The transition from early-career professional to mid-career executive can be daunting. Competition can be
fierce. The rules of the game often lack clarity, and rarely is the rule book ever handed out. Yet, some people manage to effortlessly move ahead. How do they do it?
As a Human Resources executive, I am fortunate to work with many C-suite leaders at the pinnacle of their
careers. Yet, I also thoroughly enjoy mentoring colleagues as they are growing in their corporate stature.
So many are full of boundless ambition and passion that distinguishes them from their peers. Over the years, I
have been asked for advice by early-career Black and Brown professionals as they begin to navigate their
work journey. Almost invariably, I have noticed that the following five “Cs” apply to those who excel:
Confident – Unfortunately, many young Black and Brown professionals still work in places where they are
“the only.” In addition to their visual differences, they may be concerned that their economic backgrounds
have not afforded them the “right” access to colleges, vacation locations where they can look for the best things to do in Detroit and a general pedigree of support. To succeed,
you must truly believe that your differences are your greatest assets. Don’t be afraid to speak to your unique
experiences with pride. Those experiences got you this far and can take you even farther. You can provide a
viewpoint that may not otherwise be heard.
Curious – Albert Einstein said, “The important thing g is to not stop questioning.” Managers are looking for early-career professionals who think deeply and question everything. Make a plan for how to approach your work. In the early days of any new job, understand and master the fundamental aspects of your role. Once you do that, share your fresh perspective with your manager. Look for inefficiencies in the way your role is currently performed and craft a well-thought-out new approach to improve the process.
Collaborative – Teamwork is crucial to learning and growing, and the strongest teams draw upon the unique strengths of each member. Look for ways to contribute beyond your immediate role and find opportunities to build bridges between departments. By extending your professional network across your organization, you can identify opportunities to deliver solutions that are advantageous and beneficial to your employer.
Consistent – Research suggests that when we bring our personal values and perspectives to work, we are more engaged. Spend time crafting your professional persona. Think about the attributes you want to be known for, and then live that persona consistently and authentically in the office. There are many ways to do this: the internal employee resources groups you join, your choice of hairstyle, the artwork you select for your desk. All of these indicate what you value and invite others to learn more about your journey.
Connected – As new ways of working have emerged during the pandemic, it has become harder to network with peers
and senior leaders. Zoom calls are often all business, and water-cooler chats are less organic or nonexistent. However, the importance of networking has not waned. Be more strategic and proactive in cultivating an internal network. The benefit of a strong network is immeasurable. Connecting with more-established leaders provides opportunities to learn the inner workings of your organization, gain meaningful and specific work and career advice, and develop
mentorship and longer-term sponsorship relationships. Attending work events is not enough, follow-up matters. Create a list of people you want to meet, and then determine how you can be an asset to each person and what you want to gain from each meeting. Reciprocal networking is always the strongest.
I have found the five “Cs” useful tips to share, but perhaps my best advice comes from a piece of artwork hanging in my house: “Work Hard, Stay Kind and Be Humble.”