Technology offers everything you want in a great career--the chance to satisfy curiosity, decent job security and, very often, flexibility and more-than-decent pay. But the industry is also competitive by design. In an Inc. interview, Clare Hart, CEO of global background screening and HR company Sterling Talent Solutions, shared how to make it to the top.

1. Find people who can support you.

As you try to advance in tech, you might hesitate to seize great opportunities because you don't feel qualified or ready. The problem, Hart notes, is especially common for women, who she claims often don't have the confidence or close relationships with men that men do. But finding support can help you build self-esteem and see what your strengths really are.

"I think the most important thing for any person to do is just to make sure they align themselves with people that can help them," Hart says. "I would urge a person [who encounters any intimidation or arrogance] to look for a mentor to help them, because I think intimidation or insecurity is an individual challenge you have to personally figure out and overcome."

Hart adds that engaging with other groups can provide excellent fresh perspective, information and encouragement. "Attend [different events outside your field] so that you're broadening your thinking. [...] Those opportunities exist, but you have to seek them out as a professional in general, but certainly as a woman professional, to not feel isolated."

2. Pay it forward and support others.

Once you've gotten a good network of people you can count on and feel better asserting yourself, start giving back.

"One of the things that I'll do if I see someone being particularly quiet," Hart says, "is draw them out, like 'Joan, what do you think?' Just to try to get people to engage rather than not expressing their point of view. [...] Because otherwise, you miss a population of people that have good ideas. [...] I think women [in particular] also can help each other by reinforcing what the other one said...so that the [point the other person made] doesn't get lost. [But] you can't be so biased toward advancing women that you overlook qualified men. So for me, it's a matter of looking at the entire candidate pool or opportunity and then making the decision based on the right person."

3. Bump deadlines from #1 on your priorities list.


Modern workers in any industry often are pressured by the fast pace and high demands of contemporary life to let the clock and calendar rule. But Hart says that companies don't need heroes--they need people who can work on a team, collaborate and contribute.

"No plan can fully anticipate all that will come along and potentially reprioritize. [Your] team needs to understand this 'flexibility'. Deadlines matter because promises are made and accountability is incredibly important, but dates cannot rule. Instead, quality and plan priorities rule."


4. Keep your eye on the product.


"I have a strong view that technology is essential to business - every business - today," Hart says. "Starbucks, Amazon and Domino's Pizza, [for example], are successful because of their technology. But they each have products that are the real reason people select these companies over their competitors. Leaders cannot take their eye off their core products. [They] must guide people to focus on what must be done and not drift into 'other cool tech things'."

5. Commit to lifelong learning.


People who want to get into the tech industry often focus on getting the right certifications or degrees, but a reality in the field is that those credentials often quickly become obsolete or less in demand.

"Education is about learning. Students must learn how to learn. And if we think of education in this context as well as a commitment to lifelong learning, we can protect ourselves from getting caught in a trend [and actually build a lasting career]. Because technology changes so much [and so fast], [maintain] awareness and curiosity for the environment. [Read], watch a TED Talk!"

6. Strive for balance.


"Technology can be all consuming, [both] at work and at play," Hart says. "Take time to separate yourself from technology even for a few hours a day or week. Commit to not having your mobile phone with you when you when you play golf...or participate in some other social activity. A few hours a day or a week is a good start. The best way to think about it is that technology can help enable relationships. It cannot replace them."

7. Note the change and connection happening in the industry.

Hart points out that, despite challenges, more women are advancing in the tech field. She also sees technology as a field that, ultimately, touches everything.

"Pay attention to people like Sheryl Sandberg [...]. There are changes happening. They're not happening as fast as anyone wants, but they are happening, so I think we should be optimistic about that. And we should look at tech as, every company's a tech company."

Published on: May 1, 2017
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.