I was able to see Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, speak a few weeks ago at a Harvard Undergraduate Women in Business event, where she was speaking about her book Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead.
She starts each of her presentations asking the audience to stand up if they have ever said any of the following phrases, out loud. I want to be the leader in my field. I want to be the CEO of a large organization. I want to be the president of the United States.
Sheryl said that of all the places her book tour had taken her so far, the most people who had ever stood up when she asked that question was here at Harvard.
As someone who has read Sheryl’s book, I’m deeply interested in how women can progress in the workplace as well as her role at Facebook. Interestingly enough, she was speaking at Harvard the day Facebook Home was announced. I loved hearing about life behind the curtain at Facebook, and what it was like to work with Mark. Sheryl speaks candidly about doing what scares you and says, “The biggest risk I ever took was working for a 23 year old when I was 38.”
While we now see Facebook as a power house in social media, when she went to work for Facebook in 2008, it was a big risk with a potentially big reward. In Lean In, Sheryl writes about how when looking for a job, weigh your options by which company or position has the most growth. This was how she came to the decision to work for Google, and again why she chose to be COO of Facebook and not CEO of another organization.
Other advice Sheryl gives for when you’re looking to work at a great company- maybe even looking to work for MITX’s 2010 Agency of the Year– is that the best way to get a job is to phrase it in a way of how you can help them.
She tells of when an acquaintance called her at Facebook to ask what her biggest problem was and Sheryl responded that it was recruiting talent. That woman went on to direct their HR department and still works there to this day. Focus in a job search or in an interview on what the organization needs, not what you need, to really shine as a potential candidate.
Another great point Sheryl makes is that when you’re at a job, you may want to search for mentors to guide you along your path at that organization. Instead of asking, “Will you be my mentor?” which almost never works, ask instead, “I love what you’re doing, how can I help?” While you may not feel like you can add to the project, there is likely something you can do to help that person, and they will feel grateful that you asked.
Seeing Sheryl speak in person was an empowering moment for me, and seeing all of those young women believe in themselves and the future of their careers made me hopeful for women’s development in the workplace.