Career Readiness: Excelling on the Job

“Some people dream of success… while others wake up and work for it.”

~Author Unknown

It’s day one on the job, and we can’t wait for our corner office, leather chair, and stunning view. Not so fast! Success on the job (including the perks!) takes hard work, and no one is entitled to it. In today’s competitive workplace, employers are managing their staffs with greater scrutiny than ever. Consequently, we must continually justify ourselves by adding value to our employer.

There’s a BIG difference between the MVPs in an organization and those whose careers stagnate. So for our students’ benefit, it’s critical that our career readiness training includes the secrets of workplace superstars. With so many teens and young adults lacking job experience, this segment offers a vital glimpse into the demands of the workplace. The better our students understand this now, the better equipped they will be to knock it out of the park from the first day.

Here are our recommendations for setting students up to excel in the workplace:

  1. Pursue a well-matched career. All-Star employees play to their strengths, and that begins with selecting a career that matches their skills, interests, and personal preferences. This is one reason why students should conduct a comprehensive assessment of themselves and career options (described in an earlier blog) before making a decision. It is also why parents and educators should play a role of guiding the process rather than directing it toward a particular outcome. There is no substitute for loving our work, and that can only be possible if it fits us like a glove.
  2. Model the qualities of workplace MVPs. Career success goes far beyond skills and smarts. Ask employers to identify what stands out among their most admired employees and you’ll hear qualities such as high standards of excellence, integrity, dependability, relational/communication skill, positivity/enthusiasm, motivation/strong work ethic, resilience, humility, loyalty, professionalism, focus, creativity, and a willingness to go above and beyond. Encourage your students to take these to heart.
  3. Deliver excellent job performance. It’s critical that students understand how they will likely be evaluated on the job. Their performance will link directly to their pay, promotion potential, and overall satisfaction. Generally speaking, their job reviews will include rankings on subjective criteria such as communication, attitude, teamwork, and dependability, as well as on specific goals for the performance period. We recommend sharing the following strategies with students starting on their first day:
  • Ask their supervisor to define excellence on the job and in each of the evaluation criteria. This offers invaluable insights how he/she will be rated in these subjective areas. Then, of course, deliver it!
  • Ask their supervisor to identify the one to three most significant accomplishments the employee could achieve in the next six months. Then, deliver them!
  • Ask their supervisor to share how he/she and the department are being evaluated and how they can contribute to their success. Then, deliver!
  1. Contribute to their employer’s success. MVPs go above and beyond. They proactively seek ways to build value in the eyes of their employer. And, the best way to do this is to positively impact the organization’s success. There are many ways to do this, but here are some of the most powerful:

Improve sales. This can be achieved through adding new customers, building customer loyalty, developing new products/services, and supporting the sales effort.

Reduce expenses. Lowering costs and improving efficiency directly benefit the bottom line.

Innovating. Whether it’s new products or services or better ways to position the company in sales settings, these efforts contribute to the employer’s brand and revenue growth.

Leading. Whether it’s leading projects, teams, or people, the potential for significant impact and reputational value are huge. Seize the moment and use every opportunity to demonstrate leadership skills.

By knowing how to deliver excellent job performance, your students will be poised to reach their full career potential!

To Land Your Dream Job, Build Your Edge

One important key to success is self confidence.

An important key to self confidence is preparation.

~Arthur Ashe

 

So, you’ve buckled down and identified several candidate careers (or majors) that could be your perfect match. Now, it’s time to turn this vision into a reality! It’s a highly competitive job market out there, so you’ll need a solid plan to acquire the necessary qualifications to win. That means building your competitive edge—the next step to becoming career ready.

It’s difficult to generalize the qualification process because it varies so much by career choice. Do you prefer to dive right into the job market? Are you willing to get your Bachelor’s, Master’s, Ph.D, or more? Often, it’s the qualifications that help us narrow our career options to ones that are realistic and achievable.

When entering the workforce, chances are the basic qualifications will be in the following areas:

  • Education: degree, areas of specialization, GPA, certifications, specific courses
  • Work experience: minimum years and particular positions; internships and apprenticeships; training and professional certifications
  • Skills: technical proficiencies, physical requirements, familiarity with systems, relational and soft skills, etc.
  • References: they had better be good!

In last week’s newsletter, we identified several websites that show the various qualification requirements for different careers. Familiarize yourself with them and use this information to narrow your choices. Be realistic.

Now, in order to position yourself to land the job, you’ll want to go far beyond the minimum qualifications cited above. Employers are looking for special evidences of leadership, initiative, and accomplishment. For this reason, we strongly recommend that you speak with actual practitioners who hold your desired career position. Seek out advice and wisdom from the pros, especially to discover ways you can set yourself apart from the competition. They will be able to offer far deeper insights in building your edge than your high school or college career counselor/recruiter whose knowledge is more general. What leadership skills, internships, experiences, and trainings can you undertake that will stand out? Summer jobs? Camps? Job shadows? Extra courses?

We also encourage you to review the results of the state of Virginia’s workplace readiness survey of employers. You can access it here. You’ll notice that many of the top 21 skills are soft skills. Yes, today’s employers are looking far beyond your degrees and GPAs… they want people with great attitudes and leadership skills.

Great references are another necessity. Many times, they can overcome average academic performance with great stories about you. Whether they’re professors, teachers, coaches, mentors, or supervisors, all of them are prized potential references on your behalf. What have you done to deserve the highest praise among people who can potentially become your ambassadors?

So, what’s your story, from a prospective employer’s perspective? Remember, you’re competing against other worthy candidates, and the more you can demonstrate passion, initiative, and real life examples of your leadership skills, the more an employer will want you! Make yours a great story.

Educators and parents, be sure that your career readiness training incorporates these vital components. They will help your students build the edge they’ll need to win.

 

 

 

A Secret Ingredient for Career (and Life) Success

“Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

What does it take to land a great job, make wonderful friends, open doors in your career field, or land lucrative accounts for your employer? When you think of the qualities that might help you get ahead, the first things that usually come to mind are intelligence, experience, reputation, connections, and maybe even luck.. But here’s the deal…when it comes to soaring in your career (and in your life!), the secret sauce is enthusiasm!.

Enthusiasm may seem like a “lower order” attribute compared with these other credentials.. However, many times a job candidate’s  enthusiasm is precisely the deal breaker in choosing one of two equally qualified applicants, or what sways a potential client to selecting their supplier. Everyone wants to work with someone who is excited to be there!

I believe that enthusiasm is a secret ingredient for accomplishing great things. During my investment career, I gave countless presentations to multi-billion dollar sales prospects. After careful observation and coaching from our company’s best marketers, I developed quite a reputation for telling our story. I was told it was my enthusiasm that set me apart from my peers. I passionately believed in our company and its services, and I made sure our prospects could tell! Ultimately, it made a significant difference to our sales success. It was a critical element in my job interviews, too.

People who exude positive energy and enthusiasm are infectious. They inspire others with their spirit and obvious love of life. They motivate everyone around them to do and believe the best, and it’s a key ingredient they pass on to employees.

How can you demonstrate your enthusiasm on the job? Here’s a sample:

  • in a job interview, know the company and position like the back of your hand and demonstrate your interest with compelling questions, high energy, and full engagement. Don’t let anyone be more enthusiastic than you!
  • always discuss work-related issues in a positive and upbeat way and be solution minded. Whining doesn’t exist in your vocabulary!
  • show up on time—early, even!
  • demonstrate great listening skills, seek constructive feedback to improve, and stretch yourself
  • approach customers proactively and focus on exceeding their expectations
  • seek out extra tasks and projects when there is down time
  • suggest new ways to improve sales, reduce costs, develop new products/processes, and add value to clients
  • understand how your supervisor is being evaluated and contribute to his/her success
  • seek opportunities to mentor and encourage others

Whether it’s simply enjoying the company of others or interviewing for the most significant career opportunity of your life, show your enthusiasm. It WILL make a difference!

How differently do you feel around people who are positive and enthusiastic versus those who are low energy or negative? Have you made a point to be enthusiastic at your workplace or in school? If so, has it helped your success? 

Five Keys to Nail Your Performance Review

 

Now that school is out and summer is in full swing, many of the young people in our lives are headed into the career field or starting up summer jobs. So here’s an opportunity to equip them with some “street smart” wisdom to excel on the job and win some great references!.

 

For many, few things generate more stress and discomfort than a performance review. For all parties! It doesn’t have to be that way, but unfortunately it usually is.

For the reviewee, questions race through our minds. Will it be fair? Will it reflect all of my contributions? Will he/she rip me for my missed goals? Will I get a raise and if so, what? Will I be scolded for anything? Expecting the worst, we enter the boss’s office a nervous wreck, ready to do battle if we don’t like what we hear.

 

It’s no picnic for the reviewer either. Let’s face it: most of us don’t mind delivering compliments, but constructive feedback…not so much. Arguably, most supervisors are underwhelming in the relational aspects of management and can be a bit awkward when discussing their employees’ “growth areas.”

 

I was fortunate enough to have achieved virtually all of my career goals for a number of reasons, not the least of which was by setting myself up for success in my performance reviews. Some of my methods are rather unconventional, but they worked during each stage of my career. I’m confident they’ll work for you, too.

 

  1. Understand your manager’s definition of “excellence” (then deliver!)

    On my first day on the job, my manager discussed the position requirements in great detail and then handed me the performance evaluation form. He told me that in six months I’d be evaluated and the overall ranking would determine my raise. I perused the form, noting the eight ranking categories and the 1-10 rating scale (10 being excellent). Things like reliability, job requirements, teamwork, leadership, communication, and attitude.

    Struck by these highly subjective evaluation categories, I asked how he defined “excellent” in each one. He said he didn’t give excellent ratings. I told him that in six months I wanted to be his first. I was armed now, and six months later, I indeed would be his first “excellent” employee. Yes!

    Get inside your manager’s head when it comes to your evaluation, especially if it’s highly subjective. After all, if you don’t know the target, how can you reliably hit it? Most managers will not automatically volunteer this, so you’ll have to ask for it.

  2. Have your manager to identify the most significant potential accomplishments (then deliver!)

    Another great strategy is to ask your manager to provide a list of the most important accomplishments you could achieve in the next review cycle. Chances are your job is multifaceted, but it’s always important to know what the boss would consider to be home run This way, while you deliver on your core job requirements, you also keep these key goals in mind. Again, supervisors don’t always offer this up naturally so you’ll need to ask for it. They’ll willingly comply!

  3. Contribute to your employer’s (and your manager’s) success

    In order to consistently nail your reviews and maximize your value, you’ll need to go above and beyond your job requirements. Different positions offer different possibilities, so think creatively. For example, during my investment management career, I was the “go to” person to help land major new accounts. So, in addition to delivering solid performance, I helped generate revenue for our business. That significantly broadened my impact and my list of advocates during review time!

    For the most part, there are four key ways you can contribute to your employer’s success: 1) help generate sales and retain key clients; 2) help reduce costs or improve efficiency; 3) innovate (e.g., new products, quality enhancements); and 4) lead (projects, people). How can you impact your employer’s performance—directly and indirectly?

    Lastly, it pays to understand how your manager is being evaluated. That way you can help contribute to his/her success, too. BOOM!

  4. Fully inform your manager before the fact

    Unfortunately, it’s impossible for a manager to recallall of the accomplishments and contributions of every employee over the review period (especially if it’s annual!). Consequently, it can become contentious when a manager fails to reflect key information in the review. Here’s where some preventive medicine can help.

    First, draft and deliver a self evaluation prior to the review date. List your major accomplishments and any factors that played into your performance.

    Second, to the extent that you’ve made key contributions to other departments, ask your advocates to draft a note on your behalf. Again, do not assume that your manager will know about (much less remember) your broader contributions to the organization.

    Finally, it always pays to ask for interim feedback at the midway point of your review cycle. That way you can make any midcourse corrections during the second half.

  5. Be a cinch to manage

    Management is something most people aspire for but quickly become disillusioned with. Many are promoted into supervisory positions despite lacking leadership skills or proper training.

Knowing this, I’ve always had empathy for the boss and went out of my way to be easy to manage. That meant delivering excellent work and meeting all deadlines a day or two early. I kept a positive attitude and was regarded by my peers as a constructive team player. This kept complaints to a minimum and guaranteed positive feelings about me while my review was being drafted.

These strategies will not only help you deliver great performance but will also help you receive a review that reflects it. May it be a “win win” for you and your manager!

Don’t Play the Blame Game

“If you could kick the person in the pants responsible
for most of your trouble, you wouldn’t sit for a month.”

~Theodore Roosevelt

 When we experience a personal disappointment, it’s usually because we made an innocent mistake or our effort simply fell short. Is one worse than another? Well, to my way of thinking, a mistake is a little more serious because it’s an error, whereas a shortfall may have occurred despite our best effort. (After all, we can’t always win.)

Since we’re all human, mistakes and shortfalls are part of life. While no one keeps track, they number well into the thousands during our lifetime. That being the case, one has to wonder why it’s so difficult for people to admit their mistakes and accept responsibility.

Is it because the words “I’m sorry” don’t come easily? In such cases, it’s sometimes easier (and feels less shameful) to blame others and make excuses.

Is there a better way to handle our mistakes?

People who are prone to blame are actually reflecting their own insecurities. Implicitly, they assume their relationships can’t withstand an acknowledgement of a mistake or shortfall. However, it’s a false assumption, especially since people appreciate it when someone admits a mistake and asks for forgiveness.

When you make a mistake or your best efforts fall short of the goal, you can do one of two things:

  1. You can TAKE responsibility, apologize if appropriate, and do what you can to make things right.
  2. You can DODGE responsibility, blame someone else (or blame circumstances), and walk away from the situation – leaving others with the problem you created.

Choice #1 one will likely gain you the respect of your family, peers, and colleagues and help you learn from your mistake. Choice #2, on the other hand, will cause damage to your reputation and deprive you of a valuable opportunity for personal growth.

Why not exercise a little humility and take the high road? Learn to swallow your pride and admit it when you’ve fallen short. You’ll be respected and admired by others when you do… and you might be surprised by the grace they extend to you in return!

Do you find it difficult to admit your mistakes and accept that you aren’t perfect?

Are you harder on yourself than others would be if you took responsibility for your shortcomings? Share your thoughts and comments with our online community by commenting below; we’d love to hear your perspective!