Going Backward to Get Ahead

Sometimes starting over can lead you to the right career

About a decade ago, I was working as a technology consultant, traveling a ton and making a good living for me and my family. I enjoyed consulting and working with a variety of clients to solve problems. But something inside told me: there’s got to be more.

In the long run, I wanted a leadership role. There weren’t many opportunities to do so at my consulting job, and even fewer women in executive roles that I could emulate. Moreover, I needed operational experience if I was ever going to make the leap from consultant to company head.

After weighing the pros and cons, I realized I had to move on from consulting and go in-house to immerse myself in a business. To leave a senior-level position wasn’t easy. But I had to get out of the proverbial comfort zone. And that meant taking a step back professionally to go after the career I wanted.

After several rounds of interviews, I joined AT&T to help with a high-stakes, technologically-complex product launch. It was a daunting task and a huge opportunity. I didn’t have a lot of relationships or know the way I was “supposed to” work. So I just dove in head-first, tackling all the challenges that came on the scene.

I definitely didn’t do it alone. I was unabashed about talking to people at all levels to learn everything I could, from the operations to the financials. At times it was frustrating. But I learned how to find the resources I needed and worked with some incredible people, whom I still rely on today.

After months of hard work, the launch was a success. From there, I took on projects with even greater responsibility. Nine years later, I’m in a challenging, but exciting role: leading a global-facing technology division within AT&T.

If you’re thinking about a major career move, whether it’s taking on a new role or going down an entirely different path, here are a few tips to consider as you charge forward:

Be comfortable with risk: If there’s a project or role you want, put yourself out there. Women, especially those working in male-dominated industries, are often overlooked. While you may not be the obvious candidate, being vocal about your interest will help you get noticed and put you on a path toward new opportunities, and ultimately, your dream job.

Build strong relationships: If there’s only one piece of advice to follow for the rest of your life, it’s that relationships are critical. Always treat people with kindness, even in the heat of the moment. You never know who is going to become an important advocate or ally for you down the line. It’s the people around you who will carry you through tough times and celebrate your successes.

Find a sponsor: Everyone needs career advice, whether you’re taking a leap or just aren’t sure where to go next. Someone who understands your job and industry and can provide an objective point of view or share constructive feedback on your ideas is an important resource, regardless of how high you go. A sponsor is invested in you and your career. They watch out for you and push you to take on challenging opportunities that you might otherwise shy away from.

Stay curious: As you’re exploring new avenues or a new job, accept the fact that you’re not going to be an expert on day one. You don’t know what you don’t know. Keep asking questions of everyone — colleagues, former coworkers, peers, and even junior staff ― so you can learn as much as possible to get ahead.