Taking Control of Your Career

The CFA Women’s Network at CFA Society Chicago kicked off their series Taking it to the Next Level: Empowering Tools for Women in Finance aimed at events that optimize career development and advancement for women in the financial services area.

The first event in the series, titled Taking Control of Your Career, focused on managing and shifting the course of careers by the speaker Gail Meneley. Meneley is the co-founder of Shields Meneley Partners, a confidential advisory service to C-Suite executives and board of directors during times of organizational and professional crisis and transition. She was one of eight founders of the Center for Executive Options and served as a CEO of the Institute of Financial Education. With extensive business experience, Meneley has been widely quoted and published in multiple reputable business publications and has been the keynote speaker at national conferences and conventions. She holds a B.A. from Mundelein College of Loyola University and has participated in executive programs at the University of Texas, the University of Washington, and the University of Southern California. Additionally, she is active in many civic, cultural and business organizations including the Economic Club of Chicago, The Chicago Network, the Chicago Finance Exchange, and the Lake Forest Caucus.

Meneley presented advise on how to navigate through career transitions and or progression to the mostly female audience at a well-attended event. She touched upon some of the important, yet less discussed issues faced by women during their careers. Key takeaways from the discussion are briefed below.

Better Navigation at work

Meneley could not stress enough to remain confident in periods of uncertainty and self- doubt that women are more likely to feel than their male counterparts in the workplace. Additionally, she advised women to stop selling their abilities short – both internally and externally, and ‘learn to toot their own horns’ shunning the uneasy feeling which is usually experienced by most women in the situation.

She advised women to make the expectations at work clear at the outset by carrying out discussions that may be uncomfortable like the authority to carry out assigned tasks, extent of involvement in terms of leading a project vs helping the team in a more supportive role. This should help manage responsibilities and receive deserved credit for the performed work.

Stagnation and Progression

If you feel you are feeling stagnating at work or disagree with any aspect of your role, she advised to discuss it with your manager before thinking of switching jobs. However, just complaining about your situation will not be fruitful and instead take up this discussion with your manager with a suggestion to resolve it.

In order to prepare yourself for the conversation, make sure you understand the root cause of your feelings. Is it the lack of opportunities or lack of responsibilities? What would it take for you to feel satisfied at your job?

Being explicit about your expectations will help your manager address them more effectively. Signing up for not so popular projects would be one way to communicate your commitment and enthusiasm at work and a way to standout from your peers. Despite your efforts and failure on your managers part to resolve your reasonable concerns may be a sign to think about alternatives to the current role.

Assessing your dissatisfaction in the current role

Many women feel dissatisfied in their current roles which might be signs of emotional and/or literal blockage at work or a result of reaction to a negative situation at work. To deal with such feelings, Meneley provided some guidance to assess your situation by asking yourself the following questions:

  • Do you disagree with the overall business strategy?
  • Did you engage your manager without resolution?
  • Have you lost respect for the team?
  • Are you frustrated with the work?

If any of the above apply to you, it may be time to consider an exit. However, she cautioned to rule out any emotional reaction to a specific negative situation by giving it some time to see how you feel after a while. If after 6 months negative feelings haven’t improved or have gotten worse, it might be time for the necessary action.

Career Growth Strategy & Change in Jobs

Gail Meneley stressed on how one must ‘always’ continue to engage in networking and building professional and personal relationships whether they are looking for a job, looking to switch jobs or careers or content with their current employer. Constant networking should be an integral part of your overall career strategy.

Other important considerations should be self-reflection of whether you have achieved the satisfaction you expected in your current role or with your current employer? If not, what could be improved and how? What would be your favorite job and why? Do you feel like meeting your coworkers each morning? Do you see yourself managing other people?

If you feel you need to change jobs or transition into a different career path you must be thoughtful of your moves from one employer to the other and its emotional and practical implications. One very valid consideration would be the decision to relocate. If you do plan to relocate make sure it matters and is a long-term decision.

Skills Enhancement

In order to grow professionally, one should constantly learn new skills. Women who consider themselves as introverts can train themselves to become extroverts by doing the following:

  • Try to get to know other people
  • Draw out people by interacting with them and making them feel comfortable around you
  • Learn to read other people
  • Hire a coach. This should be particularly beneficial when transitioning for single person role a leadership role

Very effectively, Meneley explained how a manager’s role differs from that of a leader. Managers, she said, have a more engineering type process to tackle people and work whereas leadership roles are more about connection of hearts and minds. Effective leaders tend to focus on what interests other people and end up making them excited about the job. To ascertain a good leader from a bad leader, look at who everyone is following. To transition from being a manger to a leader, work on your people skills and do not hesitate to seek help from a career coaching expert.

Exit Strategy

Once you have made up your mind to leave your current employer, it is important to make your exit at a positive note. Meneley emphasized to maintain a relationship of mutual respect with the employer. This would include negotiating an exit package that both parties can agree on and using exit interview as a means of keeping your reputation intact. She strongly advised against suing the employer as this could have ramifications to your employability in the future.

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