The Fortune 500 Insider Network is an online community where top executives from the Fortune 500 share ideas and offer leadership advice with Fortune’s global audience. Kim Jenett, vice president of human resources at BorgWarner, has answered the question: What can 20-somethings do to set themselves up for success?
Success is, in large part, about people. You may think my point of view is such because I work in human resources where people are our capital. While this is true, I believe my observations cross functional disciplines, industries, and even cultures. With more than three decades of corporate experience behind me—and thus the advantage of 20-20 hindsight—I offer three pieces of advice for long-term success, each of which has served me well.
First, find a mentor. I’ve had one, I currently have one, I have been one, and I am proof that they work. A mentor is someone who is more experienced and can help guide an individual in support of his or her professional development goals. It is someone who can guide you in making early career decisions and tough choices later on. A mentor has a neutral voice and a third-party perspective—someone who can provide new insights, wisdom, and experiences that you can learn from.
Early in your career, you may grapple with which direction might provide the next best stepping stone. It’s during this time of opportunity where you’ll want to quickly move through the ranks, and a mentor can help you see the broader picture and make thoughtful decisions.
When first starting out in my career, a mentor encouraged me to finish my education and guided me to an HR career. I completed a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree, and then quickly progressed. These were crucial career-building steps that my mentor encouraged and nurtured, but I didn’t realize how impactful this guidance was at the time.
My mentor today is someone outside of BorgWarner who I talk to when I need an outside perspective on maneuvering through sticky situations—someone who I can turn to when I need advice.
While formal mentorships are important, informal ones can be equally so. In fact, many people have mentors and don’t even realize it. A sibling, a friend, and even a religious leader can be an informal mentor who offers an outside perspective and a set of his or her own experiences ripe with learnings.
Next up are your colleagues and co-workers. It’s critical not to underestimate the value of developing relationships—both up and across the organization. Even “bad” bosses offer lessons—even if that lesson is in how not to manage people.
So, how do you cultivate these relationships? Through face-to-face contact. I can’t stress this point more ardently. Facebook and your iPhone won’t get you there. You have to go out and meet with people. You will gain valuable insight from their verbal and nonverbal cues. Rich relationships don’t happen via text messaging. Relationships matter: They’re a significant part of the mentoring equation.
Be flexible, mobile, and open to new experiences
I see it time and again where people get so comfortable at a job that real growth and development become stagnant. But exciting things happen when you go outside of your comfort zone and take on new challenges. You’ll broaden your skills and view of the world, even if you’re moving across an organization vs. up. The key is knowing when to make these moves. You don’t want to job hop, but taking a job in a different location or a short-term assignment in another country, for example, can give you a set of skills and experiences that will set you up for long-term success.
This doesn’t mean there isn’t risk involved. You may have to work harder, and the work may be more challenging—some people aren’t willing to take that on. Before moving to Detroit, I was comfortably working in Chicago at a job I really liked. When I was offered a new opportunity that required me to move to a new state, my mentor pressed me to think very critically about what I had to lose and what I had to gain. I’ve been at BorgWarner ever since, and I can tell you without hesitance that the risk was well worth it. The move opened up a whole new world for me, with new relationships, new challenges, and new experiences. While it was way outside of my comfort zone, it helped me grow in a way that I couldn’t have ever imagined. And it opened up a number of future opportunities that helped shape a very successful career in HR.
Remember to always set yourself up for future success by being flexible, mobile, and open to a variety of experiences. It will truly make a difference and set you apart from others.