Feeling stuck in a career rut or struggling to achieve that elusive work/life balance? Here, Stylist readers share the best career advice they’ve ever received and how they implement it to get ahead at work.
Work is hard. There’s the actual day-to-day slog of doing your job, career progression to think about, issues dealing with colleagues and bosses and the myriad of other little niggles and worries that come with work. And, because of that, we all need people we can vent to about work, whether it’s blowing off steam with a pal at the pub or long rant on the phone to a loved one. Good career advice, whether it comes from our parents, bosses, colleagues or mates, is worth its weight in gold.
Here, 12 women share the best career advice they’ve ever received and how they implement it to get ahead at work.
Always take your lunch break
“The best piece of advice I’ve received, and continue to relay to those junior to me, is always take your lunch break. I can’t say I’ve always stuck to it, but the pandemic allowed me to start doing it again. Setting aside that hour during the working day helps me get my stride back when things get hectic.
“When I was in the office full time I’d usually eat lunch at my desk. But now, after working from home for a year, I’ve discovered there’s so much that can be done in that hour. I go for walks, catch up with family, wash my hair or even do some laundry.”
Nkechi Agu, 28, London, PR account manager
Chase the dream, not the competition
“This sounds mega cheesy, but my best career advice was actually from Britain’s Got Talent. One contestant said they were there to ‘chase the dream, not the competition’ and it’s something that’s stuck with me. Even in interviews, when asked why they should pick you over another candidate, or even in your day-to-day working life, we should see the strength in others, but also the strength within ourselves and the personal value we all bring. Getting distracted or spooked by other people’s success will only bring negative outcomes. You do you!”
Anna Murphy, 33, Nottingham
Never stop learning
“Knowledge is power. It’s important to keep an appetite for learning, whether it be from others around you, from courses or a mixture of both. It keeps your perspective fresh and open minded.
“Recently I’ve discovered the ESSEC Business School, which has courses you can do in your own time. Social media is useful for expanding your mind and getting insights and I follow lots of groups and leaders in their field. Newsletters are also helpful as they make learning easy to digest when you’re pressed for time – my favourite is Inc. I also reverse mentor, which provides a fantastic opportunity for me to learn from my mentees and those around me.”
Anna Dalziel, 45, Cheshire
Always negotiate your pay
“One thing that’s always stuck with me, which I was told early on, was to always negotiate your pay. Regardless of what the first offer is, even if you think it’s good, by haggling to some extent you let the other party know that you aren’t going to be a pushover. Quite a lot of women are reluctant to rock the boat in this way for fear of being labelled disruptive, but there’s nothing wrong with letting others know that you’re well aware of your value!”
Sarah-Jane McQueen, 40, London
When you have an idea, just start
“When you have an idea, the most important thing is to just start. It seems scary because it never feels like the ‘right time’ and you never feel ready, but it’s the process of jumping in that forces you to start iterating on an idea. The fear of failure is always much worse than having your first product fail, because you learn something in the process. This advice came from my parents – even though they weren’t entrepreneurs, they encouraged me to pursue my crazy idea to start a fishery after college instead of taking a real job.”
Michele Romanow, 35, Toronto
Make your work visible
“My first job was at a hospice in their marketing and communications department and my manager told me it’s important to be visible, through your work, in any organisation you work for. She’d often encourage me to take lead on projects, present at company meetings, encourage me to work directly with senior staff and ensure my name was on all the pieces of work I did or contributed to. This advice has been invaluable to me throughout my career. It’s helped me build a positive reputation in my current organisation where my contribution is evident.
“Unfortunately, people will take credit for your work where they can. My manager also showed me how to elevate others who don’t hold as much privilege as you and to give them opportunities where they wouldn’t usually receive them. I am a South-Asian woman and have been the ethnic minority in all the jobs I’ve had. This has inspired me to do the same for others in areas where I have privilege too.”
Jaini Haria, 27, London
Learning from mistakes is more important than not making them
“Mistakes allow us to grow beyond our comfort zone and what we already know. Being comfortable with making mistakes means you’ll learn much faster than others who feel they have to be perfect. I took this approach from people I’ve admired over the years. They used mistakes as learning opportunities and took mistakes way less personally than me. They took note of what they’d missed in order to make the mistake and then moved on with a deeper knowledge of what they were doing.
“This has helped me be braver in what I’m willing to try, and encourages me to continually push the edge of what I think I’m capable of doing. I can’t grow unless I am OK with mistakes being part of my process.”
Lila Turner, 48, London
Don’t worry about the opinions of people you wouldn’t go to advice for
“This advice was given to me by a friend when I was going through a tough time at work some years ago. I’ve used it as a coping mechanism since, particularly when I was in a role where the boss was rude and condescending to the whole team on a daily basis. It helped knowing it wasn’t me – it was them, so I didn’t waste energy on feeling down.”
Anna-Victoria Jones, 32, Bath
Delegate, delegate, delegate
“My father taught me this early on, and as he’s been successful in business for over 40 years, I took his advice. I evaluated my skills and what I enjoyed the most, as well as where I felt there were gaps in my knowledge and what I didn’t enjoy. As a creative, the financials were not my strong point, so in my first year of business, I hired an external bookkeeper and accountant. 21 years later, I have an in-house bookkeeper and an external accountant, which serves me well.
“As an entrepreneur, it’s easy to get too involved in the day-to-day operations of your business and getting involved in tasks that are time consuming and which you could outsource to others. Now, I’m able to devote more time to working on my business rather than in my business. By delegating, I can focus on business strategy and goals.”
Vaishali Shah, 49, London
Pay attention to how you communicate
“The best career advice I’ve ever received is to pay attention to the details of how you communicate. I used to fire off emails with little thought, thinking it was efficient. I now realise that the tone of every communication you make sets the tone for relationships with colleagues and the most minor things, like email style, can really affect your success.
“Another good piece of advice I’ve received is that successful people are those who can weather the storm. This has been so true for me as there have been times in my career when I’ve truly wanted to quit but I persevered and have come out the other side.”
Zoe May, 34, Oxford
A career journey isn’t always a straight line
“This advice was from a fabulous lecturer I had during my undergraduate degree who had spent years working in the civil service and then retrained as an archaeologist and Byzantine historian. It’s definitely informed the last 10 years of my working life. I’ve moved overseas and to different cities and changed jobs and ended up freelancing and I’ve never been happier. At school and uni we’re so often told to take a really particular career path – law training, for example, was always pushed on me but it was never what I wanted.”
Alice Hargreaves, 31, West Midlands
Change the plan but not the goal
“If a plan towards your business success doesn’t work, change the plan but never the goal. Trust the timing in your life. Recently, when my events management services were halted by the pandemic and lockdown, we were forced to abandon face-to-face events and there seemed to be no hope or light at the end of the tunnel.
“My team and I constructed a new approach to how we could still plan, coordinate and execute successful hybrid events. The goal was to maintain brand visibility and connect with new audiences, gain new clients and work with potential business partners. All three things stuck and here we are coming out of lockdown with a goal that was met. So many doors have opened for the business and me, it’s unbelievable. The change of plan wasn’t so bad after all!”
Tamika Martin, 40, Nottingham