A great piece of advice can be powerful. It can set you on a whole new trajectory, land you a new job, or even prompt you to make a big career change.
Through dozens of interviews I have conducted for the podcast How I Work, I have asked many leaders on the show about the best career advice they have ever received. Here are four pieces of advice that set them on the fast track for success.
Do your current job well – even the boring bits
For Wendy Stops, a non-executive director on the board of Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA), the most fundamental piece of career advice she gives to people is to do your job well. Stops says that people’s first reaction to this advice is, “That’s obvious”. To which Stops replies, “It’s not. I mean whatever you’re asked to do, do it and do it well. So if you’re asked to go and photocopy 200 pages, show them that you’re the best damn photocopier that they’ve ever seen.”
Stops also recommends not whinging about the boring or tedious parts of your job. “Every job has good bits and bad bits, and you just have to do them all well.”
The bad times are the best times
Stops has been through plenty of hard times in her career, such as being on the board of CBA during the royal commission into banking in 2018. She truly believes that the bad times are the best times because of how much you learn.
“The bad times make you a better person for the next job,” Stops shared with me on How I Work. “So yes, the royal commission was tough, but I’ve learnt a lot as well. I’m a great believer in learning from the bad times, and don’t just bail. You have to stick it out. You’ll learn so much, you’ll come out the other end much stronger and much tougher, and be in a better position to move forward in your career.”
Identify high growth sectors
Kendra Banks, Managing Director for Australia and New Zealand at Seek, has spent the last 20 years rising up the ranks in the digital sector. Advice that Banks received early on in her career is to be in sectors and businesses that are growing.
“When there is growth in a sector or business, that creates opportunities, and you can grow along with that business or sector,” Banks told me on How I Work. “And having been in digital for around two decades, that’s been a big part of the story of my own career.”
Not all feedback is created equal
Alison Watkins, Group Managing Director of Coca-Cola Amatil, started her career as what she described as an “insecure overachiever”. “I had a level of insecurity that made me somebody who wanted to please. This makes you very vulnerable to the judgments of other people,” Watkins confessed to me on How I Work.
Watkins eventually realised that exposing yourself to the judgements of other people puts you in an untenable position because some people who pass judgement may actually not have particularly good judgement.
“I’ve become a lot better at accepting that not everybody is going to agree with the choices that I make or the things that I say or do. I have learned to value the judgement from those who are well placed to be wise or considered and their feedback is really important to me. And I try not to leave myself vulnerable to the judgments of less informed people.”
And the worst advice?
While good advice is helpful, it’s also worth noting that there is plenty of bad advice going around. For Banks, this came in the form of parenting and career advice.
“Someone once said to me, ‘Now that you’re having your second child, you probably want to come back to a job that’s a little bit less demanding.’ Fortunately, I didn’t take that advice. But I think there’s a lot of assumptions made about how parents want to drive their careers, which can be detrimental.”
“It’s not that slowing down is the wrong choice. It’s that to assume that slowing down as the choice for everybody is wrong. Equally to assume that staying in a similar career path is the right decision for everybody is also wrong.”
“We need to enable people to look at what’s really important for them and to make choices that work for them and avoid making assumptions about what is best.”