AT&T’s Jennifer Van Buskirk: I Didn’t Plan My Career Path. Should You?

"Look at your career as a long-term campaign," says Van Buskirk.

Jennifer Van Buskirk is president of the Northeast region at AT&T Mobility. (AT&T is No. 4 on the DiversityInc Top 50 Companies list)

Jennifer Van Buskirk / LINKEDIN

I’m often asked how my career path took shape. Did I painstakingly map out a plan and intend to be exactly where I am today? The short answer no, and I wouldn’t have done it any other way.

I love where my career has led me so far — and for those of you looking to advance in your profession, here is my counsel on how to get to the next level:

Work hard and deliver results: If there is a glue that holds any good career together, it’s hard work. You have to earn your success. No one will hand it to you. You own how much effort and initiative you bring to the table. You are in control of the quality of your work and delivering results. Never stop learning and working to find ways to make yourself more valuable professionally. Depending on your industry, this may mean going back to school to gain an advanced degree, taking classes online to achieve certifications – or simply putting in the hours to lead an important company project. As Ann Landers said, “Opportunities are usually disguised as hard work, so most people don’t recognize them.”

Take smart risks: I think of my career as an adventure. I’ve always taken the high risk/high reward path and routinely embraced positions that pushed me out of my comfort zone and helped me grow. I often coach people to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. If you are too comfortable, you’re stagnant and not learning. This may be some strange genetic defect, but I am most excited about an opportunity when there is a possibility of failure. I see opportunities like these as a competition, and I like winning. The greater the challenge, the greater the reward for success. And, I always have confidence that my team will find a way to win regardless of the challenge.

Be open to opportunities: Plans are great for the short term. For example, when it comes to achieving sales goals, I love seeing people with laser focus — an “eyes on the prize” mentality. But, when it comes to your career, if you lock yourself into a rigid professional plan and put blinders on in order to achieve your goal, you could miss out! My advice? Stay open minded about your career. Learn as much about the business as you can to develop a broad perspective – and don’t overlook lateral moves that expand your knowledge and skills. Finally, be flexible about the timing. I’ve have always taken advantage of opportunities as they’ve presented themselves — even at inopportune times.

Take a new job working for a smart leader without really knowing what the job entailed?  Sure!  Start a new venture from scratch to help address a key growth area for the company?  I’m in!  Move to the Northeast to oversee an enormously talented sales team through an extraordinary change? Yes, please!

Look at your career as a long-term campaign. A well-mapped out plan will get you only so far. Work hard, take smart risks, and don’t miss opportunities to expand what you thought was possible in your career. Your next adventure could be your best one yet.

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