10 career hacks for success

WE SHAPE TECH recently provided the stage to four accomplished women, all successful in their own right. Simone Stebler from Egon Zehnder, Sunnie Groeneveld from Inspire925, Patrizia Laeri from SRF and Claudia Cordioli from Swiss Re were our role models and shared with us what advances their careers.

the host and panelists of the evening on stage

front, from left to right: Remo Steinmetz, Petra Ehmann, Melanie Gabriel, Sunnie Groeneveld, Claudia Cordioli,
back, from left to right: Janine Fuchs, Hana Disch, Patrizia Laeri, Simone Stebler

Why does WE SHAPE TECH provide the stage to female role models?Exposure to female leaders inspires the next generation and impacts their careers. Exposing high school girls at the age of 14 to female software engineers for 1h increases the likelihood to study a STEM field by 30%. (research, Clementine Van Effenterre, post doc Harvard University)

Being an engineer myself, I structured this panel into three buckets: performance, power dynamics and personal network. There are of course further topics, such as dealing with emotions, confidence or perseverance which we could cover in future sessions.

the three pillars of success

Let’s start with the first building block: performance. Prior to starting to work at Google, I received the career advice to focus on performance – rather than on networking or making myself visible. Later on I read “The lie of industriousness – why women end up in the hamster wheel and men in the board room” which questions an over-focus on performance however. Hence, how important is performance really? Let’s ask our four role models.

Is performance key?

Simone Stebler recommends a balanced approach. “Being a top performer is key, (…) but on the other hand visibility is key as well”, she said (video snippet). And let’s be honest, what would performance be worth if nobody knew about your work? Hence, focus on performance but don’t forget to update key decision makers about your successes.

Claudia Cordioli went even further and added that “if you want to have a career, overperforming is kind of a must” (video snippet). She encourages you to go above and beyond of what you’re asked to do and, irrespectively of the size of the obstacles, never give up!

(1) Performance is key, but ensure your performance is visible. 

(2) Not performance, but overperformance is required for a career.

If you don’t want to end up in the hamster wheel, ensure your overperformance gets the visibility that it deserves. That sounds quite easy, right? So, once you overdeliver, how can you make yourself visible?

How do you make yourself visible?

Patrizia experienced how powerful social media can be. She built up her social media presence over time and nowadays, Patrizia is a LinkedIn top voice which is a rare distinction given it is only awarded to the 25 most relevant German speaking authors (video snippet). 

Patrizia’s advice: Be courageous and make yourself visible on the respective channels (video snippet). Be out there on social media, connect and engage with other people. She recalled that Tijen Onaran, Germany’s networking queen, once tweeted to Elon Musk and, without knowing each other, he tweeted back (and she received 1.5M likes)! This is possible.

(3) The world belongs to the courageous.

(4) Step up and engage on social media! To connect even with your heros is possible.

And once you can put a check on performance and visibility: what else do our role models recommend you to tackle in order to move up the ladder?

How important are sponsors? How do you find them?

Let’s move to the second building block: power dynamics. You can be as good as you want. If people who have power over you don’t like you, they can put down your hard work. 

If you want to have a career, think about your promoters and detractors, recommends Claudia. Think about striking alliances, she added. It’s important that people know what you do so they can support you. (video snippet)

Behind every successful person are at least a hand full of people that make this person successful, says Sunnie (video snippet). She also believes that picking people strategically might not always work because chemistry might not match. 

Sunnie got inspired by a guy in Silicon Valley who she now copies from time to time. He approached her at a conference and, without knowing each other, he said “Hi, I am …. How can I help?” Think about about how you can give and contribute to other people’s successes – most people will eventually pay it back. According to Wharton professor Adam Grant givers end up at the top and the bottom (TED talk). The ones who give but also know their boundaries make it to the top, while the ones who give but neglect their own needs remain at the bottom. 

(5) Alliances are key.

(6) Who are your promoters, who your detractors?

(7) Give! Use the power of “how can I help?” and contribute to others successes.

The big boss ladies on stage

Now, you’re overperforming, visible and have a powerful support network. What’s missing for your career?

Does the choice of a partner or having a family matter to the success of your career?

Does your partner impact your career? I asked Claudia. “A lot!”, she replies (video snippet). The choice of a partner critically impacts a person’s wellbeing, resilience and capacity to make the right decisions, she finds. When you go home you have this “protected environment” with your partner where you can be yourself, be vulnerable and recover. It’s crucial for your success!

Patrizia puts it clearly that her career and having a family would not have been possible without the help of her mother (video snippet). Her mother stays with them many days of the week to allow Patrizia to pursue her dream job. Switzerland has one of the most expensive child care systems of the world, and unless you’re from a wealthy background or make significant amounts of money, it is hard to combine a successful career with having a family in Switzerland.

Can women have it all? Simone recalls that she was surprised to see so many successful female executives through her job at Egon Zehnder who also had a family (video snippet). Often the husband stays at home, has more flexible working schedules or they have nannies, she added. But she brings it to the point: “Equality starts at home”. If you have equality there, it heavily impacts your career. Hence, pick your partners wisely!

Yes, you can have it all (family and career), but:

(8) Choose your partner wisely and

(9) put a support infrastructure in place.

(10) Equality starts at home.

Thank you for reading my blogpost until the end. I’d be curious to hear your feedback: have you had similar or different experiences? What worked for you, what didn’t? Do you have suggestions for further events or highlights at we shape tech? I am looking forward to hearing from you on Twitter @petramarii and @weshapetech.

With all this information, here are the top ten learnings in a nutshell:

Top 10 take aways:

  1. Performance is key, but ensure your performance is visible. 
  2. Not performance but overperformance is required for a career.
  3. The world belongs to the courageous. 
  4. Step up and engage on social media! Connecting even with your heros is possible.
  5. Alliances are key. 
  6. Who are your supporters and who your detractors?
  7. Give! Use the power of “how can I help?” and contribute to others successes. They will pay you back eventually.
  8. Choose your partner wisely.
  9. You can have it all (family and career), but you need a support infrastructure.
  10. Equality starts at home.


Further literature:

Adam Grant – Give and Take – Why helping others drives our success, 2013

Brigitte Witzer, Die Fleiss Lüge – warum Frauen im Hamsterrad und Männer im Verwaltungsrat landen, 2015

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