Michelle Sangillo specializes in change management and employee engagement. She told students and those seeking a career change that she learned important lessons early in her career, when she was an administrative assistant. She began her talk by grabbing a stuffed elephant she had placed in the corner of the room. "You can't ever ignore the elephant in the corner," she said, noting that successful people are fearless and that she had trained to face down her own fear of public speaking.
- Everything Communicates. "As a communications person, remember that you're being observed by everyone," she said, echoing the age-old PR advice: "Everything communicates!" (what you say or don't, how you treat colleagues, what you wear...). Yes, someone's always watching you.
- Pay Attention to Details. This, more than anything else, convinced Michelle that she could advance her career. As an administrative assistant, she saw the carelessness of managers and thought, "Hey, I can do better than that," simply by focusing and by being thoughtful and competent. I related to this point. In my first job I wrote obituaries for a local newspaper, and it only takes one careless error in an obit to learn a lifelong lesson.
- Don't Insult Yourself. "You have to have confidence in yourself for someone else to have confidence in you," Michelle said. She confidently left her admin job after 10 years because she knew she had been typecast. So she left, earned a master's degree, and pursued a career in a field she loved.
Joe Donner operates Thunder Consulting -- so named because Donner is the Germanic name for the god of thunder. He's had senior communications roles within large companies and advising large companies from the outside as the principal of his own agency.
- Read More. Joe was an English major, and he's kept personal and professional journals throughout his life -- so already I admire him for that. My admiration grew as he stood in front of the room and said, "Read more. Learn as much as you can about everything you can." He added, "Learn about a diversity of things: Business, art, economics, engineering processes, current events... Join a professional organization, and share experiences with people from outside your company." This is a great reason to join an organization like IABC.
- Prepare to Be Laid Off. "It can happen to anyone," Joe said. You can be great at your job, but if your job moves to Minnesota and you don't want to move your family, you may find yourself looking for work in New Jersey. You can't afford to have tunnel vision; you have to always prepare for other options.
- Show Off a Little. Joe's first job was as a claims processor. One day he read an indecipherable memo from the company's CEO. "Whoever wrote this should be shot," Joe said -- with the person who wrote the memo, unbeknownst to him, standing right behind him. The memo-writer challenged, "Well, if you could do better..." So Joe edited the memo on the spot and handed it back. The author considered Joe's edits, shook his head and said, "Why are you processing claims? You should be working in corporate communications."
Ah... if only real life were like that all the time.
I’m going to take Joe’s advice and read Steve Martin’s memoir, “Born Standing Up.” I bet Steve never studied business in college, but I don't think his own career advice has ever been topped: “Be so good they can’t ignore you.”