Careers Advice From A Trailblazing 35-Year-Old CEO

Amy Golding is a pioneer. At 35, she’s a working mother in the top job at Opus Talent Solutions – making her the youngest female CEO of a £100m turnover company in the UK. Working in a world where 85% of employees are men, she’s also on a mission to get more women – and people from all backgrounds – into the tech sector. Here, she shares her 12 career dos and don’ts…
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1. DON’T Plan Too Much

“A lot of people know what they want to do as a career very early on, but the world is changing so fast, you shouldn’t plan so much that you ignore the pace of change or the opportunities that might come your way. By 2030, 80% of jobs available will be ones which don’t even exist yet. It’s a change that will take place within one generation – and parents may still be telling their children to go to university to forge vocational careers. If you ask me, it’s far more helpful to develop skills like flexibility and adaptability. That way you’ll know an opportunity when you see one.” 

2. DO Embrace Technology

“The development of technology has been such a leveller across the world of work. As long as you’re tech savvy, you can end up in a really well-paid career these days. There’s no need to go down the classic educational route if it’s not for you. Tech is also helping us build such diverse workforces – it’s no longer about hiding the IT department in the office basement. All these teams – be they fashion, healthcare, marketing – they’re all underpinned by tech. So many roles are based on being innovative or design minded. If that sounds like you, maybe there’s no need to go to university for four years to follow your passion. In the tech world, people come at it from all sorts of backgrounds, and access to training has finally become more widely available. It’s really exciting.”

3. DON’T Forget To Be Yourself In Interviews

“Interviews are always a bit of a chicken and egg situation. No one is brilliant at them when they apply for their first job – I certainly wasn’t – and it’s only something you get better at the more experience you have. People spend too much time preparing – so much so they forget to be themselves. Think of it as a two-way process – a conversation and not a test. If you’re not using that time to ask questions or find out if it’s the right role for you, it’s a wasted opportunity. Very few interviewers enter a meeting expecting interviewees to say one specific thing or give them a ‘right’ answer. They want to get to know you and see how you respond to different scenarios. You won’t be able to form a connection if you’re not yourself.”

4. DO Ask For Help At The Beginning

“Starting a new job is always daunting, which is why there shouldn’t be any shame in proving how much you want to learn by asking as many questions as possible. No one expects you to be an expert on day one. Making an impact is as much about good listening as it is about talking. Give yourself time to find your feet before you start trying to change things. Don’t worry, you’ll be just as visible in the long run.” 

As long as you’re tech savvy, you can end up in a really well-paid career these days. There’s no need to go down the classic educational route if it’s not for you.

5. DON’T Wait For Opportunities To Be Handed To You

“A lot of people wonder how I managed to get to this point at my age, but it comes down to never looking at my career as a ladder. If you do, you end up telling yourself you have to climb every rung. It isn’t true – especially in certain industries like tech or media. This idea of the ‘corporate ladder’ indoctrinates us to believe there’s only one route that all the people at the company have to follow to be successful. It just doesn’t make sense. Looking back, I used the people around me to create new paths, new positions, and ensure I got the right experience to get me to the next level. Some people like having their career path mapped out, but if you’re determined to get to the top, I’d drop that notion.”

6. DO Know What You’re Good At

“Managing teams is all about keeping your direct reports small – I’ve never had more than five people working directly under me – and making sure they’re all better at something than you are. That way, you create a team where everyone feels they have a role to play and where they can add value. You can’t do everything yourself – it’s impossible – and managing more and more people isn’t the answer either. You have to manage strong people who manage strong people themselves – that way you create a trickle-down, chain effect that benefits everyone.”

7. DON’T Ask For What You Don’t Deserve

“I’m often asked about how women should ask for promotions or pay rises and I just don’t get it. How do these companies function when employees are encouraged to randomly ask for pay rises or promotions any day of the week? It’s chaotic. If your company doesn’t have a clear system for promotions, then it’s their fault. We have such a clear structure around promotions, and the goals and targets are the same for everyone. Employees know exactly what they have to do to get their next promotion or pay rise. If there’s no roadmap in place, be a part of the solution. Go to HR or whoever looks after personnel and explain how helpful a formal promotional path would be – regardless of gender – so it’s clear. The alternative is running a 300-person company where everyone wakes up deciding that’s the day they’re asking for a promotion. No company can function properly that way.”

8. DO Recognise Setbacks Are Inevitable

“I’ve had so many personal and professional setbacks over the years – none of which I’ve allowed to stand in my way. In my early 20s I had an operation that left me completely deaf in one ear, at a time when I was still struggling to feel heard at work. Suddenly, I couldn’t hear properly either. My confidence took a real knock because in a busy meeting I couldn’t hear what was going on. I was also too trusting of the wrong people in my first business. But sometimes the lesson you think you’re supposed to learn isn’t the one you take away. That time, I thought the lesson was to toughen up and close myself down emotionally at work. But I soon realised the mistake was failing to create an environment full of trustworthy people. I can’t change who I am – nor should I – but it did make me approach things differently. As long as you learn something, that’s all you can expect.”

Employees know exactly what they have to do to get their next promotion or pay rise. If there’s no roadmap in place, be a part of the solution. Go to HR or whoever looks after personnel.

9. DON’T Shy Away From Conflict

“I say this as someone who hates conflict, but the reality is that healthy confrontation is usually the right answer. It’s something I’ve really had to work on, but difficult conversations are a part of working life. Sometimes, I’ll write some key points down the night before and practise them with a neutral party (someone who knows the people involved but isn’t actually involved) so I’m more focused in the actual meeting. This third party might help you see the other person’s point of view or challenge your own opinions before you go in there, so you’re more prepared to either fight your corner or make some concessions. Also, try to stay outcome focused. It’s tempting to be drawn into the disagreement too deeply – i.e. the original problem – which only serves to set you on this path to prove your point. It isn’t helpful.” 

10. DO Know The Working World Has Changed

“One of the first moves I made at Opus was changing the dress code. It was all about suits and ties, and while I made it more business-casual, lockdown took things to another level. After a year and a half of being at home in your gym kit, proving to your bosses and clients that it makes zero difference to how efficient you are, it’s going to be hard for companies to enforce the same cultures or codes as before. People know you don’t have to be wearing a tie to do your job well. In the office, my general rule is: make an effort and feel good in what you’re wearing. That means something different to everyone and for our company, it works. I always know I’m losing interest in a job when my outfits start slipping.”

11. DON’T Rush Your Return To Work When You’re A Mother

“My own experience of motherhood in relation to my career has been very specific – I gave birth to my daughter four weeks before the first lockdown, so I have no idea what becoming a mother and being back in the office only a matter of weeks later would have felt like. Eventually, I did come back three days a week when she was four or five months old – which probably sounds quite soon – but we were all working from home, so I was able to balance the two. It’s made me realise that coming back to work wasn’t about switching my focus from my family to KPIs, it’s about coming to terms with physically leaving her. In hindsight, I’ve been lucky to have ample transition time. It’s prompted me to make some real changes to our maternity leave policy and offer more support in making that adjustment. We now let our working mothers work as many days in the office or at home as they like. You can’t prepare yourself for how you’re going to feel once you become a mother, so knowing there’s a bit of balance on offer is everything.”

12. DO Find Your Thing

“My dad once told shared some invaluable careers advice with me. It doesn’t matter what it is, but eventually, work towards being the best at something. It doesn’t matter if it’s pig farming, he said, as long as you’re the expert in pig farming. It’s a philosophy I hold onto – especially as someone who was quite worried about being an ‘all-rounder’ at school and university. Today I see myself as an expert in building diversity in the tech industry and narrowing the tech gap. It’s all about making yourself indispensable – do the job you’ve been given, but better than anyone expects.” 

 

Amy Golding is the CEO of OpusTalentSolutions.com. Visit Nology.io and follow her on Instagram @ItsAmyGolding

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