Can you create more luck in your career? Some people seem to really get lucky when it comes to opportunities and advancement. But today, we’ll talk about how you can influence and control how much “luck” comes your way.
In this episode of The Career Rx we’ll discuss:
- Your personal “Board of Directors” and who needs to be on it
- How your personal narrative can be powerful for negotiation
- The mindset that will help you say “yes” and “no” to the right things
Today’s episode is a presentation I gave to a nonprofit foundation for undergraduates in STEM about 10 ways to set yourself up for success and luck in your career. Spending 15 minutes a week doing any one of these strategies will pay off enormously for you. Your career possibilities are truly limitless and if you lay this foundation, you will find that your career is very, very lucky indeed.
Special announcement: My course, Industry Insider, is now accredited for up to 12 CME credits. Learn how to land an exciting and impactful role as a physician in the world of pharma, biotech, or medical devices, AND how to do that even if you think you’re not qualified, don’t have any connections, or concerned about a pay cut… I’ve got you covered!
In this Episode:
[4:40] Luck favors the prepared
[6:30] Mentors, sponsors, and coaches – oh my!
[11:45] How to get insider connections
[15:00] The insider information you need to look for
[21:15] Curate your digital footprint in your favor
[26:05] Work is not just about giving
Links and Resources:
Industry Insider – 12 CME hours – learn exactly how to land a rewarding nonclinical career without a new degree, connections on the inside, prior experience, or a pay cut
The Branding Rx – 18 hours of CME, mastering digital strategies for advancing your career, building your business, and growing your professional brand
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Thanks for joining me on this episode of The Career Rx!
TRANSCRIPT: Episode 98 – 10 Tips for Getting Lucky in Your Career
Hey there, I’m Marjorie Stiegler and you’re listening to The Career Rx podcast, where we tackle the important things they don’t teach you in medical school. how to treat your career, the business, it really is, with strategies to accelerate the kind of success that you want, because you deserve a career you love, and a career that loves you back. Are you ready? Let’s get into it.
Hey gang. Welcome back. Today’s episode I’m going to share with you a presentation that I gave to a nonprofit foundation for undergraduates in STEM. They asked me to speak about ways to set yourself up for success and luck in your career by have given them 10 tips on setting themselves up for a lucky career. So I recorded it, and I thought I would share it here with you. I hope you enjoy.
My philosophy as a speaker, and as a presenter is that this hour is not about me at all, I will tell you a little bit about myself, and I’ll give you some of my thoughts. But if I’ve done a good job today, you will leave here with something that is helpful to you, rather than knowing a bunch about me, that’s not a win, in my view, I would like to give you something that helps you with your life.
So I will tell you, as I was asked to, a little bit about myself, and I’ll try to do so in a way that you can extract bits. I also acknowledge that you’re really just embarking on your careers. So it’s possible that not all of the advice that I give you today is ready for implementation today. But please do feel free to take some notes and kind of keep it, keep it at the ready, because one day you’ll want to pull some of these strategies out of your pocket, if you don’t already, and put them into place.
So as Marilyn mentioned, I am a physician, an anesthesiologist by training and I’m a first generation physician. By that I mean, there are no other doctors in my family. I bring that up because physician family seems to be a thing where it’s just passed down, and everyone goes on to become the next, the next doctor.
And so that path is well paved for those people, you know? The process of applying and getting in, it’s not mysterious, they come from families of pretty substantial means. And my experience was different. So like for many of you, you know, I came from a public school background. And I paved my own way. I paid my own way in college, I paid my own way in medical school. In fact, I’m still paying that off.
And so I have gone through this process, I think, like many of you. So with the topic of how to create a lucky career, I want to just describe to you some of the things I feel I’ve learned over the years that have helped to equip me to come from a place where I didn’t really have necessarily any particular leg up on anyone else. And yet, I managed to have a really quite successful and varied career.
I went to medical school at Emory, which is in Atlanta. I did my residency training at Massachusetts General Hospital, which is a Harvard hospital. And then I was on the faculty at UCLA in Los Angeles and then at UNC Chapel Hill where I continue to hold my appointment today. And these are all really, really fine places. But I got there from a public education, public high school, public underground.
And along the way, I did indeed have a traditional academic and clinical career in medicine and now in pharmaceutical medicine. But also, I have been involved in a handful of things like as a board member of a nonprofit organization focused on patient safety. As a professional speaker, I’ve been invited to go around the country and in fact around the world, as a speaker, not on behalf of my employer, but independently.
So they just paid me directly to come and to speak in their venues. And I have also founded a handful of small businesses, none of them medical, and again, none of them related to my employer. So I’ve learned a handful of things along the way. And as I describe all of that, I know it seems very broad. And so something that I hear all the time is, “Wow, you are so lucky.”
And I do think I’m lucky, I am obviously grateful for many people who have helped me along the way.
And I have just gratitude in general for where I am in life. But as they say, luck favors the prepared and those who have put in the work, and those who are willing to take risks. And notice I did not say, you know, “not afraid to take risks”, because many people are afraid to take risks, and rightfully so, but still must be willing to take risks.
So you can create a lot of luck in your career, if you do certain things just a little bit at a time in a proactive way.
Now, I know that when you get career advice, people are always telling you, probably, the same things. It’s important to network, it’s important to negotiate. It’s important to have professional visibility right for people to know you and know what you do. And this is all fine. But how do we operationalize these ideas? The concept of networking is just it’s not it’s not very instructive. What does that mean? How do we do it? Well, same for negotiation.
So I’m going to talk about things within some of these broader themes. But in a way that I hope will be different than what you’ve heard before, I’m going to give you 10 ways in which I think you can create luck in your career. And then of course, we can have a conversation about any one of them.
So, the first and most important in my mind, is to build and nurture your own board of directors. For a lucky career, you need a board of directors. And what do I mean by that I mean, a group of people, a circle of influence of people who can do a variety of functions for you, you of course, need mentors, right? And you sometimes are assigned a mentor arbitrarily through programs. So you need mentors to give you advice.
You also need sponsors. And for anyone who’s not familiar with that term, a sponsor really is someone who’s quite senior to you, but who has an interest in seeing you succeed, and is willing to spend their own professional capital talking about you to others, opening the door for you, making introductions for you, recommending you, maybe even directly hiring you into an opportunity. That’s what a sponsor is. So it’s not… they could give you advice, but it’s not an advice giving function. It’s a door opening function. So you need that.
And at certain times, you may need a coach, professional coaches, executive coaches can be very helpful in giving you clarity around what you want to do, or developing specific skills like conflict resolution, public speaking, etc. So you might need a coach.
The other person or persons that you need on your board of directors, is somebody to fly your flag. And by that, I mean, when you have an accomplishment and achievement, something that’s a win at work, you need somebody else who’s willing to stand up in the staff meeting and say, I just want to start off this meeting with kudos to my colleague, so and so who will just accomplish this great, wonderful thing.
Because many of us are hesitant to do that for ourselves. And the truth of the matter is, remember this, your work does not speak for itself, your work may be excellent, it may be the best. But everybody is too busy doing their own work, including your boss, to really know the depth and breadth of everything you’re doing.
So you are making contributions that are essentially invisible to the vast majority of people around you professionally. So you need someone to fly your flag and let people know what you’re doing and what you’ve achieved. And of course, that should be mutual, right, you’ll want to do that for others as well.
So on this board of directors, which includes people who have all of those various functions, you’ve got to evaluate people for the balance of both influence and interest in you. So if you think of quadrants, you know, of x and y axis, influence being on one axis and interest being on the other. Obviously, the sweet spot is someone who has a lot of influence over your career trajectory and is highly interested in you.
So you must have those people. And if you don’t have them today, you must find them and build those relationships. You may have people who have very high interest in you, but little influence like a neighbor or a parent or friend, it’s still important to nurture those relationships and make sure that they know what your aspirations are.
Because you never know they could be sitting next to someone on a plane or a soccer game. And they might meet somebody who does have a lot of influence. And then they can, they can advocate on your behalf.
And then although we don’t like to admit it, there’s going to be people in your career that have a lot of influence over you, but not a lot of interest. And you’re going to need to nurture those to whether they just aren’t as interested in you. Or maybe they actually don’t like you or you don’t like them. If they have a lot of influence, they are a stakeholder and I recommend that you find a way to include them in your board of directors.
The second thing to do to create a really lucky career to become a magnet for luck is to tell people your aspirations, tell people what you’re curious about learning, where you want to go and what you’d like to do. This sounds probably very, very simple. But it is something people very rarely do.
And so if you have specific goals, or there’s fields or types of jobs that you would like to explore, tell everyone, tell your board of directors and tell everybody you can get to listen, everyone who cares about you or can be influential on your behalf, or just knows you at all should know this about you. Because you never know when they will be in a position to kind of help you in that door.
This is true when you’re looking for a new job. It’s also true when you’re looking for somewhat of a career pivot. And it’s true about promotions. So here’s something else to remember. Every boss wants a deep bench. And by that I mean every boss no matter how senior in an organization does not want one of their direct reports, you know, to abruptly leave and leave a body of work unattended to, right?
As a hiring manager myself, that’s my big fear right? That one of my most valuable people will get a different opportunity and will leave abruptly and I won’t be able to know who can pick up that ball and run with it seamlessly.
And so for that reason, you should talk to your boss and other bosses, you know, other people who are hiring managers within your organization to let them know what you’re interested in. Let them know what your skills are. So that you can be included in what’s called succession planning.
Succession planning is a phrase that’s often used about, you know, high executive level things, like who’s going to be the next CEO, right, so that we can get them really on-boarded before they’re officially in the seat. But the same is true everywhere. And you can ask anyone who hires and manages a team.
Everyone wants a deep bench, everybody wants to know that on a moment’s notice, if they had the opportunity to grow their team, or if someone from their team left, that they would know exactly who to tap. So tell people what you want to do, so that they will know and that they’ll know they can come tap you.
The third thing you need to do to get insider connections. Or the third thing you need to do for a lucky career is to get some insider connections. And this is easier than you think. I will give you sort of two broad ways. But I mean, this is this is something that you should begin to do. And this is also how you build out your board of directors if you don’t have one today. So first of all, you start to use LinkedIn, if you’re not on LinkedIn, many scientists are not, a lot of physicians are not either, but you must be. Go get on LinkedIn, set up a professional profile.
And then you find people on LinkedIn either by exploring companies, you can search for companies, you can search for job titles, you can search for people that you’ve met through specific organizations like now you could go look, you can look me up on LinkedIn, we could connect. Once you find people on LinkedIn that are holding the kinds of jobs or positions or at the organizations that you’re interested in, you want to start reaching out to people and get it’s a little bit of sort of a cold call.
And not everyone will get back to you. But some of them will. And studies show that people will get back to you on LinkedIn much more often than they will on email. So LinkedIn message that I’m trying to connect with people. And it’s a great place. Everyone who is on this call today should be connected to each other on LinkedIn. And LinkedIn is another wonderful place where you can fly each other’s flags, metaphorically speaking, you know, by really bolstering and adding visibility to what others are doing. So that’s one way to get some insider connections.
The other way is to offer to help. That sounds very, very simple, doesn’t it? But you could join an organization. For example, the Healthcare Business Women’s Association, as it’s an association of women in healthcare that have all kinds of degrees and all kinds of work functions.
So not everyone is a scientist, but everyone is in health care. And within that organization, there are tons of committees, and there is a heavy need for volunteers, there’s always a need for volunteers. So more than just joining the organization, offer to help with an event.
And you will find your networking accelerate – just through the roof. In fact, I know someone from a life prior to GSK, who had a very strong passion, gave a lot of professional presentations and really, really wanted to give a TED talk that was one of her aspirations. And she had applied multiple times and tried to, to get on the TED stage and it wasn’t working out.
So instead, one year she decided to volunteer. So instead of trying to get herself on the stage to talk, she just said, “How can I help make this? How can I help with a TED talk? Can I help logistically with setup with advertising with whatever”, and she got herself entrenched, then with the group, suddenly now on the inside with the decision makers, and the following year, guess who was on the stage? She got to give that TED Talk.
So some of these people, you will add your board of directors and some of these people will just be folks that you talk to once or twice, but this is how you go about getting insider connections, it’s really not so unusual, to reach out to someone who is where you want to be, because they were once where you are, and they will want to talk to you, they’ll be happy to talk to you. Just don’t ask them for an hour, you know, ask them for 20 minutes and let it go from there.
And what to do when you get to talking to them. You know, it’s all about getting insider information. And by insider information, I really mean information that is either at the next level or perhaps lateral to you or whatever it is that you hope to do next. You want information and that’s how you get that lucky career where suddenly you have that opportunity where you knew exactly what you wanted to do or what you don’t want to do.
And you build your network and you get so lucky by streamlining this is what you do. You can write these things down. You get a connection for yourself set up either through a mutual introduction or an outreach on LinkedIn or whatever it is.
And you ask someone to have just some one on one time together to talk. Formally, this is called an informational interview. But you don’t have to call it that. What you’re doing with them is asking them questions, general questions a little bit about their career path. But try these four things as well.
Ask them what they like and what they don’t like about their job. Ask them where they view the opportunity for impact, like what gets them up in the morning and excited about going to work? How do they feel they’re making a big impact on the macro scale by doing what they’re doing?
Ask them which of their strengths they feel are used the most, or valued the most in the role in which they are. And then ask them too about moments of ease within their work or moments of big challenge.
This is a really, really good way to figure out if this is what you want to do with your life. Because if you talk to five people, six people, 10 people, and you ask them those same questions, then you can ask yourself, what they like, is it what I like? The way they’re making an impact? Is that how I want to make an impact? And are there challenges, deal breakers for me, or do I enjoy that challenge, or maybe even I find that easy, and are the strengths that are most valued, there are those strengths of mine, or at least strengths that I’d like to cultivate?
And if they are not. Now you know, maybe that’s actually not the path you want to pursue. Lucky you that you didn’t get a job there, right and you go do something else. This is how you find out what you want to do.
Alright, the fifth thing you need to do to create that lucky career for yourself is to be making it easy for people to learn more about you. And in the modern world, there’s just no excuse to not do this. So you should have a resume, I hope you do already. If you don’t, please go make one this weekend, you should be able to send it the same day it is requested. And you should keep it updated.
And I recognize for many of you right now, it may be a little bit lean, there’s not a whole lot on it, right? Mostly, it’s education. And that’s fine. Keep it updated as you go. And don’t neglect to describe your accomplishments and your summary section there on your resume. So that if somebody asks for it, you can send it.
And also make sure that it’s easy to find online. Again, LinkedIn, no excuse for someone to not be able to find you with a quick Google search. find you on LinkedIn, understand basically, what your career aspirations are, what kind of a person you are, what your sort of goals and philosophies are your education, to be able to find you there.
Having a lucky career is largely about being able to control your digital footprint and making it easy so people find you and that they find out about you, your highlights the things that you want to show the most. And you can do this with ease. A lot of people just don’t bother. But after today, I know you will, and the luck will flow to you.
The next thing that you want to do to create a lucky career, this is the sixth thing, is you’ve got to own your narrative. You may have heard people refer to professional branding or personal branding before, that’s pretty much what I’m talking about here.
You need to be able to tell the story of where you are right, what your life experiences are, what has shaped you, and where you want to be and why right what do you want to go and do and contribute and what drives you to do that? It’s important that you can tell that story.
The other part that is important, and this is the part that people overlook, you have to be able to tell that story in the lexicon of your aspirational industry, or organization. But what do I mean by that? You have to use the words that your future boss would use. Because especially in science and in health care, a lot of things are very local specific.
As an example, when I was a physician, in clinical practice, we would often talk about our multidisciplinary groups, right? That would be a group of physicians of all different specialties. Or we would talk about our interprofessional work. And that would be a group of nurses and pharmacists, and physicians, right? We have different training, but we’re working together, multi professional interprofessional, multidisciplinary, but in industry, we don’t call it that.
We call it matrix organization. It’s matrix leadership. And so if you don’t know that, then you won’t be able to describe and so you’ll look at a job description that says, you know, as somebody who has strengthened matrix leadership, and you’ll think I don’t even know what that is, I certainly don’t have it. I don’t know what it is.
But if you’ve done your job with your insider information and you’re building your board of directors, you will know what it means and you’ll know that you have. You have some of these things that you wouldn’t recognize that you have. So you’ve got to use the right words, the words that resonate with the person who’s in a position to hire you.
The reason this is important, kind of goes back to the same reason you need someone else to fly your flag, nobody else can connect these dots for you, is your job as the applicant to paint the picture for the recruiter or the hiring manager of why your prior experiences and skills and competencies are transferable to their needs.
So you have to use the words that reflect their needs, not just the words that you have been using all along in your own organization. And of course, you’re going to adapt this and put it everywhere, it should be on your resume, it should be in your LinkedIn profile.
It should be the way you talk about yourself in an interview or one on one of these informational interviews where you’re meeting a new connection, have this all at the ready, have it well thought out, so that you’re not doing it on the fly. And so that it’s consistent, and it’s the same and everybody knows it about you. That’s owning your narrative.
The seventh way to bring luck into your career is to understand that every day is a micro negotiation opportunity every day. A lot of people don’t think about negotiation, except for when it comes to a new job offer, right? What is the salary going to be like? You’re looking at your contract, and you think about negotiating in that regard.
But the reality is that the way we get set up for success depends a lot on professional visibility, which is who are the people that you work with on a daily basis? Like what teams are you working on? What are the projects that you’re working on? And are they the high priority projects? Or just the bread and butter projects? Are they some project nobody knows about? And never will?
What are the kinds of skills that you seek to develop further? And are you doing work on a daily basis that allows you to develop those skills? And are you doing work that has visibility from the higher ups and yes, money and all those things, right? But so every single day, there’s an opportunity to look at what am I doing today?
And is what I’m doing today, furthering me along to wherever it is that I want to be. And this is when you go to your board of directors and those informational interviews. And you ask them, What are the specific skills and experiences and competencies that I would need to advance from here, where I am today to there, where I want to be next.
And this is not just about credentials, you know, or your, your degree or your education, and it is also not just about time, I’m gonna say that, again, it’s not about time. This is something I think many people are told, but especially women, and I think it’s baloney, that in order to advance, you need to have had a few years under your belt, right?
You’ve got to have these years under your belt. And that’s an arbitrary number of years. I think that’s nonsense. Your ability to contribute is based on your skills and your competencies. So the question is not how do I accrue a bunch of years? The question is, how do I get up each day and make sure that the work that I am doing is not only making a contribution, but it’s also bringing you closer to developing your skills further, giving you some professional visibility, putting you with the right projects and the right people to get wherever it is you want to be.
And that’ll be everyone has a different definition of success. So only you can define that. But once you have done so, make sure that every day, you are moving in that direction, and not just kind of stuck on a treadmill where you’re doing what you’re good at giving to your company or organization, but not getting anything in return. And I’m not talking about money, but money is included there too.
Alright, number eight, lucky career is about saying yes. Saying yes, not all the time and the right way. So be very, very thoughtful about your yes, because there’s only so much of you to give. And sometimes you’ll be asked to do things that you may not even have an option about, you know, if your boss gives you an instruction, it may not be something that you can decline, I don’t know.
But you need to be careful in the totality of your life of what you say yes to early in your career. I recommend saying yes to as much as you can. So you get a breadth of experience and discovery and of people exposure and all of that.
Later, it will become more strategic and narrow in focus. But probably for most people earlier in their career, it’s a good time to say yes to a lot of things. It’s also incredibly important to understand what you’re saying yes to. So you have to understand the scope of the request.
You have to understand the time commitment that’s expected. You have to understand the compensation, if any, especially if it’s for your boss, you have to understand will there be trade offs? If I say yes to this, is someone else taking over that or am I going to just do it in addition?
And a simple example of this quite recently is that when Don extended this invitation to me, I said I would love to come and talk to this group, but what I don’t have the bandwidth to do is make a fancy PowerPoint. So if it’s okay for me just to come and talk, the answer is overwhelming. Yes. If you need something different than that, I may not be able to do it.
So we just got quite clear on what it is, I was so happy to be able to say yes, here I am. And so you want to understand the expectations. And you want to learn what you are expected to contribute, and also what you might gain, what you might learn from the experience. Because work is not just about giving, you are making a contribution, but you should also be learning, you should be feeling fulfilled, you should be growing.
And that is just as valid. Neither one of those is more important than the other. What you give to your work and what you get from your work are equally important in my view.
The ninth, sort of secret to the lucky career, is saying no. So you don’t say yes to everything. And you have to learn to say no. And you’ve got to learn to say no the right way. So saying no, at the right time is really important.
You know, once you’ve had an opportunity, because you’ve said yes to everything, and you’ve had some breadth and depth. And now it’s time to start rolling off of some committees or some projects or some obligations. This is not a bad thing. People often are wracked with guilt, you know, when they want to… how am I going to get myself out of doing this, I’m going to be letting everyone down?
But that’s not the case, what you’re really doing is opening an opportunity for someone else to do it, and somebody else does want to do it. Because somebody else today is where you were then and they want the opportunity that you are about to say no to, or to extricate yourself from.
So make sure that on a regular basis, maybe it’s an annual basis, maybe it’s quarterly, maybe it’s every five years, whatever cadence is right for you. Make sure that you take a full audit of what you’re doing. And decide, you know, what should you be saying yes to? And what should you be saying no to? Because opportunity for yes, for someone else.
And then finally, the last one, I’ll mention, we can discuss anything that you have questions on, I want to talk about further. The 10th secret to having a lucky career is the pursuit of growth.
I’ve talked about it already here before, I think you deserve to get that from your career is so important. And especially women, we just don’t do this as much as we should ask for what you want. Apply for things and stretch yourself.
If you hear nothing else from today, hear me now. So tune back in. Any position that is worth your time. Any work position, any volunteer position, anything that is worth your pursuit, is going to be giving something back in return to you. It will be teaching you something, it will be growing your skills.
And so, of course you don’t have all the qualifications. If you’re taking notes, write that down. Of course, you don’t have all the qualifications. So when you look at a job description that is written in an aspirational way, and they’re looking for a unicorn candidate that has all of these things that you don’t have, I want you to remember this moment and remember that if you had them, you’d be ready to be that person’s boss.
You don’t have to have all the qualifications. In fact, you probably don’t even need more than say half of them. You can apply, you can try, you can let other people turn you down. But don’t you be the one standing in your own way by disqualifying yourself, right? That is a way to get very unlucky.
So what we’ve covered in these 10 steps is simple, right? It’s not rocket science simple, but effortful, requires a little bit of proactive steps to go building your board of directors strategically, to build your network of connections to get the insider information, so that you can know what you want to do.
And so that you can tell your story, own your narrative, so that you can tell people what you want to do. And you can negotiate for what you need in order to be competitive for where you want to go. And then you can develop the savvy to know when to say no and when to say yes.
And you can have the mindset that you can apply for stretch goals. And you know, you don’t have to have all the qualifications and you know that you deserve to get as much from your career as you will give.
So, just 15 minutes even a week doing any one of these 10 strategies will pay off enormously for you. It’s the deliberateness and the consistency of these kinds of things. That is the key. Your career possibilities are truly limitless and if you lay this foundation, you will find that your career is very, very lucky indeed.
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