Classified Information: Work Wisdom by Becky Whitehurst

My dear friend, Becky, is not only one of the most fun people around, but she also works her booty off and has built quite the career over the past 9(ish) years.  Today on the blog, she shares a bit of her hard-earned wisdom on the topic of work and some tips that have helped her along the way.

IMG_1370In Kentucky’s school system, we had these portfolios that followed us from year to year and every year, we had to write down our desired profession. In 6th grade (or close to it) I decided I wanted to be a psychiatrist. Then I found out you’d have to go to medical school, which seemed like it took a long time, so I settled on a psychologist instead. Later in high school, I changed my mind and decided the CIA was for me. Seriously, I told EVERYONE. All over my yearbook you can find notes encouraging me on my future career as a spy. The fact that everyone knew should have been my first sign that it wouldn’t work out. So here I am in 2015 working in human resources at a law firm. I guess it is sort of a psychologist mixed with secrets, problem solving and semi covert missions…so maybe I wasn’t too far off.


I share that because I would have never pictured myself doing this even six months before I took the interview. So I’m clearly not a fortune teller and was somehow lying about my 5-year plan every time I was asked. However, I’ve been afforded opportunities that tell me I’ve done something right along the way. So I’ll share some of my lessons learned. None of this is rocket science, but when I think of what has truly helped me develop my career, it’s these things, and maybe they’ll be a good reminder for you.

It takes a village to raise a child and get this girl a good job.

You’ll never get an email assigning you to the perfect mentor. That means you have to find it and cultivate the relationship yourself. I’ve been blessed to consider a handful of women really good mentors. They didn’t sign up on any official program to mentor me, and maybe they still don’t know they are in that role, but rather they’ve responded to my emails for lunch, coffee and any other way I can see them. They give great advice, ask me what I’m planning next and have even picked up the phone to make a call on my behalf.

Two of these women in particular worked somewhat close with me at various jobs. So my relationship started because I did good work. You can’t be a slacker and expect others to want to do you any favors. That should be a given.

Mase lied: More money does not equal more problems.

I mainly don’t like statistics, because I don’t like math. Another reason I don’t like them is that they always seem to be against me. As a young woman of color in this numbers game called Life, I don’t really think the odds are suppose to be in my favor. So anytime I can go against what the stats say, I do it. They say women don’t ask for more money, well now I ask for it every time I’m offered a new job. You should too. I promise it’s not that hard or scary, and they may be expecting you to negotiate. But really do it on principle that a man probably would.

You should also know your market value. Do research in the late summer/fall and get in front of your boss before increases for the next year are determined. I haven’t done this consistently well, but I’m learning, because it can literally pay off.

The more you know.

During job interviews, it is pretty typical that someone will ask you about your strengths and weakness. However, I like to think of it the way Amy Poehler phrases it in her recent book and that is “know your currency.” For me, it’s people. I could never have a job that didn’t heavily involve building relationships. I’d half jokingly say it’s my only real skill. You need to know what yours is and play it up so much that you get away with not being great at other things, because let’s face it, we’re not perfect. You can also fake it till you make it, but try to make it quickly. That’s how I learned how to do a department budget. It’s still the scariest thing in the world, but I made fewer mistakes this year.

References are everywhere.

Every time I meet with my boss she bestows some wisdom. We once had a lengthy conversation about being involved in professional extra curricular activities. (Note: I’m a huge fan of participating in your relevant associations or joining non-profit boards.) However, if you’re going to do it, you have to do it well. If I like being on a committee with you, I probably want to work with you, would do you a favor, or give you business. Big surprise: not doing things well results in a neutral or negative reputation; neither of which is good for business. Sometimes I think this carries over into your personal life as well; so don’t be the friend that on which no one can depend.

Communication.

I’m really uncomfortable with humble work brags. I classify most things as “doing my job”; some consider everything they do an accomplishment. The problem with people doing the latter when you are not, is that they will seem like a rock star while you seem like the status quo. So I’m trying to learn how to communicate this effectively. They key is knowing your boss’s communication style (i.e. does s/he love data, flow charts) and what they enjoy hearing about the most. I’m slowly getting somewhere with this and encourage you to do the same.

Well there you have it. Those are all the tips I could articulate to form the (aside form the grace of God) How Becky Stays Employed Manual. I’m still learning how to manage people, finding balance between being nice and assertive, and trying to remember that it’s just a job(s). It doesn’t define me, but I still need to do it in way that is honoring to God.

Make a comment below to share your best work advice!

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