Views from the top: Career Development

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3 months ago by Austin Mooney

Views from the top: Career Development

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My name is Austin, I manage the Social Housing Finance team at Goodman Masson. As part of our commitment to developing careers we will be talking with industry experts who have reached the top in social housing and want to give something back.  
 
Developing your career can be a difficult proposition. In the modern workplace if you want to achieve your career aspirations, technical capability and drive alone may not be sufficient. What else can you do?

I wanted to explore what other tools you can use to get yourself noticed and ultimately help you achieve your objectives.

So, I recently caught up with Morenike Ajayi; Morenike is the Head of Finance at Tower Hamlets Community Housing and was previously the Deputy FD at Origin Housing. She also runs a social enterprise called Career Nuggets, which focuses on career development. In this interview she talks about how to progress your career.

I am a firm believer of people getting the opportunity to progress in their career, but I’ve found there are so many factors that can hinder this; Lack of confidence/belief in their ability, receiving poor advice or none at all, being poorly networked, and not promoting your personal brand.

The good news is that there are steps that can be taken to combat all of these issues:

  1. Networking
  2. Personal Brand
  3. Mentors
 

1.Networking

You often find one of the biggest things holding someone back is the individual themselves, in terms of the belief they have in their ability to go for that next opportunity or taking that next step, even if it presents a risk. This has happened to me previously where there seemed to be a glass ceiling preventing me from developing my career further and this was not for any other reason than my own self-doubt. What I realised was that I also did not have that someone who could offer advice and show me the ropes, to climb up to the next level in my career. 

Career development is not just about qualifications, it’s about the soft skills we have and how well you interact with people; whether you can inspire your team members and colleagues, whether you can finish tasks, and whether you can work autonomously. Networking is key, there is a saying that your network is your net worth… and it’s so true.

I remember at one stage in my career I was so focussed on my deliverables at work and whenever anyone was going out for drinks I never had time. I would always decline when asked to go. Everyone knew I was hard worker and delivered on my tasks, but no one really knew the real me. Once I decided to make a change and started going to these social events, my colleagues and line managers were able to see my personality and my social rapport building skills. This increased visibility makes it more likely that they will put you forward for an opportunity when it arises. As you are building your career, it’s important to have peers who can be honest with you and give you honest feedback but also to have people who are aspiring to be where you are, as they will keep pushing you to be better. I make sure I have a strong network at all of those levels.

And what about an external network?
 
Networking outside of the organisation is just as important and agin should be at all levels. One powerful tool for achieving this is LinkedIn. This digital platform has allowed me to connect and build my network exceeding what I could physically do. Don’t just connect with someone though. Look at what they do and engage with them, ask them questions, ask them if they would be interested in joining your network and arrange a face to face meeting.

2. Personal Brand

 In today workplace visibility is so important, and no more so than on LinkedIn. Your aim should be to be seen as an expert in your field, you can do this by sharing relevant news or  perhaps writing a blog on a current issue. Both are good ways to build your personal brand and will also help you develop your network.
 
As an example; I remember one lady who wanted to enter the events and management space. She started volunteering for me but that wasn’t enough, so she started blogging about the events she volunteered at, posting regularly, and now she is working for a multinational organisation and her career has gone from strength to strength as an event planner.
 
That’s how powerful social media can be. Your profile layout is also very important, along with the information your profile contains.

3. Mentors

This leads me to the next point; I believe its essential for anyone looking to get to the next stage in their career to have a career mentor. Mentors can be found in different places but what’s worked for me is having a career mentor in my place of work. During my career there have been instances where I have not been sure about a certain task and worried that if I ask my immediate manager, I may not be seen as competent. Having an independent person that has already towed that line and can draw from their experiences has been so helpful.

I have a passion for career development, which lead me to creating ‘Career Nuggets’ – a social enterprise focussed on helping people with their career development. Through my networking I have managed to attract over 50 mentors who we currently have registered with Career Nuggets.

Twice every year Career Nuggets holds Networking events. One of which is called ‘Meet Your Mentor’. Those who attend are taught how to be strategic with their networking, to identify their career objectives, what they need from their mentors? And to have clear goals and be targeted with their approach.
 
Is it important that your mentor is from the same industry?
 
It depends what you are looking for. For example, I have a mentor in my place of work and she is a Director of Operations and is not involved with finance at all. The next level in my career will be to move into an Finance Director role, so you would have thought that maybe my mentor should have had knowledge of finance or even be an Finance Director, but I want to learn how to think strategically and to think outside of the box. These skills are not related to finance in particular, so it wasn’t important that my mentor sat outside of my chosen field.
 
I myself have 2 mentors at Goodman Masson and I’ve found it extremely helpful but for someone who has never had a mentor or maybe it’s not common place within their company, how would you suggest they approach a potential mentor?
 
In terms of mentoring, the mentee drives the relationship. The first step is to do your research and find the type of person you would like to connect with, by looking at their online profiles, perhaps targeting your desired industry or organisation. As an example, it has always been a long-term ambition of mine to move into the charity sector, so I actively sought a mentor within a charity who held a senior leadership position. That has resulted in my mentor finding me no exec position on the charities board. Mentors don’t have to be for life, some, you may only have for a short space of time, while you try and achieve a certain objective. Others you may have whilst you work in a company or a certain sector. As a mentee you have the responsibility to be clear on what you want from the relationship and what your objectives are.
 
There should also be a distinction between a mentor and a career sponsor. Whereas a mentor offers advice, a career sponsor is someone who can offer you a career opportunity. However, it’s important that you have to have a clear line with anybody you do decide to approach, I value greatly all of the mentors I’ve had but they are not my friends.

If you have a mentor who has connections that could potentially benefit your career, would you wait for them to offer their services or would you ask them to become a career sponsor?
 

In my experience I will always be clear with my mentor/career sponsor about what I want and what my expectations of our relationship are. Of course, they may say no, but I believe complete clarity is always best. Mentors also have a responsibility to be honest about what they can offer you and what they can deliver. For my mentees I am always clear with them; I cannot offer you a job, but I can help you build your skill set, so that you are able to secure a desired role somewhere else.

 
Do not leave your mentor meeting without a set of goals/objectives for you to achieve.

 

Some excellent advice from Morenike and hopefully you can take a piece of it and use it to advance your own career. If you are interested in becoming a mentor or mentee within Social Housing, Goodman Masson will soon be launching their new mentor initiative. Details to follow. I would also recommend checking out www.careernuggets.tv.