Get a mentor, volunteer and be open to new opportunities, are the top three tips for making a career transition, says Rev. Lorina Marshall-Blake, president, Independence Blue Cross Foundation and board member, Pennsylvania Conference for Women. We recently asked her a few questions about other lessons she’s learned while navigating her career path.
Q: How did your professional journey begin, and what was your defining professional moment?
A: “I got a scholarship to Temple University, but some things came up with regard to finances and I was not able to go, so I went to work. I started at a company called Philadelphia Gas Works as a junior clerk typist. Eventually I moved up the ranks, left there, worked at a company now called Cigna and then moved on to some other companies. In the meantime, I did not burn any bridges and got the opportunity to come back to Philadelphia Gas Works as the assistant to the president.
During that time, I went back to school and got my undergraduate and my graduate degree, a Master of Government Administration from the University of Pennsylvania.”
Q: What was your defining professional moment?
A: “When I became president of the Independence Blue Cross Foundation. That allowed me to look at all the things I had done along the way and how they contributed to becoming president… the good stuff and the stuff that wasn’t so good. They were all—as I often refer to them —‘T.M.s,’ teachable moments.”
Q: What characteristics do you think define a great company?
A: “Respect. Here at Independence Blue Cross we have what I call ‘Rules for the Road,’ when you’re respectful of one another even when you disagree. One of the other unique things I love about Independence Blue Cross is our culture of caring. And another big one for a company is flexibility.”
Q: What are your top three tips for a woman who is ready to make her next career move?
A: You need a mentor. If there is someone that has the job or position that’s your next move, don’t be afraid to go to that person say ‘you know, this is what I’m thinking about in my career. I would love to have the opportunity to talk about how you became who you are.’ Secondly, for me, volunteerism is important. Help someone – it’s like I call ‘lifting as we climb.’ Always look for opportunities to assist and help and create the path, because if not us, then who? This is especially important for women. The third tip is to be open to something new.”
Q: What is the top piece of professional advice that you received from a mentor?
A: “Be flexible. You may not get exactly the job you want right now, but delay does not mean denial. There may be some things that you just need to do in order to get there.”
Q: What is the one thing that you make time for in your daily life that helps you keep refreshed and positive?
A: “I am an avid reader, and my faith is a key part of who I am. It keeps me centered and able to step back from a situation, take a deep breath and say, ‘OK, what is really happening here?’ Every morning I am up probably about 5:00, 5:30 a.m., and usually reading some type of inspirational reading to set me off for the day…What’s that saying? ‘All boats rise, they rise together.’ So how can we all rise together?”
Interview by Karen Breslau