The MPW Insiders Network is an online community where the biggest names in business and beyond answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for, “What should every college intern know about succeeding in business?” is written by Cheri Lytle, head of advisor strategy and development at Merrill Lynch Wealth Management.
It’s no secret that achieving success in the workplace requires hard work and constant effort. No matter the field, each role brings its own challenges, especially when starting from the bottom and working your way up. Making a mark on your career doesn’t happen in one day, and the way you define success itself can change over time. I’ve found that being authentic, embracing learning opportunities, and being adaptable can create a strong foundation for a sustained career.
Trust that your perspective is valuable
Early on in your career, it’s natural to feel a little uncomfortable. You are in a new environment, haven’t proven yourself yet, and maybe aren’t 100% confident in your work product. It’s never too early to get involved, take on challenges, and start sharing your perspective. Be confident that your voice is unique and important.
Many of the Merrill Lynch financial advisors I speak with are focused on building their teams with members who have a different background or expertise than they do. From their perspective, they are able to better serve their clients by having a team structure comprised of people with diverse experiences. Consider: Only 22% of financial advisors today are under 40 and only 16% are women. Yet younger generations and women appeal to younger generations of clients, particularly as wealth itself is diversifying. Women now control “more than $11.2 trillion of investable assets and up to 80% of all consumer purchases,” according to The Washington Post; and that also means they need new services to support them.
Today, authenticity has real value in the business world, and many companies are focused on creating paths and programs that allow you to bring your experience and perspective to the table. For example, at Merrill Lynch, we hope our next intern class will be comprised of candidates that have different backgrounds than our existing advisor force. It’s refreshing (and beneficial) for our employees and our clients to work with teams built of people who aren’t necessarily tied to the industry or have the same approach or thinking.
If you ever doubt yourself, remember that having a unique point of view can be much more beneficial to your team, your potential clients and customers, and your own professional growth, too. Look to those around you for shared insight and expertise, be a contributing team member, and trust your gut and the value you bring.
Understand that sometimes it’s better not to know the answer
There are always opportunities to practice and refine your skills, particularly because everything—from technology to legal or medical guidelines—keeps evolving. This is true at any point in your career, whether you’re in a first internship or have been working for decades.
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For example, my background is in human resources, so I’m still learning in my current role as head of Merrill Lynch advisor strategy and development. At times, it can be intimidating not knowing the entire history or having the same background as those around me. But it can also be an advantage. I’m able to look at problems and opportunities with a new perspective —I’m not tied to how things have been done in the past because everything around us, no matter what industry you are in, keeps changing and progressing, and that requires new skills. In fact, we value our new employees for not knowing everything. We seek out fresh input and we understand that we’ll need to teach you things so you can grow. Sometimes, it’s more about how well you learn and make the role your own rather than what you already know.
A willingness to learn is a critical characteristic to succeeding in the workforce. Be confident in the questions you ask and offer to help your colleagues in areas where you can further strengthen your capabilities. Keep in mind all of the opportunities and professional growth that can come when you ask for help.
Be open to being flexible
Succeeding in today’s business world is no longer about working from 9 to 5. It’s important that the hours you put in are comprised of high-quality work and collaboration with colleagues, but don’t get hung up on the clock.
Today’s business culture is much more flexible than in the past, so that talented employees can take care of themselves, focus on quality work, and enjoy what they do. Be happy with the work you do, and adopt a work ethic that you’ll feel proud of at the end of each day. A career is a big portion of your day-to-day life, so build yours so you can sustain it for the long haul.
Remember that your supervisors will teach you the responsibilities of the job, but you have to trust your perspective, know that you probably won’t have all of the answers right away, be willing to learn and, most importantly, bring your true, best self to the job.