How to advance your career & make the most of the changing workplace

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I started my career in marketing at a time when there was just one computer with internet access in an office of 100 people, in which smoking was still allowed!

Change was relatively manageable; innovations like faxbacks to capture responses to events and CDs to present campaign materials were about as complex as it got.

Fast-forward to today and the volume and complexity of change is overwhelming, in an environment that is volatile and unpredictable. No matter how skilled or experienced you are in your field, the hard truth is that the success of anything you are managing can be compromised by factors often outside your control.

There are many techniques to help you advance – or even survive – in your career today, and here are a few that have worked for me:

Get comfortable with ambiguity

As the world becomes more uncertain, people who can thrive with a lack of information will have an advantage. It can go against our instinct because we tend to fear the unknown, but I’ve always quite enjoyed it – I think I’m naturally curious and I like solving problems.

Even if you’re not comfortable with it, it doesn’t take a lot to get comfortable – or even enjoy ambiguity. First, be curious and don’t be afraid to ask questions. It’s a well-known fact that women tend to start questions with apologies, and I’ve heard myself do it all too often.

You’ll find that in meetings many women will say things like, “I’m sorry, but can I just say…” or “this is probably a stupid question but…”. Just go for it! It can feel uncomfortable at first but keep asking, keep finding out what things mean and how they work, share ideas, and seek different opinions and perspectives.

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Volunteer – in all senses of the word

I’ve found that if I volunteer to help on a project or work on something which is outside the scope of my role, it has allowed me to learn, challenge myself and grow. Early on in my career as a marketing manager for software company Informatica, I volunteered to manage the inhouse business development team as well as my marketing team.

At the time, I knew very little about business development and doubted my abilities, which is not unusual as I found out. Research has shown that most women are faced with imposter syndrome at least once in their career and can often feel like they are not ‘ready’ or may doubt their own judgement. But I did it and it forced me to be okay with being outside my comfort zone. I sought advice from others in similar roles, I engaged external suppliers, and I tried it myself. It advanced my knowledge of sales in general and made me a much better marketer as a result.

It doesn’t have to be volunteering to do extra-curricular activities at work either. I’ve volunteered with a local charity for years and support on marketing and financials. That sort of work teaches you to roll up your sleeves and do everything, because you simply don’t have the budgets to use agencies or freelancers. Little did I realise how useful that experience would be until more recently when I was working at SaaS start-up Sharktower!

Never stop learning

This is intrinsically linked to both points above, but continuously learning and acquiring new knowledge is a proven way to advance in your career. I don’t have a life-changing 5am morning routine, I just wake up and read the papers over a cup of tea. Then throughout the day, I like to keep up with industry trends and innovations, and it’s probably a terrible habit, but I continually skim read articles that catch my eye. I should read more books, but I get distracted too easily, so I find blogs, videos and talking to people work better for me. I also used to love a good conference and I sign up for a lot of webinars, many of which I don’t attend, but I do diligently absorb the post-webinar materials.

Finally, never stop learning about yourself. Get feedback whenever you can and build a picture of how you and your work are perceived. This will ensure you are always learning and growing in the right direction.

About the author

Nikki Horwood is Head of Marketing for Proteus, a specialist change and transformation consultancy that’s powered by data. Nikki has spent her career in B2B tech marketing roles, leading marketing for Trend Micro, Informatica and CA Technologies, as well being one of the founding members of saas startup Sharktower, now part of Proteus.

Nikki Horwood
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