Three Career Lessons from Emmy Winner Maggie Smith
Last night’s Emmys Awards may have been lackluster (although it was kind of fun watching Mad Men—a previous Emmy landslide victor—set a record for most Emmy losses), but watching Maggie Smith win never gets old. Seriously, the woman just gets more fabulous with time. What is her magic? (Get it? Magic? Harry Potter?)
Professor McGonagall does not approve of this joke.
But in all seriousness, Dame Smith’s work is inspirational. We could all learn a lot (three things, specifically) about how to have a successful career from the Downton Abbey actress:
1. It’s All About Who You Know
The importance of networking is repeated ad naseum on sites like this, but Smith’s story proves that nothing is possible without it. Smith grew up in a non-acting household (her mother was a nurse and her father a pathologist) and never would have entered the field if a teacher had not suggested drama school when she was 16. Similarly, Smith transitioned to film to the television show that would earn her two Emmys thus far at the request of Downton Abbey’s writer with whom she had worked previously.
Think about it: without networking, the world would be bereft of the woman who has won two Academy Awards, two Golden Globes, one Tony, and two Emmys, just to name a few. Even more devastatingly, the world would never know the joy of Smith delivering a Downton zinger like this:
Her daughter-in-law, Cora: I hate to go behind Robert's back.
Lady Violet (Smith): That is a scruple no successful wife can afford.
2. Market Your Brand
Although Smith’s connections land her roles (not to mention a CV that makes Emma Stone look like a lazy bum), she still needs to bring in viewers. After all, it is the ticket-buying audience members of her films that make her star power profitable. Smith has become very good at marketing her brand of wry, sharp humor and grounded persona in interviews and red carpets. My favorite example of this comes from Huffpost TV:
“I got in a taxi the other day…The driver recognized me from 'Downton' and asked me when the next season started. Before I could tell him, he said, ‘I always watch it when the football isn’t on,’ and that sure put me in my place."
Just like Dame Smith, we have to figure out what qualities we want to convey in a short period of time in an interview, networking event, or even a meeting with the boss about salary negotiation or promotions. All of us should have a short anecdote or description up our sleeves to illustrate what makes us uniquely hirable/promotable/etc.
3. Haters Gonna Hate
The last thing we can learn from Dame Smith is that at the end of the day, we won’t appeal to everybody. No matter how memorable our elevator speeches are, there will always be clients we don’t click with, hiring managers who can’t see our potential, and bosses who just don’t get us.
Perhaps the most devastating critique Smith ever received was from co-star Richard Burton, when he wrote in his diary that Smith ‘turned him against sex’. Ouch! Next time a boss or co-worker gets down on your work, just how much that would have stung (…him, after she files the post-humorous sexual harassment lawsuit that comment deserves).
Of course, this does not mean there isn't anything we can do to turn the odds in our favor. We can learn from Dame Smith, prepare thoroughly for interviews and careers and, of course, we can get help.
Alyson Weiss is the Young Adult Outreach and Social Media Specialist at JVS-Boston. She spends way too much time on the internet, so she loves teaching social media presence optimization. For more information or to make an appointment, contact her at email@example.com or 617-399-3186.