Winston Churchill once said a pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty. When Laura Hills, vice president of Marketing for CyberShift graduated college, the country was in the midst of an economic cycle in which it was difficult to find a job that matched her education. Much like the job-seeking graduates of today, she needed to look to sectors that were thriving and take advantage of those opportunities. As a graduate with a mathematics degree, when the opportunity arose to work in the field of computer sciences, it seemed like a natural connection and Hills entered a trainee program at a software company specializing in HR technology.
“We were being groomed for promotions from within and it was my first experience with professional mentoring,” she said. “I worked side by side with senior professional services resources who were providing HR consulting services to some of the largest companies in the U.S. I was able to build a solid foundation in the industry because I learned both the knowledge of the software application and the practical business requirements they addressed. I moved up the chain from analyst trainee through more senior levels in management relatively quickly over time.”
A senior practice director impressed upon Hills in the early years the importance of challenging herself to achieve a high standard of excellence by setting the bar higher. She created a work environment rife with education opportunities and, under her tutelage, Hills learned how to meet high expectations, which enhanced her own management style and enabled her to perform better.
“She challenged me to a level of excellence that I didn’t know I was capable of achieving,” said Hills. “It helped me establish my own personal set of standards, enabling me to advance in the organization because I developed a reputation for high quality work.”
Hills recommends people entering the workforce today seize the opportunity to learn whether it’s in a formal, professional training program or by seeking out managers that demonstrate admirable leadership characteristics.
“Mentors are out there,” she said. “But people need to be committed to going a little further either in working with someone before office hours or later in the day or by taking on extra projects. People are willing to help.”
It’s not just young people that benefit from the guidance of a mentor. At every age and every job level there are opportunities to learn and be mentored. Later in her career Hills joined a global organization with worldwide operations. This required new skills such as understanding cultural nuances and navigating the individualized requirements of different geographic markets. Although she was in a senior position, she found a mentor to help strengthen her skill set.
“I worked with a general manager who had extensive international business experience. He had lived in other countries and spoke eight languages fluently,” said Hills. “I possessed the skills and understanding of the business discipline but he shared a great deal about the business acumen by global standards. Just when you think there isn’t more to learn, you learn there’s so much more.”
Hills credits her mentor with opening doors for her and enabling her to contribute to the organization in ways that might have previously been limited. Since she had such positive mentoring experiences, Hills was eager to mentor others and seeks out opportunities to help people.
In her role as vice president of marketing at CyberShift, Hills is a proponent of programs that create learning opportunities for young adults such as a teaching event that CyberShift sponsored to promote financial literacy on the Rutgers campus last fall. In addition to helping students from Workforce Outsource Services understand their paycheck and make smart financial decisions, it helped foster connections to help these students experience success in the workplace.
“The young people attending this event understood that to rise in the workplace they needed someone who would be there to help them,” she said. “The students saw that it was more than just a one day class on financial literacy but the opportunity to make contacts with people that could mentor them along the way.
Being a mentor doesn’t have to be a full time job. Sometimes it means being a sounding board or sharing your experiences with someone. Our company philosophy supports interns and bringing in people at all different levels. Finding someone with innate talents and the right attitude and energy level, one who is willing to go the extra mile and wants to succeed is important for both professional and organizational growth. There are so many different opportunities to be mentored and to mentor others. It’s a rewarding experience.”