A strong mentor is a crucial part of successful career development.
“You are who you surround yourself with” is all too common a phrase but the sentiment rings true. Personally, I’ve benefitted from both formalised mentor schemes and simply maintaining relationships with the people who have contributed to my professional development.
I am also now lucky enough to mentor other, helping and supporting individuals coming through the ranks here at Criteo.
As I listen to the challenges they’re facing and offering advice on how to meet their aspirations, it got me thinking about my journey and the things I wish people had said to me along the way. I’ve been fortunate enough to work and learn from some incredibly talented people but, some challenges, particularly those I faced towards the beginning of my career, I faced alone.
With that in mind, I’ve written the following letter to myself in the hope that some of the lessons within it will help someone else.
This is an odd exercise but I wanted to write you a letter and pass on some pearls of wisdom that might help you as your career develops. You’ve been working in marketing and tech for over ten years now, which has passed in a heartbeat!
I know that seems like an impossibly long time away but it’ll creep up on you and the next thing you know you’ll be wondering why you and your friends are now all considered ‘adults’! So, without further ado, some guidance for you.
- Listen to dad and go travelling before you work. It’ll be nine years before you have another proper break otherwise, and you’ll have to get married before you let yourself have the time off. Listen to him when he tells you that you have the rest of your life to work. Once you start to spread your wings into the world it will broaden your horizons and give you much more fulfilment than starting work 6 months earlier. It’ll also help give you a perspective on different cultures and push you out of your comfort zone: all lessons you’ll find hugely important throughout your career.
- Trust yourself. It’s ok to be ambitious, you don’t have to hide this or make it a secret. Build your own plan and bring others along with you on the journey, you don’t need to do everything on your own. As you progress you will have to make decisions that have wider and more difficult ramifications. Sometimes this will be very hard and you will get upset. However, you have a strong set of values; fairness, honesty, respect and a good sense of ‘team’. Use these to guide you, ultimately they will be the things that others come to admire about you. Also, you will know when it’s time to leave a role. Don’t be afraid. Trust your instincts and be brave.
- Be ‘the sponge’. Your very first manager will say these words to you and, at the time, you’ll think it’s a funny expression. However, these are words to live by. Stay interested and curious. From time to time, you’ll be surprised when the pool of knowledge you have soaked up comes in useful.
- Not all feedback is criticism. You’re a proud person, and feedback seems like a scary concept. You will think anything that isn’t perfect is an underachievement. You’re your own harshest critic. However, feedback helps you to be better in your role and is eye opening. Remember you’ll also get positive feedback and this will help you realise that you also have characteristics that differentiate you for the right reasons. Listen to all feedback and use it to harness and hone your strengths.
- Embrace other personalities. There will be times when you struggle with team members who think and behave differently in business to you. Sometimes you might even get frustrated with them. Working with people who approach a problem or situation from a different angle to you is absolutely invaluable. Ultimately these perspectives improve the entire team and ensure that you aren’t working on assumptions or towards unconscious bias.
- Make time to work out. I know, words you never thought you would say! Working out gives you headspace, you’ll feel better about yourself and do some of your best thinking during or after a spinning class. Invest in good gym wear, you’ll have to psych yourself into attending to begin with so feeling confident in your kit will help.
- Nurture your relationships. Your parents, sister, friends and husband will continue to be your pillars of strength. Sometimes you’ll get so caught up in work and building your career that you will neglect them. They are the most precious things in your life, don’t lose sight of that because you need them more than you would like to admit. They keep you on the straight and narrow, keep you humble and sane.
That’s all, anything else would spoil the journey.
So there it is. One person’s advice to their younger self! What advice would you give to the 21-year-old you?
About the author
Elizabeth Brennan is Director, Account Strategy and Sales at Criteo, the advertising platform for the open Internet. With nearly a decade of experience in digital advertising, Elizabeth worked initially in paid search before moving into planning and account management. She is a champion of women in business and a strong believer in the power of mentoring. A graduate of The University of Reading, Elizabeth is a former winner of the prestigious NABS Fast Forward award and has gone on to achieve Code First certification as part of the organisation’s initiative to increase the number of women in tech.