Moving up the career ladder: four ways to move from a junior to a senior at your company

OCTOBER 21, 2016

“I believe the worst that can happen if I ask for something is that the person will say no,” says Vuyo of her promotion from junior consultant to senior associate in the space of three years at PwC, one of the Big Four accounting firms.

She is also not scared of hard work. While still a learner at Clarendon High School in East London, Vuyo heard about the prestigious President’s Award for Youth Empowerment in South Africa and decided to go for it. She figured, ‘What do I have to lose?’

She took up debating and public speaking to improve her communication skills and helped out in the school library and computer laboratory. Vuyo is community minded – a trait which she shares with her policeman father. She also volunteered at Carel du Toit Centre, a NGO for hearing-impaired children who could not afford hearing aids. “You serve your community for a year and take up an activity to develop yourself as a future leader in order to be considered for the award,” says Vuyo. Her efforts paid off in 2007, when Vuyo (who was in grade 11 at the time) received The President’s Award for Youth Empowerment in the Bronze category. 

She worked hard at her studies too. Her excellent mathematics results in grade 12 helped her secure a bursary from the South African Institute of Chartered Accountant’s Thuthuka Bursary Fund (TBF) – a fund that empowers talented African and Coloured South African students, who lack the financial means to attend university. Vuyo set out for University of Fort Hare where she graduated with a BCom Accounting degree.

In 2014, just five months into her first job as a graduate in the internal audit department at PwC East London, Vuyo was offered a transfer to the Risk Assurance division in Cape Town. While the offer came with a small increase in remuneration, more important was that it represented a rare opportunity for an aspiring professional and leader starting out their career.

Vuyo accepted the transfer to a city where she had no support structure and, initially, she missed home. “I told myself to suck it up,” she recalls.  “But it turns out I had a good support structure within the company in my mentor, whom I fondly referred to as my big brother.”         

At the time, she was the only female in an all-male consulting team in risk assurance at the prestigious firm. It could have been intimidating. Instead, Vuyo saw this as an opportunity to make a positive contribution. She volunteered to sit on the firm’s transformation forum so she could be used as a yardstick and to manage perceptions about being an African woman in corporate.

Vuyo is grateful for the opportunity. “How could the people on that committee provide us with what we wanted or needed if we hadn’t voiced it?” she asks. Since then the firm has increased the number of women in the risk assurance division; a sure sign that Vuyo’s bold entry into the corporate world as a female professional had gained acceptance among decision makers.      

It has been a fast rise up the ladder for Vuyo; one that she says others can emulate by remembering these four tips.        
     

Four essential career tips Vuyo learnt

Step up to opportunities

Indicate your availability for a transfer and/or another level of responsibility and other areas of the business when completing a development plan to show the extent to which you are committed to your career.

Find a mentor

Have several mentors to enable you to develop different attributes and skills. In Vuyo’s case, her mentors collectively taught her the importance of managing expectations through effective delegation; the importance of managing time without compromising on family time; active community involvement and being a responsible leader and taking accountability for her actions.

Create a development plan  

Write up a detailed development plan every year in consultation with a coach and/or mentor. This should focus on both strengths (and how to build on and leverage these) as well as areas of improvement in order to ensure you work on becoming a more rounded individual, both personally and professionally.

Commitment and hard work leads to opportunities

Determination and the willingness to put in extra effort are qualities which all employers look for in their employees. Let your work speak for you. 

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As Senior Associate in Risk Assurance Services (RAS) at PwC Cape Town, Vuyo Gwayi volunteered to sit on the RAS forum and lead the gender and race transformation program. “I was the only female in internal audit at the time. Since then the number has gone up,” she notes. Vuyo volunteered so she could be used as a yardstick and to manage misperceptions about young African women. Read about Vuyo’s decision to represent other women in the workplace.