Here are 3 Years of Learnings as an Early-In-Career at Microsoft
Earlier this month, I officially celebrated 3 years at Microsoft 🎉🎉🎉 by working (lol). January is one of those extremely busy months preparing for our upcoming quarterly earnings investor call… You can find more details on our Microsoft Investor Relations site.
With so much going on in my life, I sometimes feel like I haven’t truly had a chance to reflect on how much has happened in 3 years. From joining the workforce at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic to moving across the border and taking on a new role at the Corporate HQ, I’ve seen a lot, heard a lot, and been through a lot!
Today, I share my top learnings to:
- help students and early-in-careers who are interested in working at Microsoft
- give leaders some insight into what is top of mind for early-in-careers
- share thoughts and perspectives with anyone else who is curious about my unique journey
Learning #1: There is no shortage of networking opportunities
Many insist that it is hard to network and meet new people, especially when working remotely or going through a pandemic. From experience, I beg to differ because it really boils down to time management and putting yourself out there. As a new grad, I joined Microsoft knowing virtually no one. I had no parents, peers, or mentors who worked there. I was the anomaly from Calgary, Alberta and most of my cohort consisted of previous interns who already knew how things worked.
When the pandemic started and remote work became real, I quickly recognized that I would go crazy from the lack of connection. I started scheduling virtual coffee chats during my lunch hours to give myself a break and expand my knowledge of the company and its many people. I reached out to leaders, peers, and people who I thought were cool and found online. I learned about and attended many events, joined different communities, and volunteered across committees. I raised my hand for almost anything. This eventually led to 300 coffee chats with peers and leaders around the world (you can read my 3 secrets to better networking here).
Nowadays, I find myself a little bit in over my head in the networking department… writing 100+ personalized notes over the holiday season alone. It’s definitely been challenging to balance the need to nurture my existing relationships with my interest in meeting new people… but it’s a fun challenge! I also realize that I have the so-called advantage of being an extrovert, and would recommend that you introverts read this Mentorship Moments blog post with Alec Taylor.
Learning #2: Life is too short to work in a job or a team that you hate for 8 hours a day
I’ve had friends who knew they didn’t like what they did within a few months and found a new role within the same year. They’re doing much better now. I’ve talked to managers who preferred that their employees stay for a few years to maintain consistency and make an impact before leaving… but then realized that the best leaders supported their employees in their career development—even if it meant moving on to other things.
Talk to people. You’re not alone on the journey, even if you think you are. Find friends, mentors, or peers that you can trust in or outside of the company. You may find yourself gaining new perspectives and finding new solutions that you haven’t even thought of.
My closest mentors have always said to put yourself first because the company was always going to do what was in its best interest at the end of the day. This means that you can (and should) give yourself permission to leave a toxic team or pursue a completely different discipline that you’ve always been fascinated with. Some people found these opportunities within Microsoft, and others found their calling at a startup or in another industry. Although these moves can seem scary, and we may feel like others will judge our decisions, we should all try to give less of a damn!
Learning #3: It is OK to achieve the same things on a different timeline
From talking to so many people, I’ve heard A LOT of different perspectives on the topic of career advancement and development. Some love the fast pace of the tech industry and switch roles and teams every 2 or 3 years to climb the corporate ladder. Others prefer to maintain their work-life balance and really immerse themselves in a team or organization before looking elsewhere. You can do either of these at different points in your career path… there’s really no right or wrong approach. Challenge yourself to go beyond your comfort zone, but give yourself grace to prevent burnout.
Some people are able to negotiate a higher level upon starting a new role. Others join at a lower level but get promoted sooner. Everyone’s timeline is different and that is OK. One of the best pieces of advice I’ve come across: Measure progress against yourself. If you’re in a better place than you were last month or last year, then you’re on the right path.
Measure progress against yourself and who you were yesterday, not against who someone else is today.advice for imposter syndrome or feeling insecure
When it comes to promotions, decisions seem to be based on the visibility of your impact as a result of your self-advocacy. Having a strong relationship with your manager is critical. Being part of highly visible projects or teams helps. Building relationships with your manager’s peers and skip managers is also important because they all have a say in people discussions and decisions. Everything takes time to build and nurture, so start now.
Learning #4: You need to bet on yourself before you can convince others to
It can be awkward to advocate for yourself, but remember that everyone else is busy following their own plans and dreams. Even if you have an awesome manager, they can’t always speak up on your behalf… so you need to learn how to show up and share your strengths and learnings with others. One of my managers gave me a great tip for self-advocacy: Share what you learned and how it helped you achieve great results.
What did you learn and how did it help you achieve results?how to share what you’ve been doing in a way that helps others
When I joined Microsoft Canada, I knew very quickly that I wanted to work at our Corporate HQ one day because I was interested in understanding our business across different markets and industries. When I spoke to many people who made the switch or chose not to, I often heard that it would take at least a few years, especially with my lack of experience at the company. This didn’t stop me from applying for jobs that were a lot more senior and having conversations with hiring managers to show my interest. I ended up landing a cool Corporate HQ role after a 1.5 years. Sometimes, all it takes is a bit of luck and a leader who will take a bet on you… and that can only happen if you bet on yourself first, instead of making excuses!
Check out one of my very first blog posts from many years ago on Self Advocacy vs. Cockiness.
Learning #5: Organizational politics can be both fascinating and frustrating
A big company comes with big teams and many different perceptions and approaches to management vs. empowerment. As much as corporate cultural values are espoused at the macro level, team culture is greatly influenced at the micro level by those on the immediate leadership team.
In my old role, I had the unique opportunity to sit in and listen to many leadership meetings and see how decisions were made at different levels. It was interesting to see how managers with conflicting agendas came together when pushed by their senior leaders to focus on specific outcomes. It was frustrating to see siloes of teams working in redundant fashion because they felt the need to keep things under wraps until they had fully flushed out plans—only to find out that the priorities were shifting yet again.
Due to my curious nature, I often witnessed conflicting approaches to the same problems across different pockets of the company. Wondering why these different teams didn’t just speak to each other and work together, I came across 3 common challenges:
- the company is huge and many teams are not even aware of each other and their related interests
- the teams report to different leaders who have very different priorities and measures of success
- everyone is busy achieving their own goals and priorities because that’s what they’re paid to do, so bridging these connections is more of a bonus than a necessity
Sometimes, I feel a bit lost in all this organizational madness. As an individual contributor, I know that I need to focus on my immediate priorities to further the goals of my team and department. Yet, I am equally compelled to dig deeper into the qualms of other organizations to connect the small and disparate dots in hopes of understanding—and one day influencing—the bigger picture.
Thanks for reading my random thoughts and learnings from my time at Microsoft so far. These perspectives may very well apply to corporate life in general, so take them as you will!
- There is no shortage of networking opportunities. Put yourself out there by asking for coffee chats and overcoming the fear of rejection, joining different communities to gain new perspectives, and raising your hand for opportunities to work with new people.
- Life is too short to work in a job you hate for 8 hours a day. Are you really OK wasting 1/3 of your current life being miserable — or worse — apathetic? If you’re unhappy, is there anything you can do about it? Even talking to someone can be a big step forward.
- It is OK to achieve the same things on a different timeline. You are in charge and set the pace for your own path. Challenge yourself to go outside of your comfort zone, but give yourself grace so that you don’t burn out and compromise your mental or physical health.
- You need to bet on yourself before you can convince others to. Learn about self-advocacy and keep practicing it. Read Self Advocacy vs. Cockiness, it’s short and sweet.
- Organizational politics can be both fascinating and frustrating. Keep talking to people in places that you’re not familiar with so you can gain empathy and perspective. You never know how these dots can connect one day!
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