At a glance
When we think of career-defining moments, we think of acing an interview for our dream job, pitching a million-dollar idea to investors or wowing key business stakeholders at a make-or-break meeting.
However, there are other unsung career milestones that leave a mark on our professional lives. Workplace expert Michelle Gibbings highlights how to make the most of these important career moments.
1. Important ‘firsts’
Important “firsts” should always be celebrated. It could be “the first time you get to manage a team, the first time you get to present to the board or senior management, the first time you get asked to lead a significant project, or the first time you do a media interview,” says Gibbings.
What makes these moments significant is what happens afterwards.
Today’s demanding schedules leave little room for the kind of analysis that can help us to learn and grow.
“When you’re working and busy, you often go from one task, one activity, one event to the next,” she says.
Instead, make time to stop, reflect and think about what went well, what didn’t go well and what you learned about yourself and others. Use these insights to improve your performance in the next professional challenge you take on.
2. Negative feedback
The first time you receive difficult feedback can knock your confidence. However, while uncomfortable, the experience can be extremely valuable.
Gibbings suggests that, when evaluating others’ criticism of our performance, we consider two factors – their intent and their expertise.
“When feedback is provided with good intent and is grounded in relevant experience, then it is incredibly important,” she says.
Negative feedback can leave you feeling angry or defensive, but if it fits the above criteria, it is important to take it on board.
“Ask questions to see what more you can learn,” says Gibbings. “Next reflect, challenge yourself and determine the best action for you to take to move forward.”
3. Meeting the CEO
A meeting with the CEO is an opportunity to make a good impression and amplify your achievements. To make the most of the encounter, be prepared.
“Be ready for the conversation,” says Gibbings. “Get clarity on the objective of the meeting beforehand, so you are prepared for it.”
This includes being “on time, well organised, focused and ready to engage,” including sharing ideas or asking questions.
Early in his career, executive director of the Kellogg Executive Leadership Institute Rob Apatoff went to great lengths to prepare for a meeting with the company’s CEO, even if was an incidental bump in the lift.
“Every time you’re in front of the CEO or C-suite, you are being judged—consciously or not,” he says.
“Executive interactions you’ve had over the years will speak volumes about how buttoned up you are, your perceived maturity, how clear you are in your communications, how much command you have of your business and, ultimately, whether you are promoted.”
That said, don’t be too overawed by seniority. “It can be easy to get tongue-tied and not know what to say,” Gibbings says.
“Remember, they’re a person just like you. Be interested – be interested in them, be interested in what they have to offer, and make a connection.”
4. Taking a risk and failing
Even the most successful business leaders experience failure at some point in their career – just ask Richard Branson about the unsuccessful Virgin Brides or Twitter-founder Evan Williams about Odeo, his podcast platform that tanked soon after its 2005 launch.
“Throughout your career, you’re always going to find moments where something’s not worked, or you feel like you’ve failed,” says Gibbings.
How we frame these failures determines whether they have a positive or negative effect over time – “are you saying to yourself, ‘I’m a failure’, or are you saying to yourself, ‘I haven’t been successful this time’?”
Approaching a failure with a growth mindset can turn a setback into an opportunity. Listen to feedback, analyse what went wrong and learn from the experience, suggests Gibbings, and others will take note of your resilience.
“What you’re demonstrating to the leaders around you is, ‘that person’s adaptable, they’re willing to learn, they’re willing to do things they’ve never done before’ – all important attributes from a career perspective.”