In the past, I had never heard of the concept of “career intervention.” Career interventions are used to enhance a person’s career and to help them make sound decisions about the best next step. There are many types of career interventions, some of which fall under the category of career counseling. They can range from one-on-one sessions with a trained psychologist to assessment tests.

Not surprisingly, there isn’t any one agreed upon definition as to just what a career intervention is. But most of the definitions describe it as some type of formal career guidance provided by professionals. Yet all of the stories about career interventions I’ve heard recently came from informal sources. It was parents, professors, mentors, and sponsors, saying the right words at the right time that made the difference.

While I would have thought that all job growth came from career advice professionals, that was not the case. Unfortunately, most people, both men and women, do not use professional career guidance services. A recent poll indicated that only 24% of randomly chosen respondents reported ever using the services of a trained career counselor.

Fortunately, informal and sometimes unexpected sources can be very effective sources for career advancement. For instance, in Telle Whitney’s case, the former CEO and President of the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology, the decisive impetus came from her stepmom, who recommended that Telle take an inventory test. “Because the suggestion came from my stepmother, it was the last thing on earth I wanted to do, but I had run out of options, so I did it.”

For Orna Berry, an Israeli scientist and senior executive among the Israeli science and technology industries, it was a professor telling her, “I won’t tell you you’re smart, but I will tell you that people who are more stupid than you have PhDs.” That single comment inspired her to work toward her doctorate, which then propelled her into an amazing career.

Perhaps we need another way of looking at what a career intervention can be. From my point of view, an informal career intervention is when someone offers an outside perspective that encourages an individual to see new possibilities for their career. This kind of input implies that you have confidence in the person to whom you are giving advice. When you suggest to someone that they aim high for a promotion or a new degree, you are implicitly letting them know you believe they are capable of more than they may realize. Sometimes that outside validation is all it takes.

Recently, I had an experience that proved to me how simple it can be to offer an intervention and how profound the results can be. One day, I was chatting with a very talented and hardworking woman engineer who had once reported to me and was now working under a different manager. I asked her why she hadn’t been promoted yet. She answered, “I don’t know.” I asked her if she had discussed the possibility of being promoted with her manager. Her reply was, “I didn’t know I could. I think he should promote me if he thinks I am good.” I suggested to her that she ask for a promotion directly.

A couple of months later, while I was looking through the organization’s database, I happened to notice that she had received a promotion. I sent a text congratulating her. She said, “Thanks, Pratima. It’s all thanks to you for telling me to push for the promotion.” She had already done all the hard work to prove herself, but she hadn’t realized she needed to communicate with her manager. I told her what I thought her next best step would be. Offering the advice to her was easy, and it was great to see that it got results. The reason it worked for her was that she is a great software engineer. 

Jocelyn Goldfein, one of the female tech executives I interviewed, offered some sage advice on interventions and women’s careers. She said that at whatever point you choose to intervene, it has the potential to help a woman’s career. “You can intervene at any stage and have a positive impact downstream of that stage, and even upstream if it inspires younger girls with possibilities.”

I offer two takeaways on this concept of career intervention. First, it would appear we need to make more use of the career professionals who can help guide us on our journey. Second, parents, professors, mentors, sponsors, and colleagues have a greater ability than they realize to provide the advice that can make a huge difference in a woman’s career. We should all take advantage of that knowledge and help one another make our career aspirations come true. 

This extract, adapted from Nevertheless, She Persisted: True Stories Of Women Leaders In Tech by Pratima Rao Gluckman, is ©2018 and reproduced with permission from the author.