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The Three Essential People You Need in Your Career

  |  March 31, 2011   |  Comments

Do you have a buddy, a coach, and a connector to guide your career?

You've heard that it takes a village to raise a child, but it also takes a village to raise a digital rock star. Well, perhaps not a village, but there are three critical people that you need on your side. Whether you're a veteran or a rookie, arming yourself with these people will make all the difference.

The Buddy

Children have this right. When they enter a new situation, they immediately start scouting out an ally. They do this naturally and it's usually over some random commonality like, "we both have Spiderman shirts on." When I entered kindergarten, I was immediately drawn to the little girl with the purple barrette. Since I was also wearing a purple barrette, I knew she was special. Without saying a word, I sat next to her and pointed to my hair. She smiled and we remained best friends throughout the next nine years of elementary and middle school.

Many of us do this naturally as adults – particularly if we did it as children and were successful. Like my kindergarten experience, it usually happens during the first few weeks of our "real world" job and it's usually over some commonality like, "we're both new and clueless." Regardless, of when we "buddy-up," the expectations of what it means remain the same.

Similar to your childhood best friend, your buddy will "have your back." He or she will listen, provide support, and help you sort things out. Your buddy will spend countless hours listening to you tell the same story along with hours of follow-ups. Unlike your other friends, he or she knows and understands what you do for a living, shares a passion for it, and may even have a connection to the same work people (you know, the people you have countless hours of stories to share). And unlike your other friends, your work buddy knows what you are like at work. Therefore, they can give you perspective like no one else can.

The Connector

We all have one and it's not necessarily your grandmother. It's the other person in your life that adores you and shares that adoration with others. You're the first person that comes to mind when someone asks for a recommendation on almost anything…date, job, speaking opportunity, focus group, etc. I should point out the obvious – your connector, by definition, is connected, which is why they are so important. Not only do they love you, but they are also loved. They are a trusted source to others, which is why they matter.

Now, here's the tricky part. If you're good at your work and have earned a solid reputation, it's probably because of a "connector" in your life. However, this is a fragile relationship. Connectors have expectations of you. They expect you to follow up with the leads, contacts, or information they send your way, whether or not it's actually of any interest to you. Since their reputation is at hand, they want to make sure they are represented well by you. Otherwise, they will stop.

My advice is to identify either who is playing this role in your life now or who played it at some point and then set expectations. Be honest. Although they think they know you best, they are not living your life. They may think they have a great opportunity for you, but you're finally enjoying some work-life balance and want to stay put. Let your connector know how appreciative you are of their support and also share your plans with them. But be warned: once they know your current plans – whether they are to run a marathon or buy an apartment – they'll be looking for ways to help you out on this front as well.

The Coach

Anyone play sports in high school? I played high school basketball, and my coach's job was to understand my strengths and weaknesses and help me move beyond them to become a better player for myself and the team. For example, the stress of being a "starter" made me lose sleep before games, therefore, he would never share the lineup with me until we got to the game, and the energy of the room would override my fear. Others on the team had the opposite reaction, but it was our coach's job to know us well enough to make these calls.

A coach is more than a boss or mentor; they don't simply provide guidance – they're invested in your success. They see it as their legacy, duty, and responsibility to guide you through your career. Coaches are usually "big picture" people. They are not necessarily preparing you for your next meeting or job, but for life. I should add that this is the hardest person to find in your career. If you have one, be very appreciative. If you don't, then be one to someone else. I believe in Karma; the goodness of it will come back to you, and if it doesn't, you will be fulfilled by the role you are providing in someone else's life.


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Anna Papadopoulos

Based in New York, Anna Papadopoulos has held several digital media positions and has worked across many sectors including automotive, financial, pharmaceutical, and CPG.

An advocate for creative media thinking and an early digital pioneer, Anna has been a part of several industry firsts, including the first fully integrated campaign and podcast for Volvo and has been a ClickZ contributor since 2005. She began her career as a media negotiator for TBS Media Management, where she bought for media clients such as CVS and RadioShack. Anna earned her bachelor's degree in journalism from St. John's University in New York.

Follow her on Twitter @annapapadopoulo and on LinkedIn.

Anna's ideas and columns represent only her own opinion and not her company's.

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