This job advice is so rarely taken it deserves repeating: “Tell people what you want, and then go out and get it,” Eileen McDonnell, the CEO of Fortune 1000 insurance firm Penn Mutual, told The Huffington Post.
McDonnell said she’s surprised by how few men and women ask for what they want in their careers. "So many people complain they haven’t gotten anywhere but they haven’t taken the lead."
Recently on a trip to a college campus, McDonnell left her email and phone number with about 100 business students and encouraged them to reach out for business advice or help.
“Only one student contacted me,” she said. Oh, P.S., she wound up offering him a job.
Her advice holds for someone looking for work, gunning for a promotion or negotiating a raise or more job flexibility -- and it applies to everyone from recent grads to seasoned veterans.
Consider how New York Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan landed one of the coolest jobs in journalism.
Sullivan had been at the Buffalo News for decades when she set her sights on the gig, which involves covering The New York Times from within the publication. It’s a coveted position that offers unrivaled access to the people on your beat, i.e., Times editors and reporters.
“I had actually thought for many years that a fun thing for me to do would be the public editor of The New York Times,” she said in an interview on the Longform podcast released Wednesday. When she heard the job was opening up in 2012, she quickly reached out to the managing editor at the time, Jill Abramson, and raised her hand.
”I pretty much did decide that I was going to get the job,” she said. Many interviews and memos later -- there were more than 60 candidates for the role -- she had it.
When the Times offered Sullivan her job, she accepted without asking about money, which Sullivan acknowledges wasn’t a great move. She later negotiated pay and reminded everyone to do the same.
“I tell this particularly to young women,” she said. “It’s not always effective, but worth asking.” (See!) The worst thing that happens is you get turned down.
Sullivan was obviously qualified for the role, but that doesn’t diminish the force of the lesson: ask, ask, ask.
McDonnell said she recently gave someone a promotion after the person asked for a new role. "She’d never have been on my radar," McDonnell said.
I've seen other people, much earlier on in their careers than Sullivan or McDonnell ask for -- and get -- raises, new positions, flexible schedules, etc. No one was rushing to offer them any of it.
In her own career, McDonnell has made sure to ask for what she needed. When Penn Mutual offered her the position of CEO a few years ago, she made sure to tell the company that her priority was her daughter -- now 10 years old.
“I told them, if you call me and I’m out, you know, being the mystery reader at school, I don’t want to hear there’s a problem,” she said. "If that’s going to be an issue, I’m not the right candidate.”
They were OK with that.