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Strategies to Carve a Niche and Build a Forward-Looking Career



Introduction

Allow me to take you back in time for a moment. This was the beginning of the 21st century and I was in the final semester of M.B.A. I was beyond excited about landing an internship with one of the leading car manufacturing companies in Asia. Mind you, I spent most of the internship in an office setting. Enthusiastic about working in a factory and getting exposure to technical employees, I casually approached my mentor with the idea of studying the training needs of the factory and its technicians. The response to my amazement has stuck with me for 21 years. A question that resonates even today. My mentor, without hesitation, responded, “Are you sure you want to work in the factory?” Upon being asked, “why”, he quickly responded, “I mean you’re a girl”. “Are you sure you want to work in a factory setting?” I am sure it was a well-intentioned remark. I am going to let that sink in for a little. That, my friends, was the beginning of my career into #learninganddevelopment (L&D). It said a lot of things to me.

The 21st Century is an era of progress. It is a century in which many, including our children, are born with technology. We have made a lot of progress in terms of welcoming women into the workforce, but there is more than meets the eye.


Statistics: What are the Odds?

I’d like to introduce some odds that we face as women in the 21th century. Quoting from the Women in the Workplace Report 2021, a collaboration between McKinsey & Company and LeanIn.org, here is what we’re up against and these are the statistics holding us back:

At the managerial level, for every 100 men promoted to a manager’s position, only 86 women are promoted. This data is even more skewed for women of color. Women of color remain underrepresented across the corporate ladder.


How to Carve a Niche?

If these are the odds stacked against us, is it possible for us to defy the odds? I would say, yes. There are many who have broken this barrier and defied the odds. Ever feared losing your voice in a world full of competition? Do you wonder if your posts and opinions drown in an explosion of social media posts? Ever wondered, how to stand out against the crowd? What does it take? Is there a secret recipe that gets people noticed? How do we cut through this noise to poise ourselves as leaders?

Here are a few strategies that focus on concrete and practical examples of how to carve a niche, stand-out and build a forward-looking career for yourself. Most of all, these are the strategies to defy the odds stacked against us.


1. Build a personal brand

Build a personal brand and identity that distinguishes you from the rest. Many of us like to go with the flow and not ruffle feathers. I completely understand, our need to jell and go with what has traditionally been known to work, however I’d encourage you to build a personal brand for yourself. Don’t be afraid to stand-out against the crowd. This will help set the stage to climb the ladder that you build for yourself. There are two great articles which I’d encourage you to explore. The first is written by Aaron Webber on, ‘The 5 Ps of Personal Branding’. The second is, ‘The Ultimate Guide to Creating a Personal Brand in 2022’ by Casey Botticello. Make a voice for yourself. Now that brings me to techniques that’ll help you build a personal brand. Try these quick ways to shine:


  • Write an article

  • Go live on LinkedIn

  • Post Tik-Tok videos

  • Present at conferences, so others see you as an expert.

  • Make your voice heard.

  • Don’t be afraid to talk about your strengths at professional forums.

  • Become an influencer

  • Mentor others: don’t be afraid to champion other people’s cause


Do what feels natural and right for you. The social media has no dearth of channels to make your mark. Find a way to build your personal brand and showcase your unique selling point/proposition (U.S.P.).


2. Connect Authentically

Early on in my career, I knew how to make a polite conversation, but little did I know that a polite conversation does not equate to building rapport or connecting authentically. When you connect authentically, people will open doors and be willing to invite you to the table. In other words, when your mission matches theirs and they see value in what you bring to the table, you will build connections and a network that helps build a ladder to success.

Here is a personal example: for years I struggled to connect authentically, until I realized there are others who have similar passions. I am passionate about #humanperformance and #learninganddevelopment and there are practitioners in the field who share this passion. When I reach out to other practitioners and ask them to share knowledge, they are more than willing to connect.

Let’s talk about strategies to connect authentically:

Conferences & professional organizations: Every field from education to the corporate sector has conferences or organizations that foster fields of expertise. For instance, the Association of Talent Development (#atd) specializes in the field of #landd. There are several conferences which I can attend to meet with professionals like myself. This is the perfect ground to meet people and connect authentically. If you’re into #projectmangement, the Project Management Institute (#pmi ) has several chapters all over the world and the United States. Whatever your passion, find a conference or an organization where you can make authentic relationships and see the world open its doors to you.


3. Informational Interviews

Now I’d encourage you to go to Google and search for the term Informational Interviews. You’ll get tons of resources and definitions. Spend some time understanding what this term means. Informational interviews can take several forms, but I’ll leave you with one.


Definition: informational interviews is a technique to learn more about a job or career which interests you by interviewing an expert in a question-and-answer session.

Here is a caveat. You’d say to me, this is a great for someone who is just starting out in their career, but I already know where I want to go. My answer is, tease out:


  • Where do you want to specialize? and

  • What is your niche?


Then, seek-out experts in that field and use informational interviews to connect and learn. This is where your passion and authentic relationships intersect. For instance, I used my L&D podcast, Redefine Instruction to conduct informational interviews. I recognize that within L&D there are several niches and themes. Each niche has experts. I might know a thing or 2 about #projectmangement for #landd or #storytelling , but I can talk to others in the field to expand my knowledge and share it with the community. If you think about it, it knocks 3 birds with one stone.


  • Making authentic relationships

  • Learning new techniques in my field and

  • Becoming an influencer


All of this while learning and expanding my own knowledge base. If you want to dive-deeper into informational interviews, I’d encourage you to follow me on LinkedIn as I am planning to release a blog about it which goes deeper into strategies.


4. Elevator Pitch

Definition: It’s a quick way to make introductions or sell your unique proposition in 30 seconds. Imagine you’re stuck in an elevator and next to you is the hiring manager of a dream job. How would you sell or tell him/her ‘who you are’ and ‘what you do’ in 30 seconds? That is your Elevator Pitch!

This is particularly useful in conferences, informational interviews, social events, emails, phone calls, etc.

I’d encourage you to develop one. I am no expert on creating elevator pitches, but do some research on how to create one. Make it personal, conversational and unique. Give it a flavor that has your personal brand written all over it.


5. Research and Learner-Mindset

This is the 21st century. Gone are days when you spent hours in the library and going places to discover information. My dad gave me this advice years ago and I’ll share that with you today:

With the internet at your fingertips, there is a world of opportunities waiting for you.”

Go conquer the world my friends! I’ll go a step further, use the internet to your advantage, do research and have a learner mindset. If you’re willing to do research and have a learner mindset, experts will be willing to share knowledge with you. Be humble at your job as well as willing to learn from others and the horizon will be the limit for you.


6. Seek-out mentors

No one is successful without mentors. As I reflect on my life, I have had several mentors. I am so grateful to the men and women who saw the strength in my passion and took me under their wing to mentor and help carve a niche for myself. My life lesson is having more than one mentor; a friend, a colleague, a boss, someone you met in a conference. It takes a village and believe me when I say I have found mentors in the most unexpected places and events. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. These connections will help you carve your career and path to success. Whatever that be!


7. Focus on your current assignment

While following Indra Nooyi, this piece of advice stood-out to me, “Have goals but don’t be worried about becoming the CEO. Do the job in front of you and do it well. The rest will fall into place.” When you shine in your work, the world will notice. When I think of this, I always think of my father’s words, “If anything is worth doing, it’s worth doing well.”


8. Imperfectly Perfect

Finally, I’ll leave you with one advice that my dear friend, mentor and boss gave me. ‘You can’t build a Cadillac in a day.’ As women we have un-denying need to be perfect. We beat ourselves up to achieve the inevitable and perfect version of everything we do, whether being a parent, a daughter, a friend, a manager, a colleague, so I will tell you something that set me free, “Let go of perfection and be ok with good enough”, because each day you’ll improve the version that was developed yesterday. I’ll tell you that these words alone have set me free. And I promise that you’ll build your Cadillac one day.


I’d like to finish the story that I started at the beginning of this article. Where did that statement from my mentor lead me? What were the consequences of that remark? Well, that remark lit a fire under me to defy the stereotypes created for women in the workplace.


My story is far from finished, but I’d encourage you to look at my LinkedIn profile for what I do today. Life comes a full circle. Today, I am proud to work for a company that values #diversityequityinclusion and encourages women to work in their factories. I am beyond proud to have had the opportunity to live my dreams and encourage you to conquer yours.


To Conclude

These are just a few strategies that I have gathered along the way. Questions? Did I miss any strategies? Please feel free to share any success strategies that may have worked for you. Need to brainstorm these or any other ideas.....Share below in the comments.


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Note: The strategies in this article were initially showcased during my presentation, The Power of a Woman, on the #internationalwomensday2022 . To access the recording, visit the LOGYTalks website.

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