- On February 10, 2022
I appreciated a recent online fireside chat with the CEO of Heidrick & Struggles Krishnan Rajagopalan. He is uniquely qualified to give career advice because he not only helms a top executive search firm but also is an immigrant to the US who taught himself about corporate America. Five takeaways from his QA covering his “career as an Indian American who has risen to the top in a mainstream profession and his perspective on the ways that individuals and organizations can help to solve the career ceiling problem”:
- Do a good job at your current job (versus focusing on a future job you may want). Your good work will generate circles of support. People will want you to succeed because they appreciate what you are doing now, and you don’t have to work so hard on self-promotion.
- Find mentors, and ask them to sponsor you. These mentors do not have to look like you. Krishnan noted he couldn’t find anyone who looked like him when he was starting his career. Look instead for people whose values you admire, and reach out. You need to be proactive about your career. (For more on mentors, including how to approach one, see here: https://www.susantiensearch.com/category/mentors/.)
- Be yourself, and know your bedrock values. You will face obstacles in your career, and your values will guide you. For Krishnan, he is Hindu, vegetarian, and has a long foreign name, any of which could have caused him problems. He recalls a coworker “jokingly” telling him at an outdoor work event to “get to the back of the bus” when they were queueing for a meal. Fortunately a colleague witnessed this and invited Krishnan to go with him instead. But what if help didn’t appear? Krishnan says to recognize if an obstacle is due to an individual or due to the culture. If it’s due to an individual, then see your way through it. If it’s the culture, “run away!” Be values-driven, and stand up for yourself.
- To succeed, you need to solve problems and work well with people. Soft skills are necessary for people to want work with you.
- To pivot in your career, be able to articulate why the change makes sense and know it will actually make you happier. Questions Krishna asks people who want to change roles: “Why are you are good at [different]? How are you competitive at [different]? Will you win at [different]? Will doing [different] make you happy?” I agree you need to think through all the angles, and tell a compelling story backed up by evidence.
Bonus tip on how to effect change. Don’t focus on just yourself, but also how to help others. Recommend people for jobs, for example. For organizations trying to improve diversity and inclusion efforts, make an investment and be systematic. Start measuring where you are today and monitor metrics. Establish affinity and other support groups.