by Deb Aydelotte
For women in the mortgage industry, it seems that a few of the rungs in their “ladder of success” seem to be missing. Climbing the ladder in a volatile field such as mortgage isn’t easy–for men or women.
As someone who has encountered her own fair share of broken rungs before becoming the COO of Altavera, I have career hacks to share for those seeking a faster track. Some of these tips are based on lessons I’ve learned the hard way; others were shared by colleagues; however, each piece of advice played a role in my own career success. Hopefully, they will do the same for you.
- Go beyond what’s expected – be curious
We all know success is directly tied to performance. But it’s not enough to simply perform well—true success requires that you know more than what’s expected of you. Fortunately, the mortgage business involves many different disciplines. Generally speaking, the professionals who have knowledge and experience in more than one discipline command greater respect in their organizations. They are also more likely to be promoted, too. In other words, take every opportunity you’re given to broaden your knowledge of the business.
When I was in my 20’s, I was very focused on doing my job well. But I was also committed to adding new skills and learning every competency I found within my immediate orbit. At the time, I was lucky to work for someone who made sure I had opportunities beyond the job for which I was responsible. As a result, I learned so much more about the mortgage business than I would have if I only did what was expected of me. Whether you have such a boss or not, make an effort to learn different areas of the business.
For example, if you’re in the compliance field, consider learning more about sales. If you are in sales, think about expanding your knowledge in operations, management, or even servicing. The more experience you gain across the business, the more valuable you’ll be to your current or future employer—and the more likely you’ll attain a managing director position when one becomes available.
- Become an idea generator
Few people ever become leaders by doing the same thing their predecessors did. True leaders are innovators, thinkers, and problem solvers. Luckily for you, the mortgage business is riddled with inefficiency and missed opportunities. At most organizations, there are endless prospects for improvement.
The key is to never think that your job begins and ends with perfecting the tasks to which you’re assigned. Instead, think broadly and across business lines. By understanding how other pieces of the mortgage business work, you’ll begin to see untapped business opportunities as well as ways your organization can perform better. If how the company does business seems wasteful, ask why, and come up with a better way. In my experience, the people who went above and beyond their roles, who asked questions, and spoke up usually got the ear of the C-suite.
For instance, is there an untapped market that your firm has yet to address? Is there an internal function that can be monetized to an external client base? What should the business be looking at now to prepare for the environment a year from now? Even if nobody has asked for your input, take it upon yourself to look beyond your job scope, do some research, and generate ideas and recommendations. Understand that some ideas will fly, others will not. The point is to show you have the long-term success of the business in mind. This will open doors for you.
- Know your data
As a junior executive, I once sat down with my finance partner and built a model to measure the profitability of each client. We did this entirely on our own, simply out of curiosity and in an effort to better manage the business. After weeks of work, we unveiled our findings, which showed that several clients were not as profitable as the executive team thought. In fact, a few were not at all profitable.
This was bad news, of course. But building this model and sharing the results with the executive team helped identify areas in which we needed to improve. More importantly, it opened the eyes of our executives to the full scope of costs/leakage that were impacting profits so that something could be done about it. The key, however, was that my finance partner and I did not write a report based on what we thought was going on. We had built the model and used hard data, and then wrote a report based on resulting facts.
For my finance partner and me, this expanded our knowledge and visibility with the executive team, which resulted in more projects and bigger assignments. We’ve moved on in our careers, but I enjoy thinking back to our collaboration and others like it and acknowledge how it propelled each of us forward in our professional development.
- Find the experts
There will always be people who know things that you don’t, which is why it is a wise idea to surround yourself with experts and learn as much as you can from them. Just keep in mind that the “experts” aren’t always the ones who get the attention.
I’ve worked with many very smart people throughout my career, and most of them didn’t land on the pages of industry magazines or blogs, or win awards. However, there are many more experts in our industry than can fit in the pages of a trade publication, and each one is a potentially wonderful resource for you.
If there is a side of the business you want to learn, find experts in that area and ask them about their jobs. Ask them what they think about how things are currently done in their areas of responsibility. Could they be improved? Why or why not? By spending time with experts in areas in which you are not familiar, you will find that your own knowledge and expertise will grow significantly.
Early in my career, I had a boss who would send me to other departments to inquire about specific topics and write up a formal research paper. Initially, I thought he was doing this for my benefit. I later discovered he was using me as a conduit for his own learning. Either way, it was tremendously beneficial for me and helped to build my network of experts, some of whom I still rely on today, 20 years later.
- Focus on relationships
In business, nobody achieves success entirely on their own. Business is about relationships, which is why it’s so important to make time to build them. Beyond seeking out experts in the disciplines you’re trying to learn more about, focus on cultivating relationships with coworkers and industry colleagues in all areas of the business. At some point in the future, you will need those people—either because you need their specific expertise or simply as a friend. This industry has many peaks and valleys, and very few of us have gotten through the valleys without a little help from others. You can be sure that when an opportunity opens up, the relationships you cultivate will be an important factor in your ability to level up.
The truth about the so-called ladder of success is that there really isn’t one, and even if there were one, it would look different to each person. There is no perfect path to success. You can do everything I’ve listed above and still run into roadblocks and disappointments. But the wonderful thing about the mortgage business is that there are countless opportunities for those individuals who are willing to work hard and find solutions to problems.
For women in particular, there’s never been a better time to build a successful mortgage career. The housing market is healthier than ever, yet there are considerable challenges facing every organization. With so many companies and opportunities available, there’s no reason why a woman cannot reach the very top in our industry. Why shouldn’t that woman be you?
Debora Aydelotte is the COO of Altavera, a loan fulfillment company providing third-party, end-to-end mortgage origination services for the residential mortgage industry. An established mortgage finance industry leader, Deb has more than 20 years of experience in business line development, risk management, and operational expansion and improvement. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.