Qualities of Workplace Superstars: Professionalism

 

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A man’s manners are a mirror in which he shows his portrait.

~Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

A professional is someone who can do his best work when he doesn’t feel like it.

~Alistair Cooke

or young adults who are just entering the workforce, it can be an eye-opening experience. In a culture that has grown more coarse and casual by the year, and where parents and educators expect the other to take responsibility for building employability skills, many employers have significant retraining to do. So, it’s no surprise they are increasingly valuing professionalism in their employees.

When we hear the word, “professionalism,” the first thing that usually comes to mind is appearance and language. However, the scope is much broader. So, let’s review some of the key aspects of professionalism in a workplace context. Each one is important for adults and children to master.

Appearance: this includes dress, hygiene, countenance, body language, neatness, cleanliness, posture, etc. When you start a new job, err on the side of more conservative dress and closely observe how others, especially the most admired employees, appear. They’re your best role models. Workplace functions vary from casual to business-casual to business. Be sure to come properly attired no matter what. Would your CEO be comfortable including you in a major client dinner? There is only one right answer!

Attitude: employers expect you to arrive on time with a positive attitude and ready to rock. You must try your best regardless of what else is going on in your life or whether it’s a Monday morning after a week of vacation. Keep a positive disposition, even if you’re in stressful situations. Positivity is the sign of a winner!

Excellent Performance: true workplace superstars deliver high job performance and contribute to the success of the organization. They go above and beyond. They can be relied upon to achieve their goals and meet deadlines. Also, they work well with others (both inside and outside). Think “dependable excellence.”

Manners and Etiquette: these reflect on one’s personal standards and respect for others. They are especially important in business/social settings and meetings with clients and prospects. You needn’t be an Emily Post, but you must “show well” to others in your basic etiquette. Closely observe, and learn from, those with excellent manners, courtesy, and graciousness. You won’t win an account with exceptional manners, but you’ll surely lose one if they’re lacking.

Ethics and Confidentiality: every employer has basic policies and procedures that must be followed, in addition to laws and regulations. And, depending on the position, employees are often privy to confidential information. Here, your standards must be impeccable and nothing less. A broken trust, or failure to adhere to ethics and policies, can be disastrous. When in doubt, ask!

Representation of Employer’s Brand: most companies have a mission, vision, and statement of values to which employees are expected to honor. Your supervisor and leaders must be able to trust that you will capably represent the company’s values, both at work and in the community. As we’ve increasingly seen, that includes our comments and posts in the public square, especially on social media.

Communication and Relationships: in the workplace, our relational standards need to be even higher than with our personal relationships. Communication, both written and oral, must be more formal and appropriate, and always tactful and courteous. In order to build a harmonious working environment, positivity and constructive communication are the order of the day. Also, many lifelong friendships are formed at work, where mutuality and respect guide our behavior (especially in mixed gender relationships). Finally, one must never use position or power to abuse, disrespect, manipulate, or harass another. No exceptions.

Growth Mindset: successful employees are committed to lifelong learning. They seek professional development opportunities through webinars, journals, podcasts, and the experienced pros surrounding them. All of this positions employees for advancement in their current job and next-level opportunities.

Here are some key reasons why professionalism so important to employers:

  • Employees are representing their employer and its brand, both internally and externally. Thus, professionalism is a personal and organizational issue.
  • Customers and prospects expect and deserve it! Professionalism is a sign of respect we show others. We’ve all experienced unprofessional sales and service calls, and it motivates us to take our business elsewhere, doesn’t it?
  • Employees who struggle with professionalism rarely last long and certainly receive fewer opportunities. This is especially the case if the position is people-centric like sales or customer service.
  • It builds stronger relationships and helps us make good first impressions when we meet new people.
  • It helps us do a solid job, even on those days when we’re not at our best.
  • It helps us bring out the best in our colleagues, especially when we’re in managerial roles.
  • It’s the right thing to do.

 Parents, don’t take for granted that your children are learning these valuable employability skills at school. Take primary responsibility for it, and introduce them to successful professionals whenever you can. Today’s cultural messages are not preparing them in any way, shape, or form to be a professional, and our schools and universities aren’t consistently helping either. The ball is in your court.

 

Qualities of Workplace Superstars: Friendliness

A7E8FBAF-9AAC-459A-9FCE-75A3FC66A3F2A friend is one of the nicest things you can have, and one of the best things you can be.

~Douglas Pagels

Friendship improves happiness and abates misery by doubling our joy
and dividing our grief.

~Joseph Addison

Winning friends begins with friendliness.

~Dale Carnegie

“TGIF.” It’s arguably the most common weekly comment I hear or see on social media. Shared by people who can’t wait for the weekend. And, more often than not, by people who aren’t especially happy in their jobs. Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t recall ever “TGIFing,” even though I enjoy my weekends just as much as anyone.

For 28 years, I was blessed to work for a company I loved, in a job I loved, and with people I loved (or, at least liked!). Our leaders, George and Jane Russell, believed that success was all about putting employees first. We even had a People Division to ensure that we were doing all we could to bring out the best in our people and create a positive work environment. I made many lifelong friends there that I cherish to this day. We worked in a high stress industry, yet our friendly culture made me look forward to coming to work every day. Not surprisingly, our company routinely won awards for being the “best place to work.”

There were many reasons for our company’s success during my tenure, and a top one was our culture of friendliness. Yes, friendliness! Here were some of our secrets:

  1. Our “employees first” culture, where everyone felt valued
  2. People took a genuine interest in each other and were united in our mission
  3. We valued “likeability” in our recruiting. If it came down to two finalists, we’d pick the person we wouldn’t mind as our next-door neighbor. Seriously!
  4. For the most part, we avoided politically charged conversations that had nothing to do with our work and serve mainly to divide. HINT!!!
  5. Leadership challenged us to live out the values to which our company subscribed.
  6. We had fun and found many occasions to celebrate each other.

From my experience, this culture of friendliness improved sales, cemented customer loyalty, increased morale, reduced employee turnover, built friendships, and brought out the best in each employee. It also helped us deal with conflict and disappointment because we genuinely cared about each other and the company. It helped frame and soften our responses.

All this is why friendliness can be one of the most important qualities of employees and organizations. The fact is, most of us work in diverse organizations with colleagues of different backgrounds, worldviews, positions, and personalities. We may not become long-term friends with everyone, but we can (and should) be friendly to everyone. It’s a win for you, a win for them, and a win for your organization.

So, how friendly are you? Especially with people who are not your friends? Here are some descriptors of friendliness to help you evaluate yours: collegial * affable * kind * considerate * good-natured * positive * cheerful * cooperative * helpful * patient * genuine * good listener. From this list it’s obvious that friendliness is a choice. How are you choosing?

But, let’s be honest. Sometimes we work with people who aren’t destined for “BFFhood.” They may be socially awkward, irritating, self-absorbed, or have personalities or worldviews that clash with ours. In these situations, peaceful coexistence might be the best you can hope for. Regardless, friendliness is still the best way, and who knows, it might just rub off!  And, in case you haven’t, familiarize yourself with the DISC personality test (a free one is available at 123test.com). It might help you understand your colleagues better, improve your communications, and even increase your friendliness quotient.

There’s an old saying that cleanliness is next to godliness. I think friendliness is too.

Enjoy your week and remember to share with your friends. Next week we’ll discuss the all-important quality of Resilience. Catch you then!

 

Qualities of Workplace Superstars: Team Mindedness

teamwork

If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself.

~Henry Ford

Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships.

~Michael Jordan

None of us is as smart as all of us.

~Ken Blanchard

What do choirs, symphonies, NASA space launches, the Golden State Warriors, military operations, Olympic pair skating, successful marriages, hospital emergency rooms, business projects, and your favorite restaurant have in common? The answer: their success depends on teamwork. Great teamwork. Not surprisingly, as our economy shifts and workplaces become more collaborative, employers are placing a premium on teamwork and interpersonal skills in their staffing decisions.

The fact is, teamwork takes work! There are many moving parts in any team and success is highly fragile. Here are the reasons why: 1) egos and self interest get in the way, 2) weak leadership, 3) personality clashes, 4) underperformers, 5) insufficient skill diversity, 6) blaming and internal strife, and 7) poor communication. Is it any wonder why so few sports franchises are truly dynasties?

So, what makes teams work together skillfully and harmoniously toward a common vision? Here are four essential ingredients: 1) each member delivering great performance, 2) effective leadership in assigning responsibilities to team members, 3) an ability to work well with each other, and 4) putting the team ahead of the individual. Simply stated, successful team members abide by the formula:
We > Me.

Here’s a sampler of the qualities of team minded people:

respectfulness * subordination of self interest to team interest * solutions minded * encouragement and appreciation of others * resilience * loyalty * excellent listening * goal orientation * dependability * diplomacy * conflict resolver * helpfulness * positivity * courtesy * affability * tact. No wonder why team mindedness is such a prized quality in the workplace! How would you rate yourself on these qualities?

Also, it takes great interpersonal skills to be an excellent team player. Relational skills are vitally important in the workplace and often are underestimated by people who unfortunately think success is all about smarts. In the business arena, our relationship spheres include colleagues, customers, sales prospects, owners, the community, suppliers, and, yes, your supervisor. Each of these relationships offers the potential for professional and personal friendships, too.

Here are some interpersonal success pointers we share in our What I Wish I Knew at 18 book and curriculum:

  • Be an encourager rather than a critic
  • Give others credit before yourself
  • Strive to be an agreeable disagreer
  • Work synergistically toward common goals
  • Regularly show appreciation and gratitude
  • Solicit and embrace constructive feedback
  • Remember that how you say it can be more important than what you say
  • Focus on solutions more than the problem
  • Don’t whine; just do it
  • Talk it out, don’t write it out; avoid using written communications on sensitive or emotionally charged topics
  • Give others the benefit of the doubt and avoid assuming bad intentions
  • Take responsibility for your mistakes and shortfalls and avoid blaming
  • Laugh often

Parents, team mindedness and strong interpersonal skills in your children are critical to their success in life. Unfortunately, signs are everywhere that technology overuse is having harmful effects on our children’s relational skill development. Isolation, social awkwardness, and a preference for tech-based communication over face-to-face communication are growing tendencies in a world that values collaboration more than ever. It’s a disconnect that deserves all of our attention.

Stay tuned for next week’s topic: Friendliness.

Qualities of Workplace Superstars: Positive Attitude

building-joy-planning-plansHave you noticed how some people see the glass half full and others, half empty? Or, given the same set of circumstances, some will rise to the occasion while others are consumed with fear and negativity? And, how truly successful people exude positivity and surround themselves with it?

Ask any employer or coach and they will take a B+ performer with an outstanding attitude over an A- performer with a negative attitude any day of the week. Attitude is a vital ingredient to both individual and team success.

When you demonstrate a positive attitude, you will:

  • Perform better and so will your team
  • Make and keep more friends
  • Be given more opportunities
  • Overcome average skill and adversity
  • Be appreciated by customers, prospects, and colleagues
  • Energize your workplace and have more influence
  • Be happier

So, is it any wonder why employers value this quality so much? And, why it’s so important for parents to help build a positive attitude in their children?

Many wise people have said wonderful and profound things about a positive attitude, and in better ways than I could ever dream of. So, allow me to leave you with some of my favorites. Enjoy and share!

Cultivate an optimistic mind, use your imagination, always consider alternatives, and dare to believe that you can make possible what others think is impossible.

~Rodolpho Costa

When you are joyful, when you say yes to life and have fun and project positivity all around you, you become a sun in the center of every constellation,
and people want to be near you.

~Shannon L. Alder

Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier.

~Colin Powell

Ability is what you’re capable of doing. Motivation determines what you do.
Attitude determines how well you do it.

~Lou Holtz

Happiness is an attitude. We either make ourselves miserable, or happy and strong. The amount of work is the same.

~Francesca Reigler

Heredity is much, environment is much, but I am much more.

~Muriel Strode

A bad attitude is like a flat tire, you won’t get nowhere till you change it.

~Author Unknown

The most important thing you wear is your attitude.

~Jeff Moore

 I am an optimist. It does not seem to be much use to be anything else.

~Winston Churchill

Our ultimate freedom is the right and power to decide how anybody or anything outside ourselves will affect us.

~Stephen Covey

Once you replace negative thoughts with positive ones,
you’ll start having positive results.

~Willie Nelson

Life is 10% of what happens to me and 90% of how I react to it.

~Charles Swindoll

The day is what you make it! So, why not make it a great one?

~Steve Schulte

Misery is a communicable disease.

~Martha Graham

I have had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.

~Mark Twain

 

 

 

 

 

Qualities of Workplace Superstars: Resourcefulness

 

hands-people-woman-working.jpgA resourceful person can see the opportunity when others only see obstacles.

~Garrett Gunderson

In a world that is changing faster than ever, and in a business environment that is more competitive than ever, today’s employers are facing challenges like never before. The implications on the workplace are profound:

  • More innovation is required just to keep up
  • Product life cycles are shrinking so businesses need to be vigilant and nimble
  • Low cost competitors like Amazon can reduce one’s market share in a moment
  • Customers have very high expectations and are more difficult to please
  • There are more problems (challenges) to be solved as well as new opportunities

So, it comes as no surprise that employers are emphasizing resourcefulness, problem solving, creativity, and innovative thinking in their recruiting. Thankfully,  these qualities can be learned and they are found in all personalities, from the highly creative to the analytical.

Generally speaking, employers benefit from resourcefulness in a variety of ways:

  • Increasing revenues: creating new products/services, improving customer loyalty, increasing market share through product enhancements, improvements to sales effectiveness, etc. If you think about it, all of the products we enjoy today were invented in the past by a person or team. Some, like the inventors of the printing press, light bulb, radio, automobile, phone, steam turbines, computer, and vaccinations, were responding to an existing need. They were incredible problem solvers! Others enter a market because they believe they’ve created a better product or value proposition (food and restaurant chains come to mind).
  • Reducing costs/improving efficiency: discovering new ways to produce products or services at lower cost and become more efficient. These savings, too, result in higher profits.
  • Solving day-to-day problems in each of our jobs: no matter what position we hold, unexpected challenges arise. Our business unexpectedly slows. A key employee leaves the company. Raw material prices rise. A co-worker is spreading rumors or missing deadlines. A supplier delays delivery. A client is upset over product performance. Students disrupt the classroom. We fall behind due to a long illness. Stuff happens! Do we cower in fear or embrace the situation using our creativity, analytical, and relational skills?

Is it any wonder why resourceful people are so highly valued in the workplace?

So, what are the qualities of resourceful people? Here are some descriptors: creative, analytical, objective, problem solvers, decisive, visionary, courageous, resilient, determined, opportunistic, skillful, ingenious, enterprising, discerning, and solutions minded. Isn’t it a wonderfully diverse list! Anyone can become resourceful!

Parents, don’t be fooled into thinking that just because your children are strong academically that they’re good problem solvers. It’s not always the case—just ask any employer. But, you can help build resourcefulness by encouraging your children to solve problems themselves and involve them in family decisions like planning vacations, charitable giving, managing a tight budget, or choosing a college. So often, we instinctively tell our children what to do rather than to first hear their thoughts and potential solutions (e.g., “How do you plan to solve the problem?). By first asking for their ideas before sharing yours, you’ll build a quality that will serve them well in life.

Next week’s topic: Positive Attitude. Stay tuned!

Qualities of Workplace Superstars: Commitment to Excellence

Every job is a self portrait of the person who does it. Autograph your work with excellence.

~Ted Key

I long to accomplish great and noble tasks, but it is my chief duty
to accomplish small tasks as if they were great and noble.

~Helen Keller

“A job well done.” Few words are more gratifying to hear from our supervisors or clients than these. We should all feel proud when we deliver excellence, even when it isn’t always recognized!

But, let’s face it. Doing great work isn’t always easy. We might have the skills, but are lacking in attitude, energy, or health. We might have the right attitude, but are still on the learning curve. Or, quite commonly, we’re distracted by some issues in our personal lives that we struggle to “compartmentalize.” We bring our problems from home to work. And, sometimes we procrastinate and run out of time.

Perhaps after integrity, high standards and a commitment to excellence might be our second most valuable workplace quality. Here’s why:

  1. The surest way to build customer loyalty is to consistently deliver top quality products and services that meet or exceed expectations. This results in consistently higher revenues than otherwise. It can onlyhappen when employees are motivated to do their best.
  2. One of the most important aspects of successful companies is their brand and reputation. Tremendous damage can result when companies lower their standards or deliver inconsistent quality. We’re all familiar with companies and industries that skimped on quality and suffered.
  3. We live in an extremely competitive world. Businesses are constantly challenged by others entering their market or by existing competitors who offer new products. A consistent commitment to excellence helps companies preserve, if not expand, their market share. Otherwise, it will shrink.
  4. Depending on the career, it can even be a matter of life and death! Think neurosurgeons, EMTs, and aircraft repair personnel!
  5. It builds our dependability and reputation where we work. This is huge. Reputation means a lot.
  6. Employers are paying us to do our best. It’s up to us to give them a return on their investment. Our commitment to excellence will affect our performance, and ultimately our pay, promotability, and job security.

It’s important to note that a commitment to excellence extends beyond the quality of our work. Other affected areas include our attitude, professionalism, relationships, and teamwork. Having high standards is especially important when we work in teams, because others are depending on us to do our part. We’ve all worked in group projects where one member slacks. It’s no fun. Don’t be “that guy.”
Our Best Tip
Every job has different specifications, and every supervisor varies in management approach. Also, some positions have detailed performance metrics (sales) while others are more vague (management). Therefore, it pays to “get inside your manager’s head” in order to set yourself up for success. It sounds crazy, but it’s so true! And, it’s really quite simple.
On your first day on the job, ask your supervisor to show you the performance review form. (Most have subjective rankings, say, from one to five, on a number of factors, as well as goals.) Then, (and this is key!) ask him/her how they “define excellence” in this position. The more you can understand their preferences, the better positioned you are to deliver the goods. Next, ask what would be the top two or three most important accomplishments you can deliver in the next six months. Finally, ask about the ways you can help them, the team/department, or the company achieve its goals. (Obviously, achieving your goals is primary, but your value will increase if you can also support your supervisor and the broader organization). You’re looking for impact.

Now you know what they’re looking for and you’re positioned to deliver a home run! I did this all the time in my career and it never failed! In addition, be sure to finish your work on time, every time. That’ll make you easy to manage… a supervisor’s dream!

Finally, a special message to parents. When your children are little, they simply will not have the skills to do chores with the same quality as you. So, it pays to praise on effort. However, as they improve, praise that. It will build a growth mindset. Then, when they become teenagers, it’ll be a habit, and you might even consider giving “incentive pay” depending on the quality of their chores. If they underperform, give them tips on how to get a bonus the next time around. This will actually help prepare them for their coming reality in the workplace!

If you want to be an MVP in the eyes of your employer, a commitment to excellence is a must!

Next week: the all important quality of dependability.
In cased you missed it, here’s last week’s post on our first quality of workplace superstars, integrity.

Get in the Game to Access Your Career

Two college graduates found themselves in the same, all-to-common, predicament. They received their degrees and assumed, like many, that the job offers would flow their way. Unfortunately, they didn’t.

I’m sure you’ve heard similar stories… especially with graduates whose degrees don’t naturally connect to specific careers. To these grads, it’s been surprising, confusing, and frustrating. Sadly, neither college prepared them for how to access the job market with their respective majors. And, it was taking its toll.

Let’s see how they’re handling this challenge.

In the first case, he is serving at a local food and tavern establishment, waiting for the perfect job to come his way. He has been approached by the owner of a company in his desired field, but has declined opportunities to apply for the open positions because they didn’t meet his high standards. Unfortunately, pride and entitlement have gotten in the way. He continues to flounder, hoping that someday, somehow, his dream job will appear on his doorstep. For some inexplicable reason, staying the course in a dead end job is better than taking a slightly imperfect job in his desired field.

In the other case, she decided to consider somewhat related positions, albeit at a lower levels than desired, in order to enter the industry. She even expanded her geographical range to find job openings—despite knowing it would mean a brutal commute. This is a good news story that is still playing out. After landing the job, she was promoted in two months (!) and is now in line for the job she wanted.

The difference? He is proud and stuck in neutral. She took her medicine, got in the game, and will soon be reaping the rewards in the fast lane.

In my mentoring, I hear variations of this scenario all the time. Many graduates are struggling to find the entry positions of their dreams, losing self confidence, and stubbornly resisting the steps needed to enter their career. They’re disillusioned because they thought their degree would punch their ticket.

Life is hard! What to do?

When I advise young adults entering the workforce, I ask them to envision a dartboard where their dream job is the bull’s eye. The question is what to do if the bull’s eye isn’t available? Here are my suggestions:

  1. Expand your territory. In many cases, your dream job isn’t available in your desired location(s). If so, see if there are open positions in other acceptable locations. Sure, it might mean a move farther away than you hoped, but you have to be flexible and go where the jobs are!
  2. Expand your positions. Here, you might have to swallow some pride and be willing to consider entry positions (and internships) that are at levels below your expectations. As you screen different career sites and apps, broaden your horizons to see if there are related jobs that you can access. Sure, it might take a little longer to land your dream job, but by considering jobs in the “nearby rings around the bull’s eye,” you get in the game and position yourself for the eventual prize. Remember, employers generally give preference to current employees when filling positions. It might take two steps to hit your bull’s eye, but you’ll still hit it!
  3. Create a matrix of desired positions and employers. Make a list of several acceptable job titles as you screen sites such as Indeed.com. Then, regularly, screen to see which jobs are currently available. Also, identify employers you would love to work for and regularly screen their sites to evaluate open positions. Be flexible in considering job openings at interesting employers. It may not be the perfect starter position, but new opportunities will eventually arise. And, you’ll have the inside advantage!

 

Sometimes we simply need to be more flexible and humble when it comes to accessing our careers. But remember, in order to win, you need to get in the game.

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!

Career Readiness Essentials: Developing Your Career Savvy

“A lot of fellows nowadays have a B.A, M.D., or Ph.D.

Unfortunately, they don’t have a J.O.B.”

~”Fats” Domino

 

Wouldn’t it be nice if employers would appear on our doorstep with lucrative job offers and automatically recognize our greatness? Unfortunately, life doesn’t work that way. But, judging by the horror stories we routinely hear from employers, some are mistakenly acting as if it were true. The fact is, we may have all of the qualifications in the world, but if we don’t know how to effectively market ourselves, we simply won’t land the job. Marketing doesn’t always come naturally to us, but it is a learned skill with proper training.

Based on our conversations with recruiters and young adult applicants, there are some missing ingredients in today’s career readiness training at school and in the home. From recruiters, we hear about poor interview skills, mistake-laden resumes/cover letters, and lacking professional decorum. Meanwhile, students are struggling with networking, taking the initiative, searching for open positions, and persuasively marketing themselves. It needn’t be this way.

With that backdrop, here are our recommendations for developing marketing savvy in your career readiness training:

  1. Create a competitive mindset. A winning strategy begins with a winning attitude. Succeeding in today’s job market requires initiative, proactivity, and competitive instincts. In most cases, you’ll be initiating your own job search versus being recruited. And, you can expect to compete against a worthy pool of applicants who all want the same thing. You must stand out!
  2. Build a skills inventory. In last week’s blog, we discussed the importance of building your competitive edge. Now, it’s time to get it down on paper. What are your special skills and leadership attributes that make you unique and valuable, especially for the position at hand? What supporting evidence (i.e., accomplishments, recognitions, stories) can you cite?
  3. Develop a compelling resume and generic cover letter. Create powerful documents that share your achievements, history, leadership credentials, and competitive edge in a manner that is appealing to potential recruiters. Be sure they are checked and cross-checked to avoid typos and are reviewed by at least one professional adult. Recruiters are perfectionists when reviewing written correspondence!
  4. Display a professional social media presence. Create a professional profile in locations such as LinkedIn. And, understand that most recruiters will review your posts and tweets on various social media platforms. Delete any and all posts that may reflect negatively on you in the eyes of a recruiter! And, from now on, consider that a potential recruiter is in your audience when you post or tweet. It’s a great filter.
  5. Discover the available job openings. In order to land a great job, you need to know where and how to find them! Familiarize yourself with job posting sources (e.g., Indeed.com, craigslist.org, local newspapers) and with open positions among companies of interest (contained in their website). What job titles best capture your career interest? What companies in your area excite you? Develop a matrix of job openings by title/position and the companies offering them to help direct your search efforts.
  6. Tap into your network of ambassadors. These days, the overwhelming majority of positions are filled by individuals who had an “inside advantage.” So, when you identify job openings of interest, explore whether you know someone in that firm who can go to bat for you. This is huge! In addition, be sure that your network of advocates is aware of your job search so they can offer suggestions and valuable connections.
  7. Master the interview. Successful interviewing involves preparation, preparation, and preparation. It begins with thoroughly researching the company and the position to help demonstrate your interest and ask compelling questions. When they ask why you’re interested in this position, you’d best have a convincing answer! And, be sure to master the art of the interview by making a great first impression, demonstrating confidence, enthusiasm and likeability, having persuasive answers to likely questions (including why they should hire you!), and displaying professional verbal and nonverbal skills. Role playing is a must! Remember, practice makes less imperfect!
  8. Have a good follow up strategy. Personalized, hand-written thank you notes are a must and are to be mailed promptly after the interview. Be sure they know you are interested in the position. Depending on their process, also consider a phone call expressing thanks and interest.

With preparation, training, and practice, your students can successfully market themselves and win the job. Let us know how we can support your career readiness efforts with our What I Wish I Knew at 18 resources. We’re here to help!

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.