This column is part of Globe Careers' Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab
When embarking on a career, it's not always easy to decide what direction to take, or where to start. Opportunities are often limited. You may not know what you want to do.
Over my own career, I have observed that those who have achieved the most were people who acquired diverse skill sets and developed large support networks. The more opportunities you have to experience different things and build your network, the more likely it will be that you can start to hone what you really like to do. If you are working in a field that you enjoy, you will likely end up being really good at it.
In my view, one option to accomplish this is to consider a larger organization with a diversity of areas of focus. Consider my own industry, financial services. I haven't come across many people who thought they wanted to work at a bank when they were in high school.
Some of that disinterest comes from a lack of understanding of what kind of career opportunities a bank might provide. When I started working at Bank of Montreal, I was a teller at a local branch; I didn't think the bank represented anything more than that kind of work. But banks provide a wide range of opportunities and jobs that suit people of all sorts of backgrounds and skills.
I recall a conversation I had with a friend whose child was finishing university in engineering. When I suggested the bank as a possible career choice, she was surprised; it never occurred to her that a bank might be interested in hiring an engineer. In fact, banks have lots of career paths available to engineers, such as process transformation, planning analytics and operational process roles.
Not only does joining a bank present opportunities for people with skills of all kinds, it also provides the chance to learn new skills on the job. I started in the branch world, armed with a degree in criminology and sociology. But when I moved to other roles at headquarters, I gained the opportunity to learn new skills and embrace new challenges.
For example, I have learned the importance of innovation and how to get ideas implemented in a large, complex organization by being creative, influencing others and applying business analytics and logic to business cases.
Also, as someone who came into our industry from a social science background, I had to learn the importance of finance skills. This meant I had to step out of my comfort zone to take roles that helped me understand this function in our business.
I've always believed that when you've mastered something, you need to move on in order to continue to improve and grow. It's important early in your career to continue to challenge yourself, to move to new roles, to learn what you like to do and what you are good at. As a result, I moved every 18 to 24 months.
A large, diverse organization provides those new opportunities without ever having to leave. But irrespective of the kind of organization you may join, particular strategies for success will always apply. For instance, continuous learning, throughout a career, is a must. In an ever-changing work environment, it's fundamentally important to stay current with new ideas and emerging trends. This is a career-long process; we've long moved past the era when one skill set can take you all the way to retirement.
For example, I've always been interested in technology and am curious to know how a digitized, socially connected world will change how we interact with our clients and our employees. I've adopted my own work habits to being 95-per-cent paperless; it allows me to be more cognizant of the digital space for both my personal and work life.
Learning comes from everywhere – from the workplace, from friends, from volunteering at outside organizations. The more you take in, the more likely it is that you can take on new challenges in the future. I strongly believe we have a responsibility to participate in our communities. I've had the privilege to participate with not-for-profit organizations and the experience is not only truly inspirational but helps me learn about myself and how to work effectively in different environments.
Also, the development of relationships will always be a major contributor to a career. Meeting new people will provide the encouragement to do or learn about new things. A highly developed network will bring new opportunities to your door on a regular basis, and the relationships you gain will mean that you can lean on people you trust when you may have difficulties.
A career is a life-long process of discovery and challenge. Remain open to the possibilities, even those that on the face of it might seem like unlikely choices. You can meet the challenge, with the right tools and the right network.
Myra Cridland is senior vice-president and head of BMO Harris Private Banking in Canada and Asia.