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Women On the Go

Whether you're searching for a new job, are interested in a career change or just want to reinvigorate your professional life, having guidance is essential. But mentors can be hard to come by in today's dog-eat-dog world. So, we spoke with 10 women-from a bank president to a Hollywood sound engineer-who've succeeded in their respective fields, and got their advice on getting ahead. To find out the best way to achieve a work-life balance, how to make an opportunity out of a setback, and more, read these practical and inspirational words of wisdom.

What advice would you give women who are considering a new career?

Learn as much as you can about your chosen field from every perspective. Take on jobs or responsibilities that you're not crazy about so you can learn. The more well-rounded you are in your field, the more effective you will be at work and the more attractive you will be to prospective employers. Also, as an employer and leader, I am most interested in the results people produce rather than whether they're working long hours.

What's the most important thing to remember when it comes to your personal life?

It's more important than your job! My relationships with my family are more valuable and long-lasting than any career. It's loving others and being loved in return that gives real purpose and satisfaction in life. Marry someone with the same values as you it will make critical decisions that you need to make together so much easier.

How did you overcome your biggest career hurdle?

I once got a new boss whom I perceived had a not-so-positive impression of me that was hindering my career. So I asked him to be my mentor; he agreed and we met on a regular basis for three months. Through our discussions he got to know me much better, and when a promotional opportunity came up, he was my biggest advocate and I got the job.

What advice would you give to women who want to follow in your footsteps?

I think it's important to be focused. Of course, there will be many bumps along the way, but don't get distracted by the zigzags in the road. Vision and passion are very clear; if you believe in something, other people will too.

How do you think a woman can successfully balance her career and personal life?

My best advice is, don't forget about "me" time. Schedule a window of time for yourself, like any other appointment, if you have to. In the end, taking personal time will make you more productive at work.

What do you know now that you wish you had known when you were younger?

I wish I had known how important patience and listening can be. These are two qualities that are often overlooked, but can be very helpful in both your career and personal life

What's the key to a successful career?

Always remember that hard work is necessary to achieve your biggest dreams. Your social life will suffer at intervals, but remember your goals and know that this is part of the journey toward achieving your dreams. When I was finishing a Newsweek cover story about Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, I was nine months pregnant and often thought about napping rather than returning to my computer! But I focused on the mission and I kept working.

What got you through tough times at work?

I was finishing the first round of research for The Dressmaker of Khair Khana in the fall of 2008 and kept encountering setback after setback. Security in Afghanistan was awful and the families I interviewed often suggested I go home and return another time. But I knew this was the work I was there to do and that my job was to tell a story celebrating the unsung heroines all around us who never back down to fear. It was my responsibility to see the work through and to bring this book and this story to life about the young women who supported their communities during the Taliban control.

What's the biggest career mistake you've made?

Worrying. During my 20s I worried that every decision would have irrevocable consequences and that there was only one path. The truth is that there are many paths, and what looks like a setback today may next year turn out to have been a blessing.

How can someone achieve long-term success in his or her career?

If anyone, male or female, is passionate about a certain field, he or she will do whatever it takes to make it a career. If you are doing it to get thanks, you are doing it for the wrong reasons. Do something because you love it, not for recognition.

What gets you through tough times at work?

I tell myself, "I'm not a successful woman engineer; I'm a successful engineer who is also a woman." There's a big difference. Knowing what you are working toward and keeping in mind the big picture when things get tough or complicated is essential.

What do you know now that you wish you had known when you were younger?

When I was younger I dressed asexually and wore my glasses so the client and studio would know I was serious about becoming an engineer/producer. What I finally realized was that getting more experience was most important; I made myself an asset to the project by anticipating what was needed, taking initiative and being fun to be around. Once I established my reputation, I was good to go.

How did you overcome your biggest career hurdle?

Since I was born in Iran and was a woman entering a male-dominated industry, I encountered plenty of obstacles getting myself established in civil engineering. The lack of any family or peer connections in the field didn't help either. What did help was that I had confidence in my abilities, and when I faced roadblocks, I employed two strategies. The first was refusing to take criticism and prejudice personally. The second was to expand my qualifications for my career, such as earning a new license or certification, in order to improve my credentials. I still continue to do that today.

What got you through tough times in your career or personal life?

I have the belief that difficult times pass sooner or later. I believe in focusing on a positive future outcome. On my office computer I have a quote from Albert Camus that says: "In the depth of winter, I found in me an invincible summer."

What's essential for having a successful career?

If you are not a whole person--a happy and content person--then your career does not matter. Respect your personal life; take time for it and don't feel that you are detracting from your efforts at work by doing so. The more joy you have in your private life, the better your performance will be at work.

What advice would you give to women who want to follow in your footsteps?

The only way that anything is ever accomplished or fully realized is by taking action. You can discuss an idea, endlessly plan and try to predetermine whether or not you will be successful, but, while it is essential to have an overall vision, focus and tenacity, reaching your goal ultimately hinges on jumping in and relentlessly moving forward.

What's the best way to stay focused at work?

Always compete with yourself, not the competition. If you're constantly using other people as the yardstick to measure your success, you're not putting your energy and passion where it belongs. You're the only person who can determine how successful you will be.

How can you have a successful personal life?

Give it the respect you give to your business. If you want to be successful and joyful in your personal relationships, communicate, generously give recognition, inspire, motivate and love fiercely and with all your heart. When I am working, I am intensely focused and in the moment. When I am with my husband, I am just as intensely focused on him and enriching our relationship.

What advice would you give to women who want to follow in your footsteps?

Find a mentor early in your career and, as time goes on, give back by being a mentor to someone else. And raise your hand when opportunities arise. Make it known you are interested. Be your own PR agent; know that it's OK to talk about your accomplishments. Also, highlighting the team around you is a good way to highlight yourself.

What's the most important thing to remember when it comes to your career?

Gain experiences, not jobs. All the while you'll be learning something new and building transferable skills.

What's the biggest career mistake you've made?

Believing that performance mattered more than relationships with people. It's critical in hiring to be sure that individuals are a cultural and motivational fit to the organization. It's all about the people.

What gets you through tough times in your career?

Knowing that I have the ability to fix things and to turn a situation around. I always try to look at the bright side of a bad situation and see what I can learn from it. Remember, there is not always just one path to follow. Sometimes you may need to take a circuitous path to get to the same end.

How do you balance your career and your personal life?

I have it easy because my husband works with me. I highly recommend this. It is great to work as a team toward achieving the same goal. I think you also remain very close because you are able to share all aspects of your life together in a very all-encompassing way.

How did you overcome your biggest career hurdle?

My biggest career hurdle was getting my products into retail. It's very difficult for a little company with just one product to get into mass retail. But if your product is good, people will recognize this and see its merits. Be passionate and find creative ways to get your product in front of the decision makers. And don't give up -- I must have called 100 times to get hold of some buyers before I finally reached them.

How do you balance your career and your personal life?

Women often quit good jobs seeking "work-life balance" when really, you have to give work-life balance as a gift to yourself, and it's a challenge and a decision every day. No job is going to help you assure you're there for the important moments in your family's life. You have the power to do this for yourself through being organized, knowing what you want, and figuring out what is and isn't important to get ahead in your job.

How can being a woman help in terms of a career?

It's said the pay gap is now closing for women, but there's still a pay divide. That said, women are being hired at a faster rate than men right now. I think in the recovery economy, women have tremendous opportunity to flex their career muscle. By being the less expensive option, you can go for a job that pushes you ahead-and use the pay gap as an advantage over the "pricier" guy colleague.

To what do you attribute your success?

Even in my field, which is replete with creative women, it's rare to find a woman in management. There's no way I would be if I didn't have tremendous support from my husband. Most women, even though qualified to rise in companies, don't because they really can't organize their lives to support that rise.

What's the key to reaching your goals?

Keeping my final goal in mind and establishing personal timelines: What do I want to achieve and by when? Am I willing to go through the necessary steps to get it done? It helps to write them down and break them into smaller goals and achievements to lead toward a greater end.

What do you know now that you wish you had known when you were younger?

There are ways to raise money to open your own business. External financing will get you off the ground and going without having to wait for years before you have the capital to get started. A good business plan presented to a lender in your field will probably give you what you need. Women are a "minority," and with that in mind, we have access to more resources. Just be savvy and find them. If you believe your business is truly a great idea, you should easily be able to convince others of the same thing.

If you could change anything about your career path or life, what would it be?

I would change the motto that "the client is always right." This is not true. Trying to please everybody can be a futile exercise in business and in your personal life. In the end you won't have the results you were hoping for. To compromise for the sake of compromise really leaves you with a bad taste in your mouth. Define who you are and what you want to achieve and stick to it. Always be yourself -- everybody else is taken!