Top career tips from creative leader and product designer Sara Hallin Sandström

Find joy in your work, know your strengths and don’t be afraid of change. These are some of the career tips from creative leader and experienced product designer Sara Hallin Sandström who last week spoke with a group of young women from around the world at a virtual mentoring event hosted by Electrolux.

Here we share some of Sara’s tips:

I’m young and I assume I need to work a lot, but I also need to live my life. How can I find balance?

I think often when you’re very passionate about what you do, you tend to work a bit too hard. It’s important to disconnect from work. For me, working now very digitally, I need to do something physical. I love gardening so when I come home, I go out in the garden and take care of my plants and do things that are completely different. It’s also important to let the brain relax and I find when I do that, a lot of the solutions that I need to find fall into place.

I hear a lot of young people today are very stressed – but I want to say that you should have patience. Work life is long. You are going to work for so many years so find joy in what you’re doing and think long term. Be kind to yourself.

What tip do you have for getting to the next step in your career?

Find out who you are and what your strengths are, and then build on that and be proud of what you’re good at. I think we as women often compare with others and think that what others do is the right way to do it. It’s about finding your own solutions. Start with yourself.

It’s also about learning – ask people, join workshops, contribute. It’s impossible to know everything from the beginning. I am still learning and that’s the beauty of life.

I’m soon joining Electrolux as an intern. What tips do you have to stand out?

Something that’s important in any company you join is to reach out and build as big a network as possible. And then within your team or network make sure to collaborate. Don’t be afraid to ask for help or offer your help to others. This is when you will be seen. The social glue is really important. Especially in big organizations.

Also, don’t be afraid to show your personality and talk about the things you love. Don’t be afraid to show who you are!

What has been the most difficult part of your career and how did you deal with it?

At a previous company, I was growing a lot but I came to a point where I felt it was really difficult to get any further and then I decided to change company. I think it’s important not to be afraid to change direction in your career. If something is draining you and taking the joy of going to work then I think you need to change. Remember that in every company or work situation you will learn something that will make you grow.

How can I be successful as a female leader?

I think we need to challenge gender stereotypes and focus on what makes a good leader, regardless of if you’re a man or a woman. And it usually requires both stereotypically masculine and feminine characteristics. Being collaborative, caring and having empathy are traits that are often described as female, but they are also superpowers when it comes to building connections and leading people. As a woman it is a good thing to really own and nurture those skills. Be proud of them. I see that things are changing, and more women are moving into leadership positions, even though it often feels like it’s going too slow.

Are designers competitive? And can I become a designer even if I’m not good at drawing?

Firstly, you don’t have to be good at drawing to be a designer. That’s a myth. You need to be good at creative thinking and find a unique way to visualize or express your ideas. I was drawing a lot when I was young but I was also making clothes, building stuff from wood and doing a lot of craft. And that’s me.

As a field, design is competitive as there are so many people who want to work in it but there are so few jobs and places in good design schools. That’s why it’s important to find a unique personal expression.

But design as a profession doesn’t have to be competitive. Successful design teams are collaborative. And this goes beyond design. No matter how much talent you have there are always people who are good at other things. When you put them together you will always have a better result than as one person. One of the most important tasks I have as a leader is creating an environment where people feel safe and don’t feel they have to win to be the ones who are bringing an idea forward.

How can I build more confidence in a workplace setting?

As I said before it’s about knowing what you’re good at and building on those positive things. Also, don’t be afraid to try new things. Maybe you will fail or it turns out differently to how you thought it would, but you will learn something and next time you might try it in a different way. That’s important throughout your career – never come to a point where you feel you know everything. Get out of your comfort zone, push yourself outside of where you feel comfortable and then you will grow.

Also, be curious. Watch videos, read blogs and books from people that have experience. Then reflect on what they say and what it means for you and how you can use that information. There is no right or wrong way to do things. There is no list ‘do this and you will be successful’. It’s about finding your own path.