Working life

Career tactics for women: from internship to job to promotion

25 Jan 2023, 13:38

Eight senior female professionals share their tips for how to increase your chances of career success, no matter what job you want when you graduate and your long-term goals.

Three women talking at work

When you start your first job or internship, you'll probably be eager to impress your manager, prove your worth and, ideally, progress in your career through promotions and pay rises. To achieve this though, you'll need to do more than put your head down and get your work done. ‘Too often women think that if they’re working hard and doing a good job they’ll get promoted.’ So says Dr Sue Black, an honorary professor in the department of computer science at University College London and campaigner for women’s advancement in the workplace. This isn't a surprising assumption, given that it’s the route to good grades at school and university, but you’ll need a more sophisticated approach to drive your career forward.

Spread the word about your work

‘If you’re doing cool stuff, let people know about it,’ encourages Sue Black. ‘It’s not showing off.’

After all, doing brilliant work won’t help your career if nobody notices it. Of course, standing around bragging all day won’t impress either, but make time to talk to colleagues about what you’re working on and find out about their projects.

Invest time in relationships with colleagues

Marissa, a strategic co-lead in the digital transformation team at GCHQ, spoke about the importance of building relationships in our UK 300 publication. ‘As you start your career, don’t underestimate the value of creating a network,’ she says. ‘I’ve stayed in touch with people from pretty much every role and this network is so helpful in getting things done.’

Good networking involves give as well as take, and not only talking to people when you need their help. That said, don’t limit yourself to colleagues on a similar level to you. It’s tempting to cling to fellow interns or fresh graduates, especially at lunchtimes or social events, but try to find appropriate opportunities to strike up conversations with more senior colleagues. These are often the people who will assume the role of your champion or mentor – listening to your career ambitions, offering you guidance on how to achieve them and even actively championing you for new opportunities at the organisation.

Remember, networking doesn’t have to stop at your employer. You can make contacts in your wider industry or in entirely different industries. There are networks that you can join specifically for women, such as WeAreTheCity, or for certain industries, such as the Society of Young Publishers.

Ask for and say yes to opportunities

‘Throughout my career so far, I’ve learned that if you don’t ask for opportunities, you don’t get them,’ says Suad Mohamed, a product manager at BT. ‘If there is a project or company that you’re interested in working for, you’ve got to make it known by networking and putting yourself out there.’

Grab any interesting opportunities or challenges that come your way, even if it involves stepping out of your comfort zone. That could mean saying yes to a colleague’s request for help on a new project or putting your name forward to work on an initiative beyond your day-to-day job, such as running a diversity event or joining a sustainability committee.

Being proactive is likely to impress your employer, so long as you don’t take on more than you can handle or neglect existing commitments for the next, shiny new thing. ‘One thing I’d advise all graduates in their first roles is to make sure you’re making a good impression,’ says Yasmin Tisdall, an HR graduate at Lloyd’s. ‘Be enthusiastic and say “yes” to things, but within reason; it’s not a good impression if you agree to take on tasks you can’t complete.’

Make the career ladder work for you and your values

‘An important lesson I’ve learned is that you don’t always have to climb the steps of a “typical” career ladder,’ says Rachel Ellison, a managing director for advisory and programme delivery at Mott MacDonald. ‘By moving to where your values and interests take you, you will develop in new ways.’

Different people will have different priorities and ambitions. You may well aspire to a senior leadership position at your company but, even then, not all of your moves need to be in an ‘upwards’ direction. A horizontal move may be exactly what you need – in fact, many senior leaders that we speak to have done just that. Rachel, for example, worked at Costain before Mott MacDonald. She joined as a student and progressed to project director before making a sideways move to become a learning and development director.

Keep your own identity

In order to succeed and, more importantly, be happy in the workplace, you need to be your best self, not someone else, and use your strengths to your advantage. A large part of that is choosing the right employer for you – one that makes you feel comfortable being yourself and letting your personality shine through.

Chinwe Odimba-Chapman, a partner at Clifford Chance, shared with the UK 300 how this lesson stopped her career from faltering: ‘Looking back, a pivotal moment for my personal development was being told I almost didn’t qualify into employment because I was thought too shy. I thought “I’m not shy” – and then realised that I wasn’t bringing my authentic self to the workplace. I began thinking of ways I could contribute to meetings and started to more actively build one-on-one relationships with colleagues. We still laugh at how “shy” I was!’

Make your personal life and work life work together

You’re going to be working hard once you start your graduate career. It can take some time to find the right balance between your home, work and social lives. Wendy Walton, head of global private clients at BDO and mother of two, explains in an inspiring career tips webinar (an advertising feature) how important it is to embrace flexibility and look after your wellbeing if you want to find a happy work/life balance.

It’s also perfectly possible for women to combine children with a successful career. ‘Some women have house-husbands; others just juggle,’ comments Sandi Rhys Jones OBE, who raised three children while running her own business employing 12 people. She stresses the value of making contacts, especially with other women. ‘Networking is good as you exchange ideas for how to maintain work/life balance,’ she comments. ‘And it’s great to meet other normal working mums who could be role models,’ she adds.

targetjobs events for women

targetjobs offers a series of events for female students exploring particular careers. You can check the dates and familiarise yourself with the arrangements by following the links below:

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