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Jody Gerson, the first woman to lead a major music publishing company, has been the CEO of Universal Music Publishing Group since 2015. A native of Philadelphia and graduate of Northwestern University, Gerson is partly responsible for the success of several household-name musicians, including Lady Gaga, Pharrell Williams, Alicia Keys, and Norah Jones. Last week, Gerson was the subject of the latest New York Times Corner Office column, in which she spoke about how motherhood informs her leadership style (she has three children), what she looks for in new hires, and the advice she has for recent college grads and young professionals.
To that end, below is advice culled from the column that’s particularly poignant for millennials looking to start or advance their careers. (Note: some advice might be initially hard to swallow, but I think you’ll find that, upon reflection, it’s all very sound).
1. Be quiet.
What Gerson says: “I just would like them to slow down a minute and listen. Stop talking. I’m not kidding. It’s something that I think about all the time. People who talk aren’t learning anything.”
What Gerson means: Don’t talk unless you have to. Be a person whose words mean something, whose words must be listened to, not suffered through. Too many people talk to fill dead air, when they’re nervous, to cover up what they don’t know. When you speak, you’re typically only regurgitating what you know (there are times, though, when you have to speak to find out how much you really know). In any case, listen more. A lot more. You learn by listening. It’s a skill that’s in high demand.
2. Be less self-centered.
What Gerson says: “The big question for me [in interviews] is, what do you want? It’s a trick question. If it’s all about what you want and about your trajectory, and you don’t answer the question about what you want to accomplish within this company, it’s probably not the right fit. When I interview people, I just want to know what they want to contribute ... There are people who care about having success for their next job, and there are people who buy into the idea of helping us be the best company.”
What Gerson means: Like most managers, she’s not looking for employees who solely want to use her company or group as a stepping-stone for their own careers. So how do you answer this common interview question? Try not to focus on yourself. Answer using words like “team,” “help,” “grow.” And make sure to thoroughly research the role you'd be working in and the company you'd be joining. Ideally, managers want employees who really want to work for their specific group or company (this is why you'll get the “Why do you want to work here?” question quite a bit). So, in interviews, you want to show that you’re invested in the company’s mission, service, and product(s). Invested employees will perform better, stay longer, and make their manager look better (and earn more).
3. Be a problem solver.
What Gerson says: “I like people who are solution-oriented. I know there are times when someone has to come to me to solve a problem, but the big thing is that you’re a problem solver, that you take initiative, that you’re confident.”
What Gerson means: Don’t waste your managers’ time by asking questions that you can easily answer yourself with a little research; only ask questions when you can’t find the answers after you've tried very hard to find them. Also, be proactive. Try to predict what your manager might want and need and go in search of that. Which means having the answers to her questions before she even asks for them.
4. Be unafraid to make mistakes.
What Gerson says: “I don’t mind mistakes. Go into making that mistake with confidence. Try it. See what happens. Be thoughtful. Educate yourself.”
What Gerson means: Making mistakes with confidence sounds strange, right? Why would you make a mistake with confidence? Well, what Gerson’s saying here (at least, what I think she’s saying) is you’re inevitably going to fail, get it wrong, not do something 100% correct. In fact, as most experienced managers and creative workers (and Silicon Valley types) know, it’s impossible to be 100% right and correct. So aim for doing the best you can on a certain project, and do it with as much confidence and integrity and enthusiasm as you can. If you do that, it’s going to come out a lot better than if you’re timid, cautious, and afraid of being wrong. And then the next time out, learn from your mistakes and missteps.
5. Be available on the weekends.
What Gerson says: “And are they going to be available when I have a question to ask on a Saturday and give me a quick reply? I don’t expect anyone to be staring at their phone, because it’s important to have balance, but I want somebody who wants to give it their all.”
What Gerson means: I’ve heard people tell me, 'If I have to respond to work emails on the weekends in order to get a job at that company, then I won’t work there.' To which I think (but don’t always say): 'Then good luck ever trying to find and hold a job anywhere.' Like Gerson says, you don’t have to reply to every weekend (or late-night or holiday) email right away. But never forget that you’re competing against other people who’ll be willing to do just that. And who do you think your manager wants working for her? Someone who'll get back to her quickly, or someone who won’t, leaving her to frantically search for the answer herself? Point is, be prepared to lose out to others who want it more than you do, are willing to work harder than you. If you’re okay with that, then no problem. But if you're not okay with that, then don’t say Gerson (and I) didn’t warn you.
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