In this series of articles exploring women and work, Kimberly Gluck shares lessons she has learned throughout her career. Kimberly manages balanced and equity portfolios for institutional and private wealth clients for Boston Trust Walden.
Profit Center vs. Cost Center
In the world of business, jobs can often be categorized into one of two groups: profit center jobs that are directly linked to generating new (or maintaining existing) revenues, or cost center jobs that are absolutely necessary but are not linked to increasing the top line of the organization (such as IT, human resources or compliance). Leadership opportunities, compensation, and visibility inside and outside the company are almost always greater in a profit center occupation.
Core Competency of Your Employer
If at all possible, try to work in a group or division which is part of the core competency or main enterprise of your employer. For example, if you work for the actively managed equity group within a large passive firm, such as my former employer, SSgA, it is highly likely that, eventually, your division will suffer from neglect. Just like a body suffering from hypothermia will protect the vital organs and the extremities will get very cold, companies will always protect the main sources of revenues and profit. If there is an economic downturn, and resources become scarce, the company will continue to invest in its core business and ignore businesses deemed less important to the company’s survival.
Objectively Observe Your Industry
We are all subject to the economics of our industry and economics shift over time. In the investment management industry, for example, the advent of cheap index funds and ETFs has put downward pressure on fees. This is a good development for investors, but it does create pressure on asset management firms and makes the industry more competitive. Knowing this backdrop has helped me understand the mindset of upper management where I worked and anticipate changes. Many other industries are also becoming more competitive and it is likely that you will need to adapt and become more productive to thrive. In fact, unless a firm has a big, competitive “moat” such as a patent or truly unique offering that is hard to replicate, competition is likely to increase over time.
Pay Attention to the Corporate Culture
You are likely to spend MOST of your waking hours at your job, especially when you are starting out. Working in a toxic environment where everyone is miserable is to be avoided. How can you tell? The most reliable way to figure this out is to find folks who no longer work at the company who are willing to tell you what it was like. You can also sometimes find out by asking simple indirect, open-ended questions, such as “what is it like to work here?” and watch the body language of the person responding. Or, you may be able to ask more targeted questions such as, “Do people ever socialize together outside of work?”, “Does this company do any charitable giving or service in the community?” or “Are there ever celebrations to mark employees’ milestones such as a marriage or birth of a child?” Some companies treat their employees like costs to be minimized or they encourage competition that kills collaboration. If you listen carefully, you can figure this out before you, too, become a miserable employee.
Insecure People are Dangerous People
We all know folks who are not sure about themselves. In my experience, they can be very difficult to work with because they will do things to make themselves look better. They will take credit for work they did not do, actively sabotage a rival, and generally behave in a snarky way. It is not always possible, but try to recognize and avoid insecure colleagues and bosses.
Think Hard About What You Really Like To Do
Are you an extrovert who likes to be in the company of others? Or, are you happier working out a complex problem on your own? What are you really happiest doing? What gives you a sense of purpose? Many people never stop to ask themselves these important questions and end up doing work that they don’t really enjoy. If you are doing a job you enjoy, days and weeks will fly by, which is infinitely better than having a pit in your stomach on Sunday nights because you are dreading Monday. Also, if you are not sure about a career, try interviewing someone doing the work you think you want to do and ask a lot of questions. Listen to the answers and imagine yourself in that line of work. Many miserable lawyers could have avoided racking up a pile of law school debt and being stuck on the legal treadmill if they thought how much they would hate working to maximize their billable hours.
Evolve as You Go
Each successive job should give you an opportunity to focus more on the kind of work that you are good at and enjoy. When you are contemplating changing jobs, spend some time thinking about what you like and do not like about the job you have been doing. In your next job, try to maximize the responsibilities you enjoy and eliminate or de-emphasize the ones you did not enjoy, leveraging your prior success performing these responsibilities.
Get Promises in Writing
This is extremely important, particularly as you advance in your career. At various points in time, leaders have made vague promises to me and I have taken them at their word. Do not do this as it does not typically end well. Leaders will forget (or pretend to forget), get themselves fired or just up and quit. If you have been offered new position within your organization, a promotion, a pay raise, whatever, ask for this offer to be written out in a letter so that you can fully understand the details. If you are unclear on a specific detail, ask about that detail and request a reply in writing. Do not leave important details to chance or fuzzy memories.
Look at the Leadership
Are there any women? People of color? If the company is not diverse at the top (including Board level and senior management), this is very telling. If you are a woman or person of color, it is going to be harder to get into leadership ranks unless the company has a very strong commitment (in public and in writing!) to change.
For Important Meetings, PREPARE, PREPARE, PREPARE
Being unprepared for a client meeting makes you look sloppy and unprofessional. In contrast, you can make a very positive impression by spending time reviewing the client’s circumstances and understanding their account(s) before you meet them. This is HUGE, particularly for a first meeting. Also, you will want to prepare carefully for your annual review. Know your accomplishments, the revenues you generate (if applicable), the resources you use and your goals. You are much more likely to succeed in getting what you need if you are prepared and can quantify your work.
When considering a career move, taking on new responsibilities or contemplating some other big decision, it is important to ask yourself: what is the worst thing that can happen and can I live with it? I have been offered jobs with hedge funds that I did not take because, while I could have made a lot more money, some hedge funds “blow up” with terrible performance. A company with only ONE investment product has always been too risky for me. Use your imagination and think about what you have to lose. Could you cope with that loss?
Express Your Gratitude
As Nick Lopardo (former President of SSgA) used to say, unexpressed gratitude isn’t gratitude. If you never tell folks who have helped you that you appreciate their assistance, they will think that you do not appreciate it. This means that if you ever have to go back and ask again for a favor, they will be less inclined to help you. It is important to thank everyone for even the smallest of favors, preferably in writing (not email).
Your Integrity is EVERYTHING
Be honest and trustworthy. Once your reputation is gone, it is impossible to get it back and you will miss it dearly. It is like toothpaste – you cannot get it back in the tube!
Pay It Back and Forward
If someone you meet is just starting out and learning how to look for a job or someone needs career advice, do your best to help them! Review their resume, practice interview, and share your network because you never know when it will be YOU who needs the help.