During our recent ‘Moving up the Ranks’ Zoom panel, an amazing group of speakers across various startup industries, Gary Kleigman, Jamie Coakley, Grace Ouma-Cabezas, and Zofia Ciechowska, delved into a wealth of topics relevant to anyone in a startup environment. They shared how they progressed in their own careers, how to successfully make a career pivot, and went deep on how to bounce back from a setback. Specifically, how to maximize time for learning and development for anyone impacted by recent layoffs, or looking to take advantage of more productive professional development activities while we continue to work from home.
We put together some key takeaways from the discussion below:
Importance of professional mentors and sponsors
Each panelist attributed their success to someone in their career who helped them with candid feedback and perspective from a senior level of the organization. Some even offered a reality check when they needed it the most. Zofia credited her strategy to mentors and sponsors and said “you need a sponsor who can open doors and advocate for you, and you need a mentor who you can lean on for advice. You might need someone who can bring you back down to earth or help you bounce back from a setback and align you with your goals.” If you don’t have mentors within your organization, you can still find them. Zofia recommended, “Go on LinkedIn and find people who have inspiring career paths — you can start with brands or executives that you admire, reach out to get to know them, and learn about their career path. You’d be surprised how many people respond to a thoughtful email and are willing to help out people who want to learn.” The panel all agreed that carving out time to network and learn from senior leaders in the industry is an investment of time that pays off over time.
Developing “Executive Presence”
A term many starting out in their career might not know is “executive presence,” but it is inevitably learned and developed over time. Grace shared her personal experience from the beginning of her career; in a meeting, her manager mentioned wanting to help her develop her “executive presence,” and afterward she had to Google the term. She was flattered that her manager saw potential in her and made sure she dedicated time to do the work to advance her career. She practiced public speaking, consolidated data for presentations, and increased her face time with higher-ups in the organization. Grace said the only way to get ahead is to “do the job before you get it.” That resonated with the rest of the speaker’s experiences as they advanced in their careers.
Jamie got her start as an Account Executive at Yelp, and had to train herself to eliminate ‘upspeak’ on the phone, which she credits to helping her gain the confidence to speak with anyone early on in her career: “it’s not just the tone, it’s EQ selling and not giving anyone room to doubt you. It’s showing that you have a steady hand and are taking up more space.” As Jamie continued to accelerate her executive presence, she now finds ways to be herself while being at the leadership table. “I like to dress up and wear fun tops and earrings, I still do that on Zoom, because it makes me feel confident and it’s the way I show up to face the day.”
Grace mentioned she worked on executive presence early on in her career when she realized her peers knew her very well, but C-level executives didn’t. She made it a goal to build relationships with the execs and practiced how to present and converse at that level. “I would map out what I was going to say, practice, and practice it while understanding what the goal was. Every opportunity in front of them was angling for a promotion so I always made sure I was prepared.”
Zofia has learned to lead through influence as she has advanced in her career. I thought “what do people care about? What do I care about and how do I align these goals?” She shared that finding a project that nobody wants to take on in the organization is oftentimes the best way to get executive visibility early on.
Transitioning, pivoting, and bouncing back
Layoffs, career transitions, and finding a new role in a tough job market were all hot topics the panel covered and could relate to from personal experience. The three biggest takeaways were: ask for help, do the work, and of course, stay positive.
Grace’s advice to anyone who has recently been impacted by layoffs was “be loud and proud! Look to expand visibility, and ask for help. Rely on your relationships and networks when you need them to open doors for you.”
Zofia spoke to her own experience from when she was impacted by an unexpected layoff in her career. She touched on various ways she expanded her skillset until she found her way into her next role, and how she managed to stay optimistic and find her path using the resources around her. “Structure your days and do the work to set goals. I used journaling to help evaluate what was important to me to figure out what I wanted to accomplish. Lean in on expanding skill sets. There are a ton of free courses and discounted classes at universities as well. I talked to my mentors and sponsors and leaned on them for direction and guidance.” Each panelist touched on the importance of structuring workdays, and using the transition period to do the work of evaluating what’s most important for the next role, identifying any gaps or skill sets needed, and then finding resources to gain those skills. They all have used their networks as a sounding board to gauge what is realistic, get advice on how to structure their narrative, and receive introductions to the right people.
We are incredibly appreciative of the panel for sharing their own personal stories, and unfiltered advice based on experience. We particularly enjoyed hearing about how each has navigated challenges and the impact that others have made on them at various points in their career.