C-Suite Career Advice: Karen McLoughlin, CFO, Cognizant

We ask industry leading C-suite professionals for their expert career advice...

We ask industry leading C-suite professionals for their expert career advice...

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  Name: Karen McLoughlin

  Company: Cognizant

  Job Title: CFO

  Location: New Jersey, USA


What was the most valuable piece of career advice that you received?

I was told at school to be prepared, and then make your mark.  So often, I have seen talented individuals sit back and wait for the perfect opportunity to speak up in a  meeting or wait for the perfect job where their experience meets 100% of the requirements for the role.  I say, challenge yourself.  Take a chance.  Say yes to the stretch assignment or job and then, do your best, which actually sets the bar pretty high.  You will get it done and you will be successful. 

What advice would you give to someone starting their career in the tech industry?

Choosing your boss is just as important as choosing your job.  Many come out of school with the idea of the perfect company that they want to work for or a specific role that will set them on the path to success.  Having the right boss is equally important.  Your boss is the person from whom you learn the rules of the game; they will challenge you and they will support your aspirations.  A great boss will be your mentor and your advocate in your career.

With the technology industry in particular it is very male-dominated and this presents its own challenges for women. From my experience, the important thing to remember is that you belong there. Have confidence.  You have all the training and intelligence you need to solve any problem, so don’t under estimate yourself.  It is important for women to step up and make their contribution.  Above all, make your voice heard because you will make a positive difference.

What tips would you give to someone aiming for a c-level position?

Striving for that executive leadership position is a big career goal and one that undoubtedly requires a lot of persistence, motivation and a thick skin. You will not get there instantly and there will be many setbacks along the way, so patience and taking the time to learn from others is crucial.

In such a fast paced environment, you have to ensure you have a strong team, and we have tremendous talent at Cognizant from the core leadership group all the way to our newest college trainees. If I ask for something, it will get done. In return, it is important to recognise people for the work that they do and genuinely appreciate what they bring to the table.  

Also, you have to be a good listener. Be authentic – be yourself and think about how you can help the other individuals in your organisation as well as peers, clients and prospects.  This has helped many people I know move up the career ladder.

Getting to the Board is a long race, so remember to pace yourself and take the time off to recharge both mentally and physically. Take those holidays and spend enough time with your friends and family. A career spans a lifetime, so don’t wait to start living your life.

Are you particularly proud of any career advice that you’ve given or the career route/development of anyone you’ve mentored?

I have always stressed the importance of networking to aid career development. We tend to network with people that we already know.  The trick is to go beyond your comfort zone.  Find ways to meet people beyond your current circle and dedicate time to developing relationships.  I tend to encourage peers and colleagues to include people in their circle of advisors who will offer divergent opinions in order to progress: you need a coach, a challenger, a devil’s advocate, a hero, a consummate supporter and a guru.