5 key skills for success

Employers identified five critical skills for success on the job and these apply to positions in all departments and functions.

  • Ability to Communicate – To succeed in most jobs the employee must be able to communicate effectively both orally and in writing.  You can be very smart, you can have great ideas but if you can’t communicate you risk being passed over for the next exciting project.
  • Work Effectively on a Team – The ability to effectively work as part of a team is critical to success in most organizations.   That means sometimes being a leader, sometimes being a good follower, monitoring the progress, meeting deadlines and working with other across the organization to achieve a common goal.  Employers want employees who can effectively work as part of a team, not as a lone contributor.
  • Ability and Willingness to Learn – The world is changing, business is changing and the pace of change continues to accelerate.  To succeed in most organizations you need to have a passion for learning and the ability to continue to grow and stretch your skills to adapt to the changing needs of the organization.  Little demand for dinosaurs these days.
  • Ability to Influence, Persuade and Negotiate  – There are few jobs you can do in a vacuum.  In most roles you need other people to do things so you can do your job.  There are steps in the process before your area of responsibility and often steps after you do your part.  Usually you do not have authority over those people.  You need to have the skill to develop mutually beneficial relationships in the organization so you can influence and persuade people to do what you need them to do in turn ensuring you are delivering what they need.  You need to be able to negotiate win-win solutions to serve the best interests of the company and the individuals involved.
  • Ability to Analyze the Data – With increased computer skills, many employees can build spreadsheets and manipulate the data in various ways.  What elevates an employee above the crowd is the ability to analyze the data.  Don’t just total the columns, calculate an average and sort the data.  What story does the data tell?  What questions does it raise?  Are there different ways to interpret the data?  Instead of handing your boss a spreadsheet, give them a business summary and highlight the key areas for attention.  Suggest possible next steps.  Using the data to manage business decisions is a critical differentiator.

Image Courtesy of Google


How to stand out in an interview

Courtesy of Google
In the hiring process, managers see a number of qualified candidates. It is the candidate who stands out and makes a lasting, positive impression.

Hiring managers expect candidates to put their best foot forward. You should have researched the company and checked out their website. You should have questions prepared in advance. Try researching the individuals you will be meeting. Ideally you have already networked with contacts within our organization. Demonstrate your interest and your work ethic by doing your homework in advance.

Focus on Meeting my Needs
When you are talking about your experience, be sure to focus on the transferable skills. Demonstrate to the hiring manager that you can meet their needs. Show them that you have the skills necessary to success and that you will be able to quickly add value.

Be Someone They Want to Work With
A smile and a sincere handshake start the process off well. Be engaged and focused throughout the interview. Show them your interest in the company and the position through thoughtful questions. Be sure to let them know how interested you are in the opportunity. Don’t assume they already know. Demonstrate your professionalism in your attire, your personal hygiene and your promptness.

Say Thank You
Thank the interviewer for their time at the end of the session and then send a hand-written thank you note. Refer to something you discussed during the interview. Reiterate your strong interest in the opportunity.

Common mistakes of those new to the job

If you are new to the workforce or returning after a long break, you should be mindful of not making the following common mistakes.  You want to strive to make a positive initial impression in your new role.

  • Impatience – It is easy to get impatient on a new job but you have to fight the urge to complain.  There is a learning curve you have to endure to learn the company, the department, the systems, the products, etc.  You have to learn how things get done.  Don’t expect to receive the most challenging and rewarding projects first.  Even though you talked about them in the interview, you have to learn the basics and prove yourself with your early assignments to earn the more interesting projects.
  • Deadlines matter– When a manager gives a deadline, take it seriously.  It isn’t a wish list but an expected deliverable.  You should work to beat the deadline whenever possible.  If for any reason you think you may not make the deadline, do NOT wait until the deadline to let the boss know.  Raise the red flag early, express your concern, brainstorm ways to overcome the obstacles.  You are not perceived as a hero if you wait until the last minute to ask for help.
  • Questions – Do not be afraid to ask questions.  They expect lots of questions initially and will be concerned when you don’t ask.  The challenge is to ask the same question only once.  Take notes.  When they explain something write it down so you don’t have to ask again.  Identify “go to” resources who can answer certain types of questions for you.
  • Be punctual and present – Do not start a new job showing up late, leaving early, requesting time off.  Show that you are committed to success on the job and reliable.  They need to be able to count on you.
  • Pay Attention to the Culture – Observe the culture and adapt.  Is it an open door culture where you can pop your head in with a question or are you expected to make an appointment?  Do people eat lunch together or alone at their desk?  Pay attention to the expected dress code.  Don’t be the most casual person in the office.  As you perceive who the successful people are, watch and mimic their behaviors.
  • Clarify Objectives – Ask for goals.  Ask what will be measured.  How is success defined in this job?  Be sure you know what is expected of you so you can meet and exceed those expectations.  If no one tells you, ask.
  • Prepare to invest in yourself – you need to allow extra time at the beginning to get yourself acclimated.  You may need to do some outside reading or research to get up to speed on various topics in your job, you may need to boost your Excel skills or learn PowerPoint.  Take initiative and invest time in helping yourself succeed in the job.

Image Courtesy of Google

Using volunteer experience to enhance your resume

Anytime you are unemployed or underemployed, volunteering is a great way to add value to your resume and to show your work ethic by keeping busy and adding value.  Rather than volunteering for the sake of volunteering, consider the following:

Non-Profit Boards

  • Many non-profits are looking for experienced business people on their boards.
  • Find a board that would benefit from your experience
  • Seek opportunities to gain experience and make connections that could be valuable in your job search
  • Board membership shows leadership on your resume

Focus on Mission

  • If you are not able to identify a board position, volunteer with an organization whose mission is important to you
  • Try to find a relevant mission but avoid missions that would be considered highly controversial or politically charged, don’t give someone a reason not to review your resume further
  • Try to identify volunteer opportunities that utilize your marketable skills

Skills Development

  • If you are seeking to make a career change and are having trouble getting attention of hiring managers for the new field, consider building your skills by volunteering.
  • Seek opportunities that help you build experience in your new field, fundraising if you seek sales experience or maybe marketing or PR experience for example
  • Track your accomplishments and build references

For all volunteer opportunities, you want to be sure to cultivate references for your future job search, you can also identify great networking contacts through your nonprofit work.


Making the most of your last two weeks

How you leave a job makes a lasting impression with those you worked for and with.  Since you will likely need a reference from that job at some point in the future,  you want to leave on as positive a note as possible.  It is also an amazingly small world these days and you could easily cross paths with those former colleagues in the future.  Best policy is NEVER burn any bridges.

How do you tell your boss and colleagues you are leaving?

  • Be sure to tell your boss before telling anyone else.  Give your boss the courtesy of letting him/her know first.
  • Be honest without being overly negative or critical.  Tell them a bit about the exciting new opportunity and what you will be doing.  Give them highlights of what caused you to consider other alternatives.
  • Once you have notified your boss, submit an official resignation letter for HR.  State that you are leaving and share the date, not the reasons.
  • If required, schedule a formal exit interview with HR.
  • Thank you boss for the opportunity you have had there and what you have learned.  Ask if he/she would be a reference in the future.
  • Ask how you can best spend your last two weeks – suggest documenting processes and procedures, documenting outstanding projects, training others on the team.
  • Always give at least two weeks notice.
  • Ask your boss if it is ok to tell your colleagues.
  • When telling your colleagues, stay as positive as possible.  There is little be gained by bashing the boss or the company and it could seriously hurt you in the future.

How should you spend your last two weeks?

  • If your current responsibilities are not already well documented, prepare as much documentation as possible.
  • Compile a list of any outstanding projects or issues.
  • Provide a list of where to find critical files on the computer.
  • Organize and label for your files so others can find what they need easily.
  • Work with your manager to identify any training you need to do with colleagues to provide coverage.
  • Coordinate with your boss how you should notify customers or vendors you work with to ensure that they know who to contact once you leave.
  • Don’t leave any personal items in your desk or your office.  Leave your work space clean and well organized.
  • Participate in an HR exit interview if requested.
  • Clarify how you want to be contacted if there are questions once you leave – home email?  Phone?

What do you do your last day?

  • Ensure that everything above has been completed.
  • Turn in any keys, ID tags, passwords, etc.
  • Update your voicemail and email with appropriate contact information for whomever will be covering.
  • Address any outstanding questions with your boss and colleagues.
  • Graciously say goodbye and thank you for the experience.

What post-employment relationships should you have?

  • Helpful to stay connected to your boss and key colleagues via Linked In in case you need references sometime in the future.
  • Be clear about your how willing you are to answer questions and for how long
  • If you choose to socialize with former colleagues, it is social not work, don’t ask for proprietary info and don’t share any.

Be positive and professional from the moment you give your notice until you walk out the door for the last time.  Your efforts will be rewarded down the road by those you have worked with and for as you receive positive references etc in the future.

Remember, you are still being paid by that employer until your last day and they deserve your best efforts.  Be professional in leaving the team as well prepared as possible to cover your responsibilities.  Leave things clean, organized and well-documented.


Turning down a promotion

The good news, you’ve been offered a promotion.

The bad news, you don’t want to take it.

Is this career suicide?

It doesn’t have to be.  If handled correctly this could be a very positive opportunity to move your career forward in the desired direction.

Acknowledge and Show Appreciation

Management clearly thinks highly of you and your abilities if they are offering you a promotion.  Thank them for the vote of confidence.  Take time to understand exactly what the new job entails and why they think you are the right person for the job.  Thank them for their confidence in you.  Ask for some time to think about the offer.

Honestly Assess Your Decision

  • The offer is flattering but that is not a reason to accept.
  • Are you qualified for the position?  Would you learn and grow in the position?
  • Are you interested in the position?  Does it enable you to use your strengths?  Is the work motivating?
  • Is it a required step to where you ultimately want to be?  Does it add value to your future plans?
  • What level of time commitment is required to succeed in this position?

Why would you turn it down?

  • You don’t feel qualified for the job.  Don’t let them set you up for failure to address a short-term business problem.
  • You are not interested in the position and it does not support your career goals.
  • It requires relocation and you are not able or willing to relocate at this time.
  • The demands of the job exceed what you are able to give at this point.  Maybe you have a new baby at home, a new home that requires a lot of attention, an MBA to finish, etc.  It is ok to have a life beyond work and you need to honestly assess what you are willing to give up for the position.

Image Courtesy of Google

Saying No

  • Thank them for their offer and their confidence in you.
  • Suggest that while you are very interested in advancing your career with the company, explain that this position doesn’t move you towards your goals
  • You don’t  have to share all the gory details but try to offer a concrete reason or two.
  • More importantly, let them know the type of opportunities you are interested in.  Ask what you can be doing now to better prepare yourself for those opportunities in the future.
  • If you know a well-qualified candidate who would be interested in the position you just declined, offer to share a recommendation
  • Emphasize your commitment to success in your current role and your desire to grow within the company when the opportunity is right

A promotion is not worthwhile if it doesn’t help you grow personally and professionally.



Why Thank You notes matter

While it is critical to differentiate yourself during the interview, many job seekers overlook the opportunity to further differentiate themselves with their follow-up.  Thank you notes are an opportunity to stand out from the crowd and make a positive impression.

A handwritten thank you note should be sent to every person you interview with at a company.  Each note should be customized to the individual referencing something that you discussed.  This is an opportunity to demonstrate your writing skills, your professionalism and your enthusiasm for the opportunity.  Hiring managers remember who took the time to send a personal note.

Thank them for their time.  Let them know what you are excited about regarding this job.  Reference something you talked about.  Let them know you want to be on the team.

If you know the process is moving quickly, you can sent very professional email thank you notes but should still follow-up with a handwritten note.  It is a differentiator.  So few people write handwritten notes anymore they are memorable.  Always get your notes in the mail within 24 hours of the interview.

I had an employer who at the end of a long interview process was on the fence between two candidates.  Unfortunately one candidate made it easy – she did not send a handwritten thank you note.  The other candidate did and got the offer.  The employer was impressed with the attention to detail and was reminded of the candidate’s enthusiasm for the job.  After all the time invested in the process, don’t lose an opportunity for lack of a thank you note.

I had an employer arrive at our career fair on campus with thank you notes in his pocket.  He had received thank you notes from several students after a networking event earlier in the school year and he wanted to be sure he connected with those students while he was on campus.  Handwritten notes make an impression and are remembered.

In a meeting last week with a group of employers, one commented on how impressed she was to receive thank you notes from students after a networking event.  Every employer in the room agreed that the notes make a very positive impression and help the students stand out from the competition.

If employers notice and remember thank you notes, it is well worth the investment in some note cards and the time to write a personal note.  Use professional looking note cards – no kitties or teddy bears – use your best penmanship and truly customize each note to the individual.  Multiple interviewers in the same company will often compare notes so be sure they are customized.  If your handwriting is poor, consider printing your note and signing your name so it is easier to read.

This is an easy opportunity to stand out from the crowd.  Use it to your advantage.