Chicago — I spend my days interviewing C-suite leaders from some of the most well-known companies who look to advance their careers by sharing their stories. At the end of every interview, I often ask them for advice they’d give to other young professionals looking to one day be where they are. While they often give industry-specific tips, I’ve noticed that a lot of their advice is similar.
Here’s a few gems I think Gen Z could benefit from.
Get a mentor (and a sponsor)
Time and time again, many of the executives I interview point to mentors, sponsors or other advocates they credit their career success to. These were teachers from high school or college, bosses from early career experiences and even professionals they’ve met through networking. They’d come to these mentors with concerns, fears and anxieties, in addition to their wins and successes. Their mentors would be real-life examples of where they wanted to one day be in their career, real-life manifestations of their possible goals and future selves.
These mentors were people who advocated for them when they weren’t in the room with hiring managers. These were people who recommended job opportunities and referred them to other employers in their network.
I’ve already witnessed what having a mentor does in my life. When you first start your career, you feel worlds away from where you need to be. Mentors help you realize that you’re not too far off if you take the appropriate steps and they stick by your side at every step of the journey
Don’t be afraid to take risks/try new things
To my surprise, many leaders have often been called to expand their roles in areas they’ve had no experience with. It’s often as a result of a combination of things - their relationships, their work ethic, success in their current role, potential other leaders see in them - all infused with a hint of being at the right place at the right time.
Many have said the prospect of taking on a new challenge spurred fear and anxiety within them. Others have expressed that they felt like they weren’t ready, going as far as putting off opportunities to satisfy feelings of comfort. When they did decide to tackle new challenges by taking on new responsibilities or accepting a job they had no idea how to do in the beginning, things didn’t always turn out as bad as they imagined. They leaned on their tenured colleagues, observed long-time leaders, sought advice from mentors and found other ways to make their transition smoother.
As people in their 20s who are finding ourselves in similar positions that they were once in, we should do the same. When we’re feeling fearful of that next challenge, it can be helpful to think that most people we look up to started where we are. We should talk to them and pick their brain about how they navigated new beginnings. Then, we should bet on ourselves, try our best to learn what we need to learn and to just jump in.
Learn from your failures
As a young professional, it's hard to imagine that our leaders have failed. Some don’t like to talk openly about their failures. Others seem to be so good at their jobs that we can barely believe them when they tell us about their shortcomings. Either way, the truth is that everyone is human, including the most skilled, talented and successful among us.
Many leaders emphasize that and I think Gen Z can learn from what some of them do after they haven’t reached a goal, when they upset a client or when a project didn’t pan out - they learn from it and keep moving forward. They often say failure can be an opportunity for more growth, a time to identify our weaknesses and to focus on building ourselves up in those areas.