Kathleen Benjamin | Crain's

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Kathleen Benjamin

Background:  

Brotman Financial Group is an independent financial services firm with a team of certified financial planner professionals who provide individuals, small businesses and families with investment, retirement, estate, insurance and business planning. Kathleen Benjamin joined the Timonium, Md.-based firm in 2015, after operating her own single planner firm in Cincinnati, Ohio.

The Mistake:

The mistake was getting hung up thinking about my career track and job title when I first started working.

When I graduated from college I had done a couple internships and chose to move forward with a position at a Big 8 accounting firm. Within nine months we lost some major clients and I was part of the downsizing. That was a huge awakening for me, because I thought that was where my career and my life was going to be.

That experience taught me to not be so focused on a company and a career track. I learned instead to focus on building my inventory of skills to make me valuable in whatever company I was working in, so I would be prepared for the next opportunity if something like this were to happen again.

One of my earlier bosses presented that inventory of skills concept to me and it was an aha moment for me in my youth. It changed the way I was looking at opportunities and jobs. I was really fortunate that I had a good boss to put that bug in my ear, because I figured it out within the first three years of my career.

As I moved from one opportunity to another, a hiring individual would bring up a specific skill. To me it didn’t seem like a big deal, but it was something unique to my skill set compared to some of the other candidates. That affirmed to me that having an inventory of skills and being well-rounded and having a diversity of skills is more important than a job title.

One of the big moves I made was to move from internal audit over to a corporate job with Chiquita Brands. I was part of a smaller division within a big corporation which was like a startup division. It was very entrepreneurial. I got to learn how to build and work with a smaller team building products and building a business. That has served me well when I made the change from my corporate life into my current position as a business owner. By working in that startup division for so many years, and coordinating with sales teams, marketing and production, it helped me think more strategically. It really helped me be more successful as an entrepreneur because I’d been exposed to how to build a business and make management decisions.

Having an inventory of skills and being well-rounded and having a diversity of skills is more important than a job title.

The Lesson:

The lesson is to really evaluate and look at an opportunity when it comes to you. Don’t just consider what the title and the salary is, but whether it’s a skill set that’s going to add and enhance your inventory of skills. Is it an additional skill set or something repetitive? At the end of the day it’s that skill set that will get you that next opportunity or help you succeed in your current position.

Don’t get hung up on the job title. Really try and drill down and get more detail as far as what skills you will be exposed to. Think about, can I coordinate and work with other departments? Will you be exposed to other things that will enhance your experience and your perspective? Maybe it will make you more successful in applying the skills you already have, because you have that perspective and experience with other disciplines you wouldn’t normally be exposed to.

It’s imperative to think about what skills and disciplines you’ll be exposed to early in your career to make you as well-rounded as possible. You may not be an expert in one topic, but you become exposed to and are knowledgeable about a lot of different topics. That makes you more flexible and more usable if a company wants to redirect you to a different opportunity when a business changes.

Brotman Financial Group is on Twitter at @brotmanplanning.

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