Finding a Champion
By Cecilia Reaburn, President of YNPN Ottawa
Ottawa is a small city, which we can all admit has its charms. I love living, working, and volunteering here, where I can find a friendly face around every corner. I find my communities from all three realms very often overlap, but sometimes its like I get stuck in my own little echo chamber where I know everyone, or everyone is no more than 2 degrees of separation. Now don’t get me wrong, that can be great! It makes for a very supportive and reachable network. BUT what I often find missing, are the NEW experiences, those different perspectives, those who have MORE experiences then I do, and those who can challenge my thoughts, regroup my ideas, and break down the barriers I face professionally, personally, and philanthropically.
A few years ago, I was privileged to meet a woman named Susie, who championed me., We were connected through a women’s networking group that was still super grassroots here in Ottawa. She was new to the city and looking for executive level connections, and I was fresh out of university, and only a few months into my first “grown up job”. She worked in the nuclear energy sector, and I was working at an international non-profit, managing a locally community-based program. In terms of who I thought I NEEDED to meet to advance my career, Susie, is not who I had in mind, and I’m sure she felt the same. When we connected, her passion for creating community, and supporting young women at early stages of their careers was clear to me, and my ambition, drive and commitment to building capacity was obvious to her. We met several times, and she began, not only to casually mentor me, but also, and perhaps more importantly, to champion me.
Susie spent time going over my resume, helping me not only present my best ‘paper’ self, but also narrowing down my focus, helping to greatly shape the kind of work I was looking for. At this early stage in my career, this was something that I had no idea how to even start. I was still just thankful for anyone who would consider hiring me, it hadn’t yet occurred that I could PICK my employer, or my boss and have that control over where I worked, what I learned, and who I worked for. The second and greatest thing she did, was boost my confidence and she opened doors for me. She invited me to events I never would have gone to, with executives I thought were way out of my league and introduced me as ‘the woman to watch out for.’ She made sure the people knew my name, and how to connect with me. In reality, this never turned into a job offer per-say but it did a lot to increase my confidence, my ‘elevator pitch’ and my ability to clearly identify the type of person I want to work for. At that stage in my career, increasing my confidence and teaching me that the people I work for are LUCKY to have me, and not just that I am lucky to have a job was something that I will always be grateful for.
If you haven’t found your champion or mentor yet (find me at the next YNPN event and ask me the difference, if you don’t already know), here are some of my top suggestions for making those connections
- Don’t pigeonhole yourself, you never know who you are about to meet who will light or change your path in a way you didn’t see coming (outside perspectives from other industries or professions can be your most valuable tool)
- FOLLOW UP – time is a valuable commodity, and if someone offers to spend theirs to help you, DON’T let that opportunity pass you by. Be ready, ask questions, and learn about them and their path, don’t expect them to come with all the questions and answers. Be prepared to be part of the conversation, or to lead the conversation.
- Be grateful, and appreciative. Send a quick thank you after meeting, thank them for specific things that you have found helpful, maybe it was an introduction, maybe it was editing your resume, or helping you narrow down your focus for job applications. Let them know how their skills have helped you take your next step. Once you get to your next step, LET THEM KNOW! They were a big help to get you there, show them how their support made a difference.
- Be interested in what they do, and who they are. Don’t only connect because you want/need a job. Connect because they do something you think is interesting. They have experience you want to learn more about, give them an opportunity to tell you how they got where they are, and what their daily job really looks like. It’s really hard to tell from a job description what you will do every day, talking to people who DO the jobs you want to have is so insightful!
Transitioning from university student to new grad is hard, it’s still hard to transition from new grad, to mid level professional, and I feel safe betting every transition that comes next for me will come with its own challenges. Having communities and networks of friends, colleagues, peers, mentors, and champions makes it easier. Everyone has a role to play in supporting each other to be our best, keep pushing forward when things are hard, and try new things when the old just don’t work anymore. No matter what stage of your career you are in, there is always someone who is looking up to you, wishing they knew what you know. How are you going to connect and share with them? There is also always someone a few steps ahead of you looking back saying, ‘that person has what it takes, I need them on my team!” How are you going to know who that person is, and be ready when they call?