweeting (you must have a Twitter account to participate)
  • The hashtag #LetsTalkSTEM will automatically be included with your tweet so you do not need to retype it
  • We will use the Q1/A1 format, which means when a question is asked it will be denoted as Q1, Q2, etc. where the number indicates which question it is (Q1 = Question 1). Similarly when you want to provide an answer to that question you start your tweet with A1, A2 where the number indicates which question you are answering, so A2 means you are answering question 2, not that it is your second answer.

My most recent blog posts related to STEM:

Why women aren’t in STEM careers and what we can do about it

Why some countries have more women in STEM

How Leaders Can Give Back

It’s hard to believe that it’s almost November and the holiday season will soon be upon us. The holidays are a wonderful time to connect with friends and families and reflect on the year and prepare for the year ahead. But the holiday season also serves as a reminder of the importance of giving back both to our communities and those around us.

Think you’re too busy?

Our schedules are hectic and it’s hard to imagine fitting in anything else. But did you know that according to a study by Cone Communications and Echo Research, 82% of consumers consider Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) when buying products and services? CSR isn’t just something that happens in a vacuum, it requires individuals and leaders to commit to it. In addition to the benefits to your organization, giving back can benefit you too. Volunteering can increase happiness and decrease rates of depression. But how can you make it work?

  • Choose something that’s important to you, so it feels less like an obligation and more like an opportunity.
  • Schedule volunteering in advance on your calendar just as you would any important meeting.
  • Optimize your time by bringing your family or making it a work event (volunteer opportunities can make employees more engaged and even help with skill development).

The difference leaders can make in the community

There are so many ways to get involved; with some need in every community, you don’t have to look very far. But first, it’s important to consider how your unique skills as a leader can be utilized. For example, you could provide job mentoring, speak at a local school, or help a nonprofit to instill good managerial practices to keep them better organized, more productive, and efficient.

Leaders also often have the benefit of a large network. While you can reach out to your network for fundraising efforts, you can also recruit more volunteers or help to connect organizations with the right people or services. Got an accountant friend who can help an organization with their bookkeeping or a brother-in-law in communications who can help build a social media campaign? These connections can make a big difference for a nonprofit, which may have limited resources.

Giving back to those around us

In addition to giving back to the community, this time of year is a good time to give back to the people who have helped us throughout the year. For your employees, this can be as simple as a note of thanks. Try handwritten notes with specific details about how they have helped. Another way to give back to employees is by offering one on one mentoring sessions. Your knowledge and experiences are meaningful assets to up and coming employees. Just like with nonprofits, you can also help your employees to connect with others in your network. These connections can help them to grow their career or develop their skills.

While this may be the season for giving, let it really serve as a jumping off point for giving back all year round. Leaders are positioned to provide unique benefits to their communities and those around them, so find something important to you and get started!

Why Some Countries Have More Women in STEM

Across the world women are more likely than men to be uneducated or undereducated. However, even in countries of relative parity, men outnumber women in STEM careers, confirming our need to look beyond education to solve this issue.  I discussed the importance of all of us leaders to get involved and to act as role models in a previous post, but I would like to delve deeper into why this is even necessary.

As reported by UNESCO, not all countries have trouble getting women into STEM careers. There are many factors which could contribute to this, such as availability of jobs and educational programming, but there is one factor which I found to stick out repeatedly: Perception – The perception that STEM roles are not for women.

STEM careers, it is thought, are just not something women typically do. And so we don’t. Not because we actively think, “women shouldn’t do this,” but because it sits in our subconscious from childhood onward and is continuously reinforced by the male dominated STEM culture in our schools and our companies.

In the September 2014 Wired Magazine, author, Vikram Chandra, wrote, “In India, women feel at home in engineering. One 2013 study of Indian engineering students asked whether they ever felt left out in an academic setting. About 8 percent of female engineers reported such feelings.”

Similarly, in their study on Malaysia, Women in Computer Science: NO SHORTAGE HERE!, Mazliza Othman and Rodziah Latih concluded, “There is no gender bias with regard to how CS/IT is perceived by young Malaysians. Even though male students often started their bachelor degree program with more computer skills, it does not result in male students outperforming female students. Neither are females underrepresented among the high achievers. Female students are also more certain they will pursue a career in computer/IT industry compared to male students.”

The perception of STEM fields as masculine tends not to be shared by countries where the participation rates are higher for women. This results in more women pursuing the field, and thus contributes to the presence of more female mentors and role models. There are more female teachers and faculty at schools, more female PhDs, and so on. It’s a snowball effect – without the perceptual barriers – more women join, more women lead, and thus the idea that STEM roles are only for men becomes even more absurd.

However, in the US, and many other countries around the world, our perceptions are preventing this effect from taking course. This is why it is critical that we act as role models, as examples for the field. This is why we should push back against media that represents scientists solely as males or those rare female scientists as oddities to whom hardly anyone could relate. We have to provide a community of support to those already in these roles that will help them to be successful and give affirmation to those looking to pursue it. Finally, we have to stop defining career paths by distinctive skills and characteristics, because in today’s ever changing world – no role is black and white, and the programmers and mathematicians and scientists of the future will need to be as diversely skilled as the teachers and marketers and nurses.

Guest Post: Leveraging Change Into Career Success

One thing is for certain, everyone experiences change. Change, whether anticipated or not, can be difficult.  It elicits feelings of excitement, fear, stress and/or happiness.   In today’s world, change disrupts the flow of what has been, evolving current situations or making them irrelevant.  Those who have thought themselves invincible now must confront vulnerability.  Whether broken and bruised or strengthened and motivated, they can continue on their path, look for another way, or quit.

Many IBM executives can attest to the frequently changing nature of the consulting world and how those opportunities (whether favorable or not) were leveraged to accelerate their career path.

In his 14 year consulting career, Srini Attili, a Partner in the US Federal Healthcare Team, experienced a lot of changes as he navigated his career path from a Junior Programmer to an IT specialist to an IT architect to a Client Partner and Capture role.   Many of Srini’s career changing moments actually resulted from people believing in him.  His credentials and reputation caused people to seek him out for new opportunities, which gave him a chance to prove he could be successful in new territories. In a microwave generation, many find it difficult to be patient and take the time to understand business needs and goals, often shying away from the unfamiliar, but it was the unfamiliar that allowed Srini to grow in the depth and breadth of his knowledge base.

“Instant gratification is good for all, but sometimes you have to be patient, step back and look at it from the perspective of the people who are accountable for the overall delivery and see what impacts them.”

– Srini Attili

Application Innovation Services Leader, Andrew Fairbanks, is no stranger to change either.  In the late 90s, Andrew was thriving in his career and enjoying working on a series of short strategic engagements with a variety of higher education clients.  After winning a $500 million proposal to design, build, and operate an online university, Andrew was approached to be a part of the delivery team.  Making the transition from short term engagements to working on a large complex delivery for a sustained period of time would grow to be something that Andrew enjoyed.  Moving past the initial impulse of fear and being open to the risks that come with new engagements would open up a number of opportunities for Andrew that enabled him to move through the ranks from a Program Manager to a Program Executive to a Senior Program Executive.

“When your leadership comes to you and ask you to do something, be willing to take the gamble.  They are usually doing it for a reason, because they think it’s in the best interest of your career and it’s what the business really needs of you.”

– Andrew Fairbanks

Many career changing moments find us in a place where we experience new people, subjects, or clients.  Speaking with Lori Feller, IBM Interactive Experience and Mobile / Social Business Leader, it was clear that the theme of collaboration repeated throughout her career experiences.  A support system is needed to help endure changes, whether planned or unexpected, and being able to identify those resources is critical to managing transitions in one’s career.

“I really couldn’t do it without the support of my mentors, my peers, and the people that I work with everyday.”

-Lori Feller

There will be many defining moments in someone’s career that can either propel or hinder their success.  One of the most common ways to deal with change is to adjust your thinking.  Approach change as a process – reframe how you think about change and be flexible.  Every successful person has encountered unplanned changes at some point in their career.  Their success comes from how they dealt with it.

Whenever you encounter change in the workplace:

  1. Recognize that change does happen
  2. Be aware of your surroundings and subtle clues that change is coming
  3. Recognize the stages
  4. Communicate with others
  5. Do a self assessment
  6. Be flexible
  7. Continue to do your work
  8. Be positive in actions and attitude
  9. Maintain your network
  10. See the big picture

“If we don’t change, we don’t grow. If we don’t grow, we aren’t really living.”

Gail Sheehy, Author

 This post was written by: Jelece Morris, Consultant for IBM.

Why women aren’t in STEM careers and what we can do about it

In 2011, the Department of Commerce released a report on women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) positions, which found that a mere 24% of these positions are held by women – a rate that had scantly improved since the decade before. Despite the fact that more women than men go to college now, just 27% of students seeking a degree in STEM fields are women and only a quarter of those actually end up in STEM careers. Adding to this disconnect, girls are equitably represented in STEM courses through high school suggesting some force beyond access to education contributes to the gender gap.  

But why does it all matter? Why is STEM so important anyhow? When a country is competitive in the STEM fields, they are competitive in the world. With the rate of technology adaption, that becomes even more critical. This explains why many of the fastest growing careers are in STEM fields and why women who work in STEM earn 33% more than those not in STEM.

There are a variety of reasons that may contribute to girls not seeking STEM degrees and even more reasons they may go on to not choose STEM careers even if they do, but much of it may unfortunately be due to societal norms and culture. As Professor, Eileen Pollack, wrote in the New York Times, “I was dismayed to find that the cultural and psychological factors that I experienced in the ’70s not only persist but also seem all the more pernicious in a society in which women are told that nothing is preventing them from succeeding in any field. If anything, the pressures to be conventionally feminine seem even more intense now than when I was young.”

As a mother, it is unacceptable to me that any child, male or female, should ever be discouraged by society to do something for which they have a talent and interest. So perhaps it is up to all of us leaders, especially those of us with backgrounds in STEM, to change the narrative of what it means to be in STEM professions. It is our obligation to step out as role models for the next generation and say, “Yes, you can do this!”

As an IBMer, I am lucky to work with many talented, technical women in an environment that encourages the professional growth of them. IBM is recognized for its support of women, having introduced women to the professional ranks as early as the 1930s. And if you’re looking for role models, the women of IBM are a great place to start – pioneers, inventors, patent awardees, research fellows, Distinguished Engineers, A.M. Turing Award winners, authors, and even CEOs.

But still, there is more to be done. More of us need to stand up, not only as examples, but as catalysts for changing the landscape of STEM. We need to share our own experiences and encourage, mentor, and educate girls from a young age. We need to remind the world that there are no limits to the intellectual capacities of an individual, no matter their gender, and that potential for success should be based on their abilities and achievements and nothing else.

As Pollack wrote, “The most powerful determinant of whether a woman goes on in science might be whether anyone encourages her to go on.” I am involved in one such effort of encouragement, LabCandy. The mission of LabCandy is to cultivate young girls’ interest in science by showing them that the field has room for girls like them.  So I encourage you to get involved in an encouragement effort as well. There are many avenues, choose one and act – let young women who are wondering if they have what it takes know that they do!

Resources:

Women in STEM: A Gender Gap to Innovation – Department of Commerce, 2011

Women in STEM – White House

Why STEM Education is Important to Everyone – Science Pioneers

Why There Are Still So Few Women in Science – NY Times, Eileen Pollack, 2013

LabCandy

Reading & Reflecting: Executives and Work-Life Management

Inc.com recently posted an article, The Ultimate Balance: How Top Execs Juggle Work, Family, which gives tips for managing your professional and personal lives while maintaining a demanding career. Author, Jannie Popick, touches on everything from setting boundaries to outsourcing errands. Popick writes,

Having boundaries is incredibly helpful for managing time and expectations. Make sure that your team is clear about these boundaries and can work around them, and of course that you’re able to still reliably meet your responsibilities.

I have written on the topic of work life management several times. Aside from tactics, like those suggested by Popick, it is important to be realistic, both with yourself and those around you. Balance often implies that we can have equal parts of everything, but that is simply not the case. You cannot actually balance everything, but you can manage it – and still enjoy both sides. You must be flexible and continuously make adjustments to make it work for you. And when you find what works for you, commit to it and communicate it.