By Chelsea Keen, M.Ed. (’12), Career Coach and Founder of Uplifted Ambitions Career Coaching
Chelsea Keen is a results-oriented career coach who empowers ambitious early and mid-level professional women to land their ideal job, advance in their career, and find fulfillment in their 9 to 5. She launched Uplifted Ambitions Career Coaching several years after graduating from Wake Forest – she credits the OPCD staff for helping her identify and pursue her professional passions and now loves to provide the same support to others.
Who we choose to surround ourselves with – even virtually – directly impacts our success in all facets of life. This is especially true for ambitious professional women who are aiming to advance in their careers.
We often fall into the trap of believing that we can advance by simply keeping our heads down, grinding away, and producing strong results. While work ethic is certainly a piece of the promotion puzzle, it is also critical to focus on cultivating relationships that have the power to propel you forward. We have the opportunity as women to harness our relational nature in order to make big moves in our careers.
As a career coach, one of the key ways that I teach early and mid-level professional women to advance in their careers is through intentional relationship building. By nurturing strategic relationships, you can grow in ways that will position you to elevate yourself to the next level. Read below for a snapshot of three different types of professional relationships you need to advance in your career.
The Industry Peer
One of the key relationships that will help you grow as a professional is with your Industry Peer – a colleague who is in a similar functional role, but at a different company or organization within your industry.
Your Industry Peer will not only share new ideas and best practices to help you improve in your current role, but you can also support each other’s growth and have candid conversations about your career aspirations. Unlike chatting with a peer within your company, you can be more open about discussing your goals to transition or explore new opportunities without worrying it will circulate back to your boss. A strong relationship with your Industry Peer will also expand your networking circle and provide you with a valuable connection as you both advance in the field.
Hear me out on this one. Your Critic is that challenging colleague (or supervisor) who always seems to be there to let you know when you’ve made a mistake. Dealing with your Critic can be aggravating – but it can also teach you so much. First, there is often constructive feedback hidden beneath the Critic’s snarky comments that will help you improve in your position.
When I was a new professional, I worked with a highly critical executive leader who figuratively slapped my hand for not being formal enough in an email to a senior leader. At first it felt like petty micromanaging – and I’ll admit, I shed a few frustrated tears in the bathroom – but when I reflected objectively on the situation, she was right. I acknowledged my mistake and promised to be more intentional about my language based on my audience in future communications.
Of course, sometimes the Critic is simply being nitpicky. This is when you have the opportunity to flex your relationship management muscles and learn to deal effectively with a challenging colleague. Think of it as the perfect training ground for you to answer the question, ‘Tell me about a time when you had a disagreement with a coworker and how you handled it’, during your next interview.
The Realistic Mentor
It’s no secret that mentors can play an important role in your professional advancement. However, we often think of mentors as executive leaders who are well-seasoned in their careers. While these Aspirational Mentors can be valuable sources of wisdom, it is also critical to learn from a Realistic Mentor who is one to two levels senior to you and currently holds the position that you aspire to in the next five years.
Your Realistic Mentor will provide you with boots-on-the-ground tactical advice to propel your career forward. They can provide you with guidance about exactly which skills you need to build up, projects you need to take on, and pitfalls you need to avoid in order to make it to their level. And when it comes time for your promotion, having this Realistic Mentor in your corner to advocate for you will be invaluable.
As an ambitious woman ready to make big moves in your career, I encourage you to surround yourself with an Industry Peer, Critic, and Realistic Mentor to help you advance along your path. As you work your way to the top, remember to pay it forward and lift up other women in their professional advancement, as well.