Like many people in the mortgage industry, Erica LaCentra, director of marketing at RCN Capital, came into it by accident. She was young, inexperienced, and needed a job. Eventually she searched out a mentor and got a break, but the mortgage industry wasn’t always a comfortable place for a young woman.
Now, even though she’s only five years in, she’s learned that in order for someone to thrive in the mortgage world—particularly a woman—it’s imperative to find a voice.
At Originator Connect 2018, she outlined four distinct ways that newcomers can find their voice: “Kissing up, shutting up, listening, and learning.”
- Kissing up: Identify the influencers and people from whom you want to learn, and make yourself valuable to them in some way.
- Shutting up: You don’t know what you don’t know. Rather than trying to impress influencers and mentors with your eagerness or your credentials, know when to shut your mouth.
- Listening: Listen not only to what your mentors and influencers tell you, but also to what they’re saying to their clients, their colleagues, and how that say it. You’ll see that they make mistakes as well.
- Learning: Make good use of the time you have with people. Learn how they conduct business, and how you can apply their successful strategies and techniques to your position—and avoid the ones that aren’t successful.
Although shutting up and listening is a crucial part of getting a foothold in the industry, not knowing when to step up and speak out can often be a stumbling block to newcomers.
“If I had the opportunity to tell my younger self just one piece of advice, I would tell myself, trust my instincts, but more importantly, to speak up . . . my inexperience and lack of industry knowledge kept me from voicing any opinions that I thought might make waves or be unpopular,” LaCentra said. “Don’t be afraid to speak your mind when you have ideas. You were brought into your current role for a reason, so that could be because you have experience that others in the company lack, but it could just be that you’re providing a fresh perspective. A lot of companies get so set in their ways and have tunnel vision, and they need that fresh idea to bring them back to life. Someone gave you a chance in the first place, and you’re doing a disservice to them, and more importantly, yourself, by not speaking up.”
Persuading someone to give you a chance in anything, whether it be with a new company, a new role, a different responsibility, or a challenging client, can be like pulling teeth. To this end, LaCentra suggests specifically connecting with a mentor who can work with you throughout your career, regardless of any company or job moves.
“Regardless of where you are in your career, I cannot stress the importance of finding a mentor, or at least aligning yourself with someone who can provide you with the knowledge that you don’t currently have. Especially as a woman, finding a mentor can mean the difference between really making or breaking your career. Making an impression on the right people can really open doors that you really wouldn’t have access to otherwise. And sometimes you need to make that right impression so that somebody will take a chance on you.”
A good place to start when you’re developing your voice is to start creating content in the industry. Social media gets a lot of attention these days, and as valuable platforms for brand messaging and for networking, it should; but don’t forget about other outlets such as company newsletters and blogs, and articles for industry websites or publications. The bigger your reach, the better your pitch, and the more opportunities that you uncover. As you start developing written words, LaCentra suggests putting a name with a face and developing video content, and even speaking roles.
LaCentra said that over the past few years, she’s run into doubts, something which anyone who is new to any industry can understand. Even years into an industry, when faced with a particular challenge, thoughts of not being good enough can seep into consciousness, causing doubt as to whether or not a current skill set is enough to succeed. What helped her? Seeking out the knowledge she didn’t have.
“Always make a point to always keep learning. The mortgage industry is always changing and there’s so many new things occurring in the space. You should be passionate about your career and passionate to learn about those changes. The moment that you stop caring, or stop learning, that’s not only when your career is going to plateau, but you’re going to find it incredibly difficult to climb to the top if you don’t know what’s going on,” she said.
For a young woman, having that knowledge means not backing down when someone asks to speak to an older male colleague instead of listening to you. It also means being better prepared when you get opportunities to get out of the office and to interact with clients and other industry professionals. That kind of experience is invaluable and learning how to deal with less than ideal situations helps you develop a thicker skin.
“The more visible successful women are in this industry, the easier it’s going to be to draw more intelligent, driven women here and ultimately it will be more common for women to not only be in the industry, but to attain leadership positions.”