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By Florence Robson
ow do you go from graduate to Vice President before the age of thirty? Ask Seun Toye-Kayode, Vice President & Executive Director at world-famous investment bank Goldman Sachs.
Born in Lagos, Nigeria, Seun is responsible for the Launch With GS initiative in EMEA, the firm’s $500 million investment strategy grounded in the belief that diverse teams drive strong returns. She’s also the founder of an education-focused NGO, Teach a Girl Nigeria, and the Chief Gatherer/Creator of ACAW, a community of women who gather frequently around the idea that vulnerability is power. Simply put: Seun knows how to get things done. Read on for her take on being a Black woman in a corporate environment, and her advice on everything from acing interviews to shouting about your strengths.
If you want to know how to supercharge your career and climb the occupational ladder then make sure to RSVP to our upcoming How To Get Promoted Panel as part of our Career Conversations series.
On playing to your strengths Being good at everything is a surefire route to success, right? Actually, no, says Seun. “When an opportunity comes up, no one thinks about the generally ‘good’ people”, she points out. “They think about the people with relevant skills. We are all unique for a reason, so find your thing and maximise it.”
On how to ace an interview Seun’s top tips for a job interview? Be honest and don’t be afraid to ask genuine questions. “I treat interviews as a conversation. Try to make sure that the balance of speaker to responder is equal”, says Seun. You can also be strategic about the questions you ask. “Focus your questions on something that the interviewer really cares about”, she says. “That way they get to speak about something they love and will leave the interview feeling good about themselves – and you.”
On putting your ego aside “It’s important to be able to say ‘I don't understand’”, says Seun. While it can be tempting to stay quiet when you don’t know how to do something, that approach can actually be damaging to your progress in the long run. “If you let your ego get in the way, it can stop you succeeding”, she explains. “I’m never too shy to ask for help. Often a quick conversation with one person can give you all the answers that you need.”
“Working hard only gets you so far...you also have to be good at telling people how good you are.”
On the importance of community Working in a large corporate can be challenging, particularly for Black women – but Seun has found strength in community. “There have been many points where I’ve considered quitting”, she says, “but I have mentors who have pulled me aside and said ‘Don’t leave before you get everything you’ve been working towards’. I make sure I always have someone I can talk to, whether about pay or about work-life balance.” When it comes to building those vital relationships, Seun went about it deliberately. “Nobody came to find me and said ‘You look great, let me mentor you’”, she says. “I was the one who approached them. You have to be strategic and find the right people to back you.”
On accepting help when it’s offered Have you ever found yourself in a position where a senior figure has made you a vague offer of help but you were too nervous to take them up on it? Seun would like you to send that email, pronto. “Always come back and say ‘Actually yes, there is something you can do for me’”, she says, “and then be specific about how they can help you.” Seun knows for a fact that this directness works. “Once I was the only person to follow up after being on a panel with a Managing Director from our Global Markets division”, she says. “I wanted to change jobs at the time so he sponsored me to join his team, even though I had zero experience in that area. That was after only one coffee. People are willing to help but we need to take those opportunities.”
On the importance of self-promotion Seun is not a fan of the phrase ‘Hard work breeds recognition’. “Working hard only gets you so far”, she says. “What’s the point of lighting a lamp and then putting it in a cupboard? You have to be good at your job but you also have to be good at telling people how good you are.” In other words, if you’re not talking about your achievements, people are less likely to put your name forward when it’s time for a pay rise or a promotion. “Share enough with others so that they can further your agenda, even when you’re not in the room.”
Nothing beats hard work, but there are ways to frame your efforts so that they have the maximum positive impact on your career.
By Florence Robson
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