Karren Brady’s guide for getting to the top

We caught up with one of the UK's top business women, Karren Brady, to discover the secrets behind her stratospheric career success. From negotiating a raise to dealing with workplace sexism, here is Karren's ultimate guide to career confidence.

1. Find a female role model 

‘Women supporting other women is hugely important, and your best supporter and role model should be another woman in the workplace. Look for someone in your organisation, rather than the Hillary Clintons and Oprah Winfreys of the world, so that you can watch them in action and learn from them. You need someone to help you find your path and push you forward.’

2. Be ambitious and work hard

‘No one ever achieved anything without ambition, but you won’t finish something without a lot of hard work. Essentially, being clear on what you want and being persistent so that you can take control of the situation are both key to success.’

3. Be enthusiastic and make yourself indispensable

‘The people I work with have to be enthusiastic. It doesn’t matter how many qualifications you have, you do business with other people, so showing enthusiasm and exceeding expectations makes a big difference. People who always strive to do better for themselves and for the organisation they work for, and go above and beyond their job description are the ones who will go far. When I first started working, my idea to get ahead in business was to make myself completely indispensable. Get in early, leave late, and offer to do all the jobs that no one else wants to do.’

4. Don’t be scared of making a career switch

‘It’s never too late. I met someone recently who decided to remortgage her home at the age of 50 to start a business and is now hugely successful. It doesn’t matter what age you are, if you’ve got a passion, you can follow it. If you’ve been out of the workplace for a while, think about what you’ve been doing day-to-day because a lot of the things that you do at home are transferrable skills, such as time-keeping and budget management.’

5. Test your product

‘An entrepreneur is someone who spots a gap in the market, so you need to be able to clearly articulate why your offer is different. And then you need to test it to check that it really is a viable solution to the problem you’re trying to fix.’

6. Set yourself a plan

‘A business plan is great because, if you borrow money to start your company, then a bank can use it to see whether you are measuring up against what you said you would achieve. But, more important still, is having an action plan, so that you know exactly what you are going to do by a certain date. It will be a driver to keep you going.’

7. Deal with sexism head-on

‘If someone has been disrespectful to you in a meeting because of your gender then it is absolutely appropriate for you to talk to them on a one-to-one basis and explain why their comment offended you. Most people will appreciate that you haven’t taken them up on it in public. Often people won’t have any idea that they’ve upset you, so by talking to them you can help make sure it doesn’t happen again.’

8. Be confident to ace an interview

‘The first rule of acing an interview is to dress appropriately, according to the working environment. It’s also very important to be engaging and direct with people: say hello, shake hands and look people in the eye. These are basic things but you’d be surprised how few people actually do them.’

9. Don’t give up

‘You won’t meet anyone successful who doesn’t have a huge dose of determination. Building up a business from scratch takes a lot of time and a lot of commitment. Temporary defeats don’t matter, it’s how you cope at those points that really measures you as a person and leader. You job is to find out what went wrong, so you’ve got to be really open-eyed and honest with yourself about the business you’re running.’

10. Be clear about why you want a raise

‘When you want a raise, be really clear on why you think you deserve one. It can’t be for personal reasons, it has to be something very specific about the contribution you’ve made to the organisation. Be prepared for plan B if they say no. Sometimes that might mean being prepared to look for a new role and leave.’

11. Ask for the guest list ahead of networking events 

‘I used to do this a lot when I was younger. People will very often give you the guest list in advance if you ask for it. Then go through the list and pinpoint the 10 people that you want to meet. When it comes to approaching them, go up and tell them how pleased you are to meet them, explaining that you specifically came to the event to speak to them. That direct approach often works well.’

12. Take every opportunity

‘Your career is only as good as you make it. You don’t want to get to 45 and think, “I wish I had taken opportunities when they came along”.  You have to push yourself to take them at the time, and be prepared to step outside your comfort zone. Just go for it because, ultimately, you have to be ambitious, dedicated and strong in life.’

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