From Intern to Managing Director: Embrace the Opportunities
One’s career is not always planned. Embracing opportunities can make for an interesting career journey as SHL’s Ceri Mongie shares her career navigation tips.
I frequently get asked by candidates, new starters, and interns how long I have been at SHL. When I say just over 16 years, I typically get one of two questions. I am either asked why I have stayed at SHL for so long or what my journey has been to take me from intern to Managing Director of SHL South Africa. There are many answers to both these questions, but for the focus of this blog, I want to unpack the path I have taken from starting as an intern.
It feels like just the other day when I joined SHL as an I/O Psychology intern. I was young and impressionable with two immediate goals: to complete my internship to register as a psychologist and be able to support myself financially. During my internship I was in survival mode, having to deal with being away from family and friends, being in my first ‘proper’ job, and completing my internship. I hardly had the time, energy, or experience to plan my career.
It is just over 16 years on and still today I struggle with the question ‘what is your 5, 10, 15-year career plan?’ or ‘where do you want to be in X years’ time?’ I have never had a set career plan and I do not know where I will be in 5 years time but I do know I will not stagnate. It does not mean I do not want to grow in my career or that I am not ambitious but what this means is that I give myself the space to be open to opportunities when they arise and/ or when I believe it is time to create them. I want to have learned new things and developed and still be engaged in my work. I might be in the same role or a new one, but for me, development and growth are key.
What may appear to many to be a laissez-faire or hands-off method to my career, my approach has led me through several different and exciting roles and in 2018 landed me in my current role of Managing Director for SHL South Africa. Had I put together a career plan 16 years ago, would I have put the role of MD anywhere in my career plan? I doubt it. I might have included the stereotypical obligatory comment, ‘I want to manage people one day.’ However, what I would have appreciated was some guidance and assurance that opportunities would present themselves and to embrace these opportunities.
I give myself the space to be open to opportunities when they arise and/ or when I believe it is time to create them.
Embrace the opportunity that appears in front of you
Here are five learnings that I hope will inspire you to embrace the career opportunities you are presented with and not to agonize when plans do not play out as intended.
- Be open to opportunities – too often we find ourselves saying no to something novel or different from our status quo or plan. My first role at SHL was as a consultant. This meant that I managed key accounts, brought in new accounts, and did professional service delivery on my accounts. I was a registered Industrial Psychologist and always thought I would be inclined to remain in professional services-type roles. Whilst I did focus on this area in my first few years, I found my niche which was selling, managing, and delivering on graduate recruitment projects (however still also doing other work).
I asked for the opportunity to take on more of the graduate recruitment clients as I saw a chance to own this space. This niche enabled me to focus on specific skills and development but also highlighted to my seniors my leadership strengths, commitment, and engagement. Most of my clients were graduate recruitment clients, however, I retained many of my other clients to ensure my focus did not become too limiting and still give me the exposure and variety I needed to progress. Look for opportunities that present themselves and be open to considering new ideas.
- Appreciate the advice from mentors – make work at finding a mentor that you trust and has your best interests at heart. A mentor, amongst others, can be a valuable person to see strengths and abilities in you that you may not be aware of. Identifying these strengths can help to guide you to opportunities you might have typically backed down from. I have so many examples of how one of my mentors helped identify opportunities for me, but a key memory was when he suggested I do my MBA. My immediate thought was no, I cannot do an MBA, I am not financially inclined, and I have heard MBAs are incredibly difficult. However, after a lengthy conversation and unpacking my preferences for the aspects of work I like and dislike, an MBA made sense. This advice opened an opportunity I would not have considered on my own.
- Accept opportunities – if you are presented with an opportunity, big or small, that aligns with your values and so forth take it. Not all opportunities presented work out, but many do and no matter the outcome every opportunity will afford learning and growth. Just as I had supported through a change management project of splitting the ZA BU into Commercial and Professional Services (which included the recruitment, onboarding, and development of a sales and account management team) I was presented with a new opportunity, to manage the Professional Services team. While this was a lateral move and not a promotion, I identified the value I could offer by making some fundamental changes in the way in which we delivered professional services. I accepted the opportunity which led to heading up Professional Services for Africa and the Middle East.
- Do your role to the best of your ability – there are times when doubts can creep in about whether you can make a success of your role, a project, or an opportunity. You need to remember when you ask for an opportunity the worst that can happen is a no answer; when you are presented with an opportunity the person would not be asking if they did not think you could do it.
You may not meet every KPI or goal or target all the time but if you try your best, problem-solve and ask for support, guidance, and development you are likely to succeed or you move on to your next opportunity. About two and a half years ago I decided it was time to really own my role and make some changes to how we had become accustomed to ways of working in the South African office. Not all the changes were initially well received or easy and I made some mistakes but overall if I look at how far we have come in the South African BU I can honestly say it was all worth it.
- Be authentic – if you are open about your likes and dislikes; strengths, and development areas; when things are tough and when they are going well, and when you believe a prospect is a good one for you or is not the right fit then you find the right opportunities and the right ones find you. This was a lesson my team pushed me hard to learn, but as I am learning to become more authentic, I can see further opportunities presenting themselves.
For some, this open approach to one’s career may not be comfortable or one they resonate with. However, this is my answer to how I got to where I am today. Nothing is forever—take a chance. When you are presented with an opportunity or feel a need to create an opportunity for yourself, ask yourself ‘why not?’