Paying forward THE most valuable piece of career advice

In this post, I share my personal story of my first job and the most impactful career advice I ever received. I want to share this with you, as it's something you too can easily implement in your career.

Did Accenture make a mistake?

My first job after college was as a process analyst at Accenture.

As a political science major, I was surprised when I was offered a business consulting job and the chance to move to Boston to start my career.

I felt a combination of excitement for this prestigious opportunity, and imposter syndrome (even though I didn't know the name for it at the time).

I didn't have a business or computer science background.

I was worried someone would figure out I had no idea what I was doing, and tell me they'd make a mistake hiring me.

So, I went to work:

  • figuring out how to be a consultant,
  • how to add value to the clients, and
  • how to gain the trust of the Accenture leaders with whom I worked.

I soaked in all of the training and began building relationships internally.

The expectations were clear. Accenture was clearly the pinnacle of professionalism. The stakes felt very high.

I was so excited to be part of this organization.

Then I met a partner who changed my life with one piece of advice

After the initial training, my start group and I waited in the office for our first project assignments.

We would pass the day in a large room working through training modules.

Occasionally, one or two of us would be called into a partner's office. We knew when that happened that we had our first project assignment. We were all waiting with anticipation and nervousness.

Then, one day my friend Matt and I got our call. It was time to meet with a partner and hear about our first client.

I'll never forget that conversation. 

And, I share it with you as the advice was incredibly invaluable.

THE best career advice I've ever received

The partner started off by introducing himself and asking Matt and I about  backgrounds.  Some small talk.

Then, he described our first client. We talked about the project we'd be working on, the client's goals, the history of the client, the other team members, and the logistics.

We asked a lot of questions, as this was all so new to us and we had no idea what to expect.

Then he said it.

He said, "you will succeed if you always operate at one level above the client's expectations. Be the person who is already at the level you want to achieve. Don't wait to be that person until you've accomplished what you want, that's backwards."

What did he mean by this advice?

Looking back, I'm not sure I fully appreciated that advice at the time.

But, I see how much his advice has served me throughout my career.

I applied it to both my consulting clients as well as to my colleagues, software customers, executives, and other professional situations I encountered.

Putting the advice into practice

I truly believe this one philosophy has been my key to success.

And, it's simple.

For example:

  • If the client worked 8-5, I worked 7-6
  • If the client expected 3 recommendations to solve a business challenge, I offered 4 or 5.
  • If the client wore business casual, I wore professional attire.
  • I started finding ways to bring in revenue through upselling before I was responsible for revenue.
  • I proactively (and subtly) communicated the value I was adding.
  • I operated as if I already had the role I next wanted in my career.
  • I showed up as a leader even when I was an individual contributor by finding ways to help my colleagues and peers, and making recommendations on process improvement to my manager.
  • If my manager expected a casual weekly status meeting, I showed up with a written one-page status report
  • If the CEO wanted $100k in cost savings, I delivered $150k

So, basically, the advice is:

  • show up as the person who already has the role you want, even if you don't have the title.
  • go the extra mile even though the customer doesn't expect it.
  • exceed expectations even if no one ends up noticing it.

Sometimes, this is as simple as wearing a suit instead of business casual.

In other ways, it takes more effort and time, and the work may go completely unnoticed.

Why not wait until you have the role, and then do the work?

I've passed this advice on to all the employees I've hired, managed and mentored over the years.

Some took the advice and ran with it. They're now directors, vice presidents, and EVPs.

Others resisted the advice. They felt like it was wasted time and effort. They felt discouraged when they did the extra work and no one noticed. They gravitated to the bare minimum. Most of them have stalled in their careers.

You will know

Operating in the "next level mode", you might be recognized right away. You might be promoted, receive a bonus, be recruited by a customer or competitor.

Or, your efforts might not be noticed in the short or even medium term.

At the end of the day, you will know.

You will know how you're showing up for yourself each day.

  • Are you striving to be your best version, or are you doing the bare minimum?
  • Are you operating at that next level even though you haven't been given the title or the comp package attached to it?
  • Are you proving to yourself that you are capable?

In summary

So, that's it.

Always operate at the level where you aspire to be, not the level where you are now.

It's very simple advice, and easy to implement if you can work past any resistance to feeling like the time/effort is wasted.

It won't be wasted.

This is as much about showing up for yourself, as the best version of yourself, as it is for your clients and leadership.





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