Navigating your unique job journey

  • EY’s Marianna Imprialou expresses the importance of work-life balance and how success looks different for everyone

    For people who haven't considered a career in tech, what advice would you give them in terms of how to start that journey? What advice would you give to help them along their journey to achieve their career goals?

    The first thing is to understand what excites you and what interests you. I think that if you feel passionate about something, that’s a safe way of knowing that it is right for you.

    A career in tech can be a much broader set of roles than you might think. For most of us who moved into tech, there is no big bang moment of life pre and post tech career. It’s a more gradual process. Over a number of years, you add an extra skill or an extra responsibility and without even realising, you end up doing a job that is in tech!

    Once you're working in the tech industry, how do you know if you're in the right role?

    First of all, you have to consider whether you feel content. And by content, I mean, not content only with your work, but with your life as a whole. So you are not getting totally stressed out at home, or are unable to deal with other things because of your job. That's a big criteria for me.

    The other thing is identifying when you feel useful. That's something that drives me: the more useful I feel the more I'm able to contribute towards a goal, and the more I know that this is the right role for me.

    Finally, if a role includes elements that interest you, it's much more likely to be the right thing.

    What would your advice be to someone who feels that they're actually on the wrong path? How would they reset?

    This is the hardest moment in someone's professional life. I think that all professionals will experience it at least once, so don't panic if it happens to you.

    Sometimes people can confuse stretching or challenging moments with dissatisfaction in their career. When we are not expecting something to be challenging, we might feel that we are on the wrong path just because we feel uncomfortable. If the feeling persists, check with people who are by your side for their perspective. If you're extremely stressed or you're not happy, then definitely try to change this as soon as possible. Be aware that changing itself can be painful, so it might become harder for a while before it gets easier.

    Is there a simple way to define what success means in your career?

    I think success means something totally different for each and every individual. It's a totally fluid state. Success in vague terms would be to be able to say that you're doing the best that you can without compromising your mental or physical health, while being a well-functioning individual outside of work. If you manage this, then irrespective of role, level or salary, I would consider this to be success. But that's just my definition, someone else’s may be totally different.

    In terms of advice, mentoring, and guidance, what are the best approaches to make sure you're getting the best advice you possibly can?

    The most important thing with mentoring is to do it as naturally as possible. Not everyone needs a mentor at all stages of their career and their lives. Sometimes it’s ok for things to roll a little bit more freely, especially for junior individuals who get some support and guidance from more senior people as a matter of course. I have seen relationships which have formed naturally ending up becoming very successful mentoring relationships.

    Mentoring has definitely played an important role in my life and career, and I have been blessed by people who helped me with my career development. But not everyone constantly needs this sort of relationship and I don't want people to think that there is anything wrong if they don’t have a mentor in their lives.

    What about networking? Can it be overestimated, how important it is?

    Networking is a window to the outside world. It’s the only way to upskill yourself, to understand what other people are doing and what you need to learn. No reading, social media or studying can replace it. Because we are humans and we naturally need the connection, it supports our careers and our lives beyond professional success. It helps us as individuals when we connect with people to share problems and realise that so many others have the same worries and issues we do.

    Networking helps you get out there which is something that many people struggle with early in their tech careers. It can be a great way to promote your work without having to build a huge following on social media, for example. It’s also a great way to find and secure friendships. Even if you don't get somewhere professionally, it’s a win-win because you will have some good friends to show for it.

    What would you say to someone who is frightened of applying for a new role if they feel they may not have the skills? How would they go about solving that problem?

    Skills development can be organised and planned, or it can be a bit more natural. I think that a mixture of both approaches is most effective. I have benefited from formal training and learning different skills, especially in my field where everything changes all the time. But sometimes, on the job training and learning has a different kind of impact. There’s almost a magic in how quickly people can develop when they need to apply those skills in order to achieve something. In EY, we really endorse this type of on the job learning as it can be faster and more targeted.

    I find that people might struggle with confidence in this area. At some point they need to acknowledge that while they may not be fully qualified for something, they may have all the underpinning fundamental skills, such as problem solving, effective communication, work ethic, determination. The people who have this mentality will develop more skills more quickly because they grasp the opportunity when it arises. So don't wait until you're fully formally trained and qualified for something, take the leap now.

    Are there any free resources out there that you would recommend for skills development?

    What I would recommend is not a specific approach or platform, but a mentality. People have a level of anxiety about skills development and sometimes end up doing lots of online courses, but what they are missing is application. I recommend that people start thinking about more real-world examples, for example, how can a skill be applied rather than just the theory of something. It’s more difficult to do, but it pays off.

    This article appears in the skills, education and tech careers edition of Sync NI magazine. To receive a free copy click here.

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