5. Tell me about some of the key things you’ve learned working for four different firms? I have had the privilege of gaining experience with four different firms, ranging from a regional, mid-size firm where I started my career to various members of the Big 5. The experience I gained at these firms was invaluable and included:
• Reinforcement of core technical skills supplemented with regular training to keep my skills up to date
• The ability to adapt and multi-task
• Effective report writing and business presentation skills
• Understanding the fine balance between too much detail and too little in terms of work ethic and communications
• The value of teamwork and skills necessary to lead effective, high performing teams
• Understanding the politics of a hierarchal organization and how to navigate your career
• The importance of building and maintaining your personal network
6. What do you think you did well during the early days of your career? I was hungry for work and hungry to learn and I made sure everybody above me knew that. Not that I’m lazy now, but when I was starting my career I wasn’t given the benefit of my prior work experience because I didn’t have any. The only thing that would get people to notice me was attitude and performance. I was focused on learning as much as I could in order to distinguish myself from my peers and advance quickly in my career. I would let all the partners and senior managers know when I was available for new work and more importantly, I would focus on getting the work done quickly and properly. Of course, I didn’t want to alienate my peers so I wasn’t aggressive. I sought out work discreetly on a continuous basis. Even if people ultimately didn’t have anything to assign to me they knew who I was and they remembered the fact that I had the right attitude.
7. What do you wish you did better in the early days of your career? Very early in my career, I didn’t really understand the importance of networking. Many of my connections from earlier in my career are now lukewarm at best, and I wish I had put more efforts into building and strengthening these connections over the years. It was not until later in my career, and through the MBA process in particular, that I truly understood the value and power of a strong network.
8. Tell me about why building a personal network is so critical for success. I think building a personal network is one of the most important things we can do to enhance our lives, both professionally and personally. The power of contact/introduction/meeting is often not recognized at the early stages. It takes work and effort to maintain these contacts over time and the important thing to remember is that you are building a network for life, not simply for a small period or timeframe. Contacts will enter and exit your network, but the most important thing to remember is to be open minded, work hard at it and help those (within reason) who reach out to you because you never know when you will reach out to your network in turn. When you do reach out, it is truly amazing to see how positively people generally respond to an overture. Of course, some people will ignore you, but the more time you invest in expanding and strengthening your connections the more likely you will receive a positive response.
Networking has affected my life in 3 main ways, all of which are incredibly important:
• Networking has facilitated new professional opportunities
• It has created opportunities for new investments
• Fundamentally, it has fostered new friendships and amazing learning opportunities
I cannot emphasize the importance of building and maintaining your personal network enough. If you want to move your life forward in a rich and satisfying way, strengthen your network.
9. You have stated that mentors were quite important in your career. Tell me about that and did you find that networking was critical in the mentorship process? Mentors in my life have typically acted as either a sounding board or role model. I have looked to them to provide guidance at different stages in my career, particularly in understanding what I needed to do to advance my career to the next stage, or to help me evaluate various professional opportunities. I have also looked to mentors to help me structure my career, using their success and experience as a roadmap for myself.
Building and maintaining my professional network has certainly aided me in selecting and connecting with my mentors. Mentors can either be informal or formal. Informal mentorship usually extends from a friendship and/or a trusting working relationship. Over time you usually find that you go to someone for advice and guidance. This naturally evolves into a mentor/mentee structure.
Formal mentorship necessitates understanding what you need from a mentor and then identifying which person can best support you in that role. For example, if you require a mentor to provide guidance on how to progress your career at your company, you may decide that you want someone in your immediate working group, or alternatively someone outside the group for an unbiased viewpoint, but with enough credibility to support you with your team members. The next step is to approach the individual and formally express your desire for them to be your mentor. Typically such overtures are not rejected, particularly if you have worked on building your network and your name has some credibility attached to it. Ultimately, it is an honour to be a mentor for someone and in fact, it is as much a learning/bonding experience for the mentor as it is for the mentee.
In spite of some challenges in his twenties such as surviving a corporate restructuring, Kannan Arasaratnam has emerged as a man who understands what he wants and how to get it. By strategically building his personal network and enhancing his educational resume through the attainment of an MBA, Arasaratnam has systematically advanced his career to a place of personal and professional satisfaction. His humility at his accomplishments, coupled with his recognition of past mistakes, make him innately likeable and someone that most of us perhaps would want to emulate.