This advice applies to starting anything new – whether it is a job, project, etc.
It has been my experience that when you’re (1) explicit about your goals/intentions and (2) make them time-bound, they’re more likely to happen.
As stated, before arriving at Microsoft I knew what personal goals I wanted to accomplish. Which were, to learn how to build scalable software, and get mentored at 3 distinct levels – manager, skip, and the executive level. And I set a realistic timeline of how long it would take me to accomplish those goals, 3 years.
Contrast this to most new hires who take a laissez-faire approach to a new job. Opting instead to take their time in figuring out what they want out of this job/career.
Let me say there’s nothing wrong with that approach if you don’t mind taking your time. But I noticed that I moved much faster and with purpose than other peers of mine, during my time at Microsoft.
Due to my accelerated timeline, I had to be proactive. I had to seek out the experiences/opportunities I needed, to achieve my goals. I couldn’t sit back and let them come to me (or not) over the years because I only had (max) 3 years to spare!
A concrete example of me moving fast was me shooting my shot to get to know Microsoft’s EVP of Gaming, Phil Spencer.
Months into the job, I signed up to be a BAM (Blacks At Microsoft) intern mentor. While filling out the application, I questioned what value I could offer as a mentor having JUST started out my career. But, due to my accelerated timeline, there was no time to waste questioning…only time for action.
As a newly-minted BAM mentor that summer, I had the privilege to attend the intern send-off dinner.
Unbeknownst to most, Phil Spencer, then President of the Xbox division was a big fan of the BAM intern program was in attendance that evening. We had no idea Phil would be in the house. And so we were all happily surprised when we had the opportunity to be in the room with him.
Now, once you get to know Phil, you learn that he is a very down-to-earth guy and not one for taking titles too seriously. But as a new grad coming into Microsoft, having direct access to someone the likes of Phil was uncommon so I was a little nervous.
In the square room, we sat in 5 or so circular tables spread throughout the room so that the staff had a path to take orders. There were around 30 people in attendance – a mix of interns and mentors. Having sat down before Phil arrived, I was sitting about three tables away from his.
The conversation at each table boomed as appetizers were brought out. About 30 minutes later, the waiting staff came and took orders for the main course.
It was during this lull that the BAM internship leaders took the opportunity to acknowledge Phil’s presence. And what his attendance at this dinner meant to the program.
Phil then stood up, said a couple of words about his commitment to the program. And the importance of the BAM internship in supporting Microsoft’s larger D&I (Diversity & Inclusion) efforts.
Then dinner began and the main courses arrived. All while eating, my mind was working on how to approach Phil so I could get the next meeting.
Sure, I was nervous but I kept thinking to myself, “you’ve only got three years here and you never know when you’re going to get this opportunity again”.
Dinner soon finished and we were on to the final course; dessert. I didn’t want to interrupt the man while he was enjoying dessert so I decided to wait until after he’d finished.
On the outside, I sat there working on my own dessert and engaging in conversation at my table. But on the inside, I worried that Phil might get called off and I would not get the opportunity to introduce myself. Luckily, that didn’t happen.
Shortly after he finished his dessert and I noticed he’d begun re-engaging with the table, I decided to shoot my shot. Walking over to the now-empty seat near his, I calmly greeted Phil and introduced myself.
I explained that I was a recent former intern, turned full-time new hire, and BAM mentor. Then I said his attendance at this dinner was inspiring, given that it is very rare for interns to have such intimate access to someone at his level. It showed a level of approachability you don’t always see from senior leadership at big companies (one of the reasons I loved Microsoft).
Phil thanked me for the kind words. He returned the favor by commending me on paying it forward by becoming a BAM intern mentor.
I then asked if it was possible for us to meet in the following weeks, as I had a project I would love to interview him for and get his viewpoint on.
Phil graciously accepted and told me to contact him via email to set it up. I left that evening feeling proud of myself for taking the opportunity and the initiative to reach out to Phil and plant the seeds of a relationship.
Since that meeting, I met with Phil two more times during my time at Microsoft. Once, after the interview, where we discussed my passion for helping new hires at Microsoft & an organic community I’d started. And again, just before I left Microsoft, where Phil gave me some sage advice and a farewell.
I recount this story to show that, were it not for my predefined goals and pre-set timeline, I would have let this opportunity slipped by. By fooling myself into thinking that there would be “more chances” in the future.
Aside from that dinner, I NEVER casually ran into Phil again. So in hindsight, I can definitely say there were no “more chances”.
Whenever I recall this experience, I’m reminded of Parkinson’s Law – something I only found out about in recent years. Parkinson’s Law states that work expands to fill the time allotted.
Thus, not only must you set goals, but you must time-bound them too. If you do not time-bound your goals, you fool yourself into inaction, opting for a later date of taking action.