Tips for Surviving and Thriving

December 13, 2014

Julia Smith

Julia Smith, CEM, is senior vice president, national sales at GES (, where she has been collaborating with exhibition clients for more than 23 years.

When I stumbled into the exhibition industry, I didn’t have a mentor to steer me through the inevitable career potholes. After learning from various mistakes and wins, I figured my wealth of knowledge would help steer the next generation of industry leaders.

Here are the eight lessons I learned along the way that are still applicable:

1) Become a Student of Office Politics - No matter how large or small your employer is, there are always internal dynamics that aren’t reflected on an org chart. When you join a new organization, remember to spend some time just observing…. Influencers, thought leaders, unofficial “consultants” to the leaders and decision makers.

2) Change Jobs with Class - If a new and improved opportunity comes along, remember the rules; give at least two weeks notice, and no bad-mouthing your former employer. Another important rule – don’t leave too close to any event you are planning. This is a small industry, and people do talk (a lot). Very bad form to leave your former team in a lurch.

3) Give Every Job Your Best - Again, being a small industry, your reputation for being motivated, energetic and positive will get around, and will open doors.

4) Love the Ones You’re With - I know how intoxicating those electronics can be. But if you are constantly checking your texts, email, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc., the co-workers and clients you are with will feel neglected. Frankly, it is insulting if you are meeting with a client or your boss, and are looking at your phone instead of them. Which leads me to the next tip…

5) Don’t Over Share - A little mystery is good. In this age of posting every life event online, remember that people will make judgments. If you are in a client-facing position, you could alienate someone through your politics or other activities. The same advice is applicable for office conversation… Don’t discuss anything you would not want your CEO or biggest client to know.

6) Resist Travel Temptations - When you are young and traveling on an expense account, life is good, but this is a business trip, not a frat party. Drink with moderation, and keep your extracurricular activities quiet. Make sure you know what your organization will reimburse, so you don’t end up with a rejected expense report. If you are on the client side, know your group’s policies for accepting gifts and other travel perks like mileage points and room nights.

7) Volunteer with Purpose - One of the best ways to get your name and reputation out there is to volunteer with industry organizations on both the local and national level. Join a committee, or help with a special event, but don’t volunteer unless you have the time and intent to participate fully. Otherwise, your volunteerism will backfire, and you could get branded as someone who “doesn’t show up.” Volunteering is also a great way to network with industry players who might not be in your immediate circle.

8) A Word about Mentors - Don’t despair if you don’t have a designated mentor. I think you can have many “mentor-like” relationships in a long career; people you admire or want to emulate, or who give you advice or a boost at a particular time in your career. Be open to all types of interactions with peers, upper management, clients, sponsors, exhibitors, suppliers, and you will eventually decide what business style works best for you.

This is an exciting industry, and one starving for the next generation of leaders. Engage. Experiment. Participate. Have fun, but expect to work hard.

How are you empowering the Millennials in our industry? As a Millennial, do you have advice for your peers on how to further their career? Share your tips below; I know our readers would love to hear them!

My tips were originally featured in IAEE’s Young Professional Fall 2014 Newsletter! Check it out here for more helpful tips.

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