Beth Comstock, former vice chair of General Electric, shares her career tips for women.
There’s one thing you should know about Beth Comstock before reading her debut book: she turned down a position with Apple co-founder Steve Jobs. Twice.
And it becomes immediately evident why when speaking to her: she has that rare value of trusting herself implicitly.
“Apple was starting to take off, it wasn’t the right job for me,” Comstock tells Stylist.co.uk. And she knew the timing wasn’t right: “I didn’t feel like I wanted a different path,” she adds.
At the time (2005), Comstock was running the digital division for NBC. Now, after a decade as vice chair of General Electric, Comstock has dispensed her knowledge and experience (and failures) in her debut book, Imagine It Forward: Courage, Creativity, and the Power of Change.
The former vice chair is not only a change-maker. She also believes the future belongs to the creative industries (and the artists of the world). More importantly, to get ahead in any profession, we all need to start embracing change with ease. Now.
Ready to get started? Here, she shares her best career tips for millennials.
1) On ambition
“Be ambitious if you want - but if you don’t want to be ambitious, then that’s OK, too,” advises Comstock. “I think women often feel that ambition is something that makes us uncomfortable, that somehow we’re not supposed to be ambitious.”
Which is why Comstock believes you have to remind yourself of your goals, abilities and talents on a daily basis.
“Recently, I went back and found a note I had written when I was 14 and it said: ‘I’m ambitious, I want to be 50 different things in my life’. I love that I felt that way when I was 14 – but I’ve lost [confidence] along the way.”
She continues: “Go and remind yourself what it is that propels you forward, and own it. Put a little sign on your desk or on your bedside table every morning, saying, ‘I’m ambitious, I want to be 50 different things’. That person has always been you.”
2) On introvertism
“I’m shy, which is why I quickly realised that business is an extroverted arena,” admits Comstock. “I realised people who don’t have that [introverism] are not holding themselves back. They’re out there asking questions and throwing out ideas, too.
“I got to a point where I realised I had to work on that, and I had to give myself small challenges, like introducing myself to one person and voicing at least one idea every day.”
As we’re well-aware, quiet people in an office environment are often overlooked when it comes to promotions, but Comstock believes introverts bring valuable qualities to any business. These include “being really good listeners”, “good observers” and they’re “good at synthesising what’s happening”.
Being part of a well-balanced team is vital for both personal success and the success of a company, too.
“We need people who are critical thinkers. We need people who are dreamers and optimists. When you are forming teams you need those different capabilities and you need to know how to get the best out of those people,” says Comstock. “Not everybody fits the same template.”
3) On negotiating a pay rise
“Know your strengths and know your story,” advises Comstock. “You want people to champion you. So the first time your manager hears from you shouldn’t be just because you’re ready for a raise.”
In short: do your homework and have personal statistics at hand to back up your successes.
“They [your manager] should have an ongoing series of your successes and your weaknesses,” says Comstock. “You should be having an ongoing discussion. But document it, so when you’re asking for a raise you’re able to say, ‘Hey look, this is what I’ve contributed, you’ve given me this feedback’.
“You have to make sure there’s shared values: what’s in it for you, what’s in it for them? And just be bold.”
5) On staying motivated
“I love discovery and I love curiosity. What motivates me especially is just the ability to get out and discover, to find new things,” says Comstock.
“I left TV last year and I loved the team I worked with. I’d say that one of my greatest challenges in this past year is trying to align with new teams. There’s nothing better I’d say.”
6) On taking risks
After turning down a position with Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, Comstock is the first to admit that she has thought about her decision – but she hasn’t dwelled on it.
“It was change and I was a bit afraid [of it],” admits Comstock. “There have been times when I’ve looked at the Apple stock price and thought, ‘Oh, I could have had this chance to be made better by Steve Jobs’. But I didn’t pick that path and I had to make my own path work.
“So pick your path and have good reasons for doing it – as I did. It’s OK to ask yourself: did I make the right decision? But don’t dwell on it, just make that path go forward and work for you. Do your best and then make it happen.”
7) On embracing change and creativity
At the core of Comstock’s book is change – how we have to embrace it, and more importantly, why we need to start doing so now.
“It’s against our nature to embrace change,” says Comstock. “As humans we are adaptation machines. This is how we got to where we are because we’re so good at adapting.”
But, as employees, we need to start feeling comfortable about change in the workplace as the “dynamic is changing in front of us”.
To achieve this, Comstock advises adopting small everyday challenges.
“The one thing I do is give myself permission to do something. I give myself permission to take a risk on something, to go explore something new, to say that I need to learn about something,” says Comstock.
“Or take a new route when you commute in the morning – maybe drive along a different road. Walk a different way to work because when you go back to your old route, I guarantee you’ll see things that you didn’t notice – you’ll come back with a different perspective.”
You can read more here on how to secure your dream job.
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