My Way: Lynda Gratton gives her tips on succeeding at work

'Decide if the company is right for you'

Interview,Caitlin Davies
Thursday 10 January 2008 01:00

Lynda Gratton is one of the world's top business thinkers. She is Professor of Management Practice at London Business School and her latest book is Hot Spots (

What did you want to be as a child?

I loved making elaborate things like dolls' clothes, but being a girl with a non-working mum I had no aspirations of what I wanted to be. By the time I did A-levels I knew I was interested in people, so I did a BA and then a PhD in psychology at Liverpool University.

Was it worth it?

Absolutely, I loved it! A PhD gives you great discipline.

What was your first job?

Chief psychologist at British Airways, that's the grandest title I've ever had! I worked on the selection of captains and cabin crew, and on company strategy in terms of downsizing. After four years I joined PA Consulting as a psychologist and at 32 I became the youngest ever director and the first woman.

How did you work your way up?

It's easy to spot people who are going places; I can see it in the people I employ now. I'm very determined and a hard worker and I am very able to ask questions about why things are done in one way and not another. I am creative too.

Why did you go back to academia?

Twenty years ago I took a huge pay cut and joined London Business School. I was 32, I wanted to have a family and as the director of a consulting practice how was I going to fit that in? I was the first, and last, professor to teach while pregnant.

Do you consider yourself successful?

Absolutely. I'm ranked No 19 in The Times Top 50 Business Thinkers, that's No 19 in the world, and there are only three women on that list.

What's the best decision you've made?

Sticking with what I loved even if it meant a drop in salary. The only career advice I give my kids is this: find something you love.

What are your interview tips?

You must decide if the company is the right one for you. People spend too much time selling themselves, they should be asking: is this a company that will make me excited and happy? I once recruited a woman for my research team and she came in with a document and said, "This is what you and I can do together." I recruited her in minutes.

And your CV tips?

Write a good letter at the beginning about why you fit the company; make the CV relevant, concise and tailored to the job and with absolutely no mistakes. I wouldn't interview anyone who made spelling or grammar mistakes.

What motives you?

I'm very inquisitive; I like interesting problems and the more complex the better.

Who are your heroes?

Virginia Woolf is my role model intellectually; I still go back to her succinct way of writing, and Simone de Beauvoir. I've loved both of them since I was a teenager.

What's the best perk of your job?

Freedom; to be myself and be authentic. I'm not good at compromising.

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