Monday, September 29, 2008

Get yourself a mentor!

You're not alone in this world. And you couldn't be. If you drive, someone needs to have designed a car; someone needs to have made it; someone needs to have paved the road. Same goes in your career: others have paved the road before you. And you need to talk to them. Here's a few tips from Tech Women's meet up at Apple last Thursday:

  • Why would someone want to be my mentor in the first place?

    Mentoring is a rewarding experience, and the mentor will grow from it too. Thing about it - how many times will you have the opportunity to directly influence someone's life? To be able to say, that person is succeeding, and I had to do something with it? Done right, mentoring is a win-win. So go ahead - find a mentor!
    And remember:
    For you: an opportunity to learn.
    For them: an opportunity to share knowledge.

  • So how do I find a mentor anyway?

    The short answer: Just Ask!
    Most mentorships are informal, and mentors usually accept when they see a fit, and see someone who is committed.

    If you are in any big organization (and that applies to if you're still in college), ask someone at a higher level. The worse they can say is "no". It's better if you find someone outside of your team, but consider that as an option too. If you want to change fields, learn another skill, you can go outside of your "Title zone". Cross-functional mentorships are mutually beneficial as well: you both get to learn something complete different that may open new opportunities, give you a better insights, etc.

    If you're in a small company or on your own, find someone through LinkedIn! LinkedIn is a great resource to find advice. Use the search tool to find people in the desired field; email them through LinkedIn and ask if they could mentor you. Or, go to the "Answers" questions and ask if someone in your area would like to mentor you. Also consider local Chambers of Commerces as great resources. They usually have weekly or monthly meetings, most are free, and you can meet with people who you already know are near you. If not, ask around, someone may know someone else!

  • When in a first meeting, come prepared

    What's the secret of a great mentor/mentee relationship? Concrete goals. So come with these goals. It can be short term, as in "I have this big presentation to do and I don't know anything about presenting. I have 26 days" or it can be "I want to find a job as in Marketing at a creative company and I don't know where to start", or even "I'm petrified when speaking in public. In 5 months, I'd like to be comfortable speaking with notecards". The more concrete the goal (it can be a $$ amount you want to make, a number of years you give yourself to reach X position, etc), the better.
    Also on the first meeting, it's better if you bring something concrete with you, a palpable object, to break the ice, and get the conversation going (this is my resume, this is the object I have to present, etc).

  • Get the details down

    The things that break relationships would surprise you. Break it down: is it ok for me to call you on your cellphone? or email? or is it better face to face? Are there certain days/hours that are out of boundaries? How many times week / month will we talk/see each other? And will this be a short-term or a long-term mentorship?

  • Follow up

    You need a mentor. You have a mentor. So it's your job to keep your mentor. Don't expect your mentor to chase you down. Your mentor is probably very busy, so even if they're committed to mentoring you, sometimes, other things may make them forget. It is up to you to drive and manage this relationship.

    Once you're done: Give your mentor an update. It's OK to say, it didn't work, I still need help. Coming back to a mentor is an acknowledgment that it worked for you. It's great to have feedback, and if you did well, it'll be priceless for them to know they had a direct role in your success.

Questions? Comments? Email carolineblogs at gmail dot com

Friday, September 26, 2008

Why I want to be on the cover of Fast Company some day

This is for Kate (@khobbie on Twitter), who asked why I wanted to make the cover of Fast Company.
By now, I'm sure you've noticed I love lists. For the kicks of it, I'll list why I love lists one day. But for now - here's why my dream is to make the cover of Fast Company some day (sooner rather than later!):

  • Success is sexy
    When I was growing up, I didn't want to be Barbie. I wanted to be President. Of course, back then, I wasn't denied a job because I was in my 20s and "a risk to get married and have kids". I didn't know yet that when I'd go into a car shop with an exact idea of what I wanted fixed, the mechanic would talk to my male friend, who knows as much about cars as he does about his bra size. But I knew this: that all grown up, I'd be a Nobel Prize of Literature, or I'd flat out become President (and yes, that was my 2nd choice). The best way to put it? Success is sexy. I take much more pride in my brains than I do my body. And I shouldn't have to be ashamed of being ambitious or successful. So if I can get there, I can also go to a 12 year old, and tell her: you'll find many obstacles if you want to succeed. But Success is Sexy. And I, like many people around you you don't know, can help you get there. I can show you the way. We can share stories. We can share the pain. And we can share the glory.

  • I hoped. I sacrificed. I'm still hungry.
    When I left my family, my friends, my I-know-where-everything-is-around-here in France, and decided to stay in California in 2003, I was nervous. I was scared. I spoke the language fluently, and could easily pretend I was from South Carolina; but my heart, my culture, my memories... they all screamed home. I couldn't have the career I wanted back home; there truly was no hope there. The thought of becoming a wife and mother as the only achievement drove me crazy - I wanted it all. The career. The inspiration. The family. France, to this day, does not offer that dream: to cry it out loud, I'd gone to too many interviews where I was told "You have a degree in English, but we're looking for people who can speak business English". Really, a Masters in Linguistics and a thesis co-sponsored by a Linguistics Professor at UC Berkeley with business classes at Haas Business School won't cut it for you? You'd rather go for the dude whose parents paid for an expenseeeve beeznesss skool? I wanted to go to a land of opportunity. I wanted to prove I could do it. To this day, I'm still hungry. Hungry to fill the void that was created when I left home to pursue a dream, 6,000 miles away. And I've learned that to succeed, you must get yourself a very concrete goal, and visualize the path that will get you to it. So here's mine: I want to be the cover of Fast Company.

  • I am what I believe
    I strongly believe women and multi-cultural (or at least, culture conscious) leaders are the future of any country. This is the truth of globalization: understanding, looking up to, and marketing to, the 20-wanna be white techie dude won't cut it in the near future. Global markets to be reached can (and have to) be segmented, but they are increasingly complex. Melting pots are everywhere; Americans don't like to be boxed in (one ethnicity, one "type" of personality,etc). If you want to reach a new breed of consumer, the one that is influenced by a world of information, you need key executives who are (or are open to be) multi-cultural. If your company already has that, congratulations: your company already has an edge. I also believe, from experience, that women, because they have encountered many a challenge and obstacle; because they're second-guessed every time they express themselves, are perfectionists, they're over-achievers, they're get-it-doners. Why wouldn't that be seen as the success of today and tomorrow? I speak 3 languages fluently, am acquainted with another 2; I'm learning Chinese; I'm driven, dedicated, and I'm a reader of Fast Company. Good fit, don't you think? ;-)

  • Ultimately, I just want to make a difference
    Whether it's French or American youth, or the world's girls, I want to demonstrate something simple: that if you work hard, you, too, can get there. It may be naive. It may be cliche. But that hope - the one to influence and inspire others, to keep them going when they want to give up - that's what I want to do. Because it's the inspiring people around me that keep me going. By showing me that integrity and hard work get you results. I'd love for some other 20-something year old to look at the cover and go: "Huh. How did she get there?" Open it. Read it. And find out she could do it too.

Comments? Questions? Email me at carolineblogs at gmail dot com

Why I won't give out my full name

This is in response of Bob's excellent comment on my "5 things to do to get your career started": I give all this advice on how to network, and then I hide my identity. Bob, this is for you.
Why I don't reveal my full identity in my posts? because I'm me.

  • Self-defense only works on people you see coming
    Being a woman teaches you that: the world isn't that safe. If I give my full name, you're just a few clicks from knowing what I like, where I go, who I know. In short, you can easily stalk me. As much as I like getting my opinion out there, I don't want my safety to be at risk. I do therefore also advise other women to use a pen name.

  • I don't have that many wrinkles
    If you're a young woman trying to build a career, this will instantly speak to you. For the rest, try to understand. I have not yet, in over 5 years working, been able to say "I just think that". Every single argument I give has had to be supported by numbers from official publications I can link to; "reputable" sources. This has made me a much more methodical, analytical, much more driven individual, so I'm grateful for the challenge. However, I'm not grateful for the frustration: even after presenting my case as the fruit of days of research, I'll be over ruled by another guy just saying "Nah.". That's it. The screen of anonymity really plays in favor of people who usually don't get heard. My opinion is here, bare, out to be tested, to be judged. No make up.

  • Work politics make it hard for me... to be me
    I'm striving to find a company that will embrace my liberal feminist views, but right now, it's not the case. So I can't afford to have 8 months of hard work come down to flames because some Product Manager in charge of the software in Taiwan finds this blog and uses it to say I'm crazy. This shouldn't be news to anyone: there are political games being played in any size company. The advantage of being in a small company is that you have the potential to make a real difference - but the drawback is that when political games are played, there's no anonymity, and political damage lasts a very long time.

  • I'm not anonymous. I'm me!
    Yes you don't know my full name, but people who read my resume do. And I can definitely include the blog address, the twitter name, the LinkedIn to anyone who I trust as safe, put it on a separate business card, email it to my friends, tell people I meet a networking events, etc. I'm in control of closing the loop!

Questions? Comments? Email me at carolineblogs at gmail dot com

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Common cents

Ok I don't get this.
Everyone has values. But don't we have some kind of ranking system? Here's a couple of questions to consider for this election.

What's more important to you:
a. being able to have a job and putting food on your table
b. if someone else can get married

What's more important to you:
a. If your tax money creates jobs and gives you a retirement
b. that it provide a golden parachute to Billionaire CEOs that sank our country's economy like the Titanic.

What's more important to you:
a. A leader that will take all powers, keep everything secret and prevent any trace from being found, that will take your money and give it to his billionaire buddies
b. A president that believes in democracy, that elected officials have to represent the majority that elected them (even if he/she disagrees), and that will answer questions (even when they're tough), keep records of what is being said and done (so that others in history can learn from challenges and opportunities of our times), and invest in today and tomorrow's economy

And let's be real.

If someone who is running for the office to REPRESENT the people of a nation refuses a debate with his opponent, will that person, once elected:
a. Be accountable to the people, respond to inquiries from the press and from control systems in the democracy
b. Take the executive power to be a form of monarchy, where the ruler decides to his/her own will (and let's face it, not represent the people or the people's will)

... These decisions are why I vote.

Why I'm learning Chinese

I know 3 languages fluently (French, English, Spanish), and am acquainted with another 2 (Italian and Dutch). You'd think I've had enough. But I really don't. I'm taking on Chinese and even though it's hard, I'm loving it.
Here's why I'm taking Chinese:

  • I'm not getting younger. Neither is my brain.
    I believe in challenging yourself. And I couldn't just sit there and let my brain slowly degrade. Since I was a linguistics major, I decided: how about a new language? I'd always learned languages I was vaguely familiar with, and most have Latin roots (and I studied Latin for 7 years. Don't get hyped though: I couldn't say a word even if my life depended on it). I thought it was time to reshape my brain and fire neurons I didn't know were there.

  • My social life should be better for it
    All my friends are from China or Taiwan. And I want to know what they say about me behind-my-back-in-front-of-me. Plus, they gave me my Chinese name, Ou Mulan (European name). Here's my policy: if you have a name, you must be able to introduce yourself. Well that, and argue about that point at volleyball (those arguments go on for 10mn sometimes, and I'm really curious what's preventing a "Oh, never mind, let's just play" from keeping them from arguing so long - I guess we'll find out once I can say it correctly!)

  • My professional life depends on it.
    There's 10 of us in the US Office. There's 60 of them in the Taiwan office. Who should speak what language, huh? I want us to collaborate more, and I know from being a translator that intent doesn't get sent with the standard translation. So here I go: I'm trying, guys!

  • I'm hoping I'll be more creative
    Did you know? taking on a new task also helps you be creative because it creates new "pathways" in your brain. Since this is totally foreign to me, I hope it'll help me imagine new things. New angles for products, new approaches, new names. Creativity.

Have a question? Comment? Post a comment or email me at carolineblogs at gmail dot com

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

5 things to do to get your career started.

This afternoon, I pick up a copy of Fast Company, Oct. 2008. Look under National Boss Day, and find that women don't really get to the top of the food chain:
"More than 11 million people are employed in management occupations. 40% are women, but of the Fortune 500, only 12 companies (2.4%) have female CEOs. "
Surprising? No. I'd picked up an issue of the Advertising Age and counted: of the top 50 CMOs, 6 were women. Yet flipping through the magazine makes it clear that the target audience is women - i.e most employees in advertising are women.
Girls, let's not get beaten down so fast. We still have options:

  • Blog
    It's free. It's clear. It gets the word that you're out there, and think.

  • Be social (online) and promote yourself
    . That can be free too. Twitter. Follow women entrepreneurs. Respond to their questions, give your feedback. Add people with shared interests to your "Following" list. You can achieve that by doing keyword searches, like "sailing", "photography", "Mac", whatever you're interested in. Keep up the posts and reply, reply, reply.

  • Be social - professionally.
    Sign up for LinkedIn and invite anyone you meet professionally or socially. Be part of groups that correspond to you, and contribute to the questions and answers. Expand your network through the groups you're in, and the people that answer your questions/whose questions you answered. You'll see a world of people there to help when you have a question, be it professional or personal. These people will also help you get you jobs.

  • Be social - in person.
    We need to do this more. Seriously. You can go to your local Chamber of Commerce, attend Flickr Meetings, join the women's business association, Women 2.0, any women's group in your area, go to sailing races, local events, volunteer. Go prepared: have a business card ready, and test your 20 second elevator pitch on anyone who'll hear it. "Hi, my name is Caroline. I'm in Marketing. I have a blog, Zero Zero 2. It gives my 2 cents to anyone who'll hear it. Send me an email to suggest improvements, give me some products to test out. Let's follow up and talk about how to promote young people". Say whatever you want... but say something.

  • Find a mentor.
    You're not alone out there - and think about it. Steve Jobs has a full company of creative people giving feedback. He's connected to people who have over-arching views of the industry (CEOs that can see trends). Learn from someone else. You can't just sit there in your corner and hope someone will find you. The Prince Charming idea, that was nice. But seriously. You have to go banging on other doors. Give your Zero Zero 2 dollars, and you'll find many people will give back.

For all:
Follow up. I can't say this enough. Your career is not a sprint, it's a marathon. You'll have 1 st winds, you'll have 2 winds, you'll be tired, but you'll have to go on. Willingness to keep going can, in fact, get you far. So add people to your LinkedIn, recommend coworkers, email back when you say you will. If you can't make it to an event, reschedule, and show up the next time.

Have a question? I'll try to answer. Email me at carolineblogs at gmail dot com

Acknowledgment: Thank you Phil Wolff for getting me to start blogging. You're an inspiration, and I am grateful for your insights.