For most of us, whether we spend our entire career in one company or make multiple moves across companies and industries, our careers are still a journey. The later steps in the journey are dependent on building the appropriate foundation of skills in the first job or two and then continuing to add to those skills and experience with each successive role.
What skills are critical to building a strong career foundation to support future success?
- Functional Proficiency – Bloom where you are planted. Become proficient in what you do so you will be given opportunities to expand your skill set. If you are an accountant, be a good one, deliver accurate information in a timely manner. Maybe you will be offered an opportunity to be a financial analyst for a specific product line or division to build new skills.
- Oral Communication – If you are brilliant but can’t successfully communicate your ideas to others, your career growth will be limited. You must be able to share information in a way that others can understand it and act upon it. If you are highly technical, you must be able to explain things to a non-technical person in a way they can understand.
- Written Communication – You must also be able to communicate effectively in writing. Less is more. Knowing how to prepare a clear executive summary is more important than writing a thirty page paper. Know what data to include for reference but articulate your findings and recommendations clearly so others know what needs to be done next.
- Analytical Skills – Even creative marketing types need analytical skills. Whether you are managing a department or project budget, defining pricing of a new product, or reviewing market research data, you have to be comfortable working the data. It is critical to be able to see “the forest for the trees.” Are you able to identify trends or issues and back up those findings with recommended next steps?
- Negotiation and Persuasion – It is highly likely that you will need data from others over whom you have no authority. Being able to influence and persuade others to do what is needed is a critical skill for success. The ability to negotiate win-win solutions is critical for senior managers. Practice these skills early in your career to fine tune them for later.
- Leadership – Seek opportunities to lead projects so you can gain experience. Volunteer for a special project. Seek feedback from your manager to hone your leadership skills. Also know how to be a follower. Even the most successful leaders sometimes have to follow.
- Project Management – Know what needs to be done, when it needs to be done and what the critical steps are in the process. Keep tabs on your projects and deliverables to ensure that you are delivering accurate and timely work.
- Take Advantage of Training Opportunities – Regardless of your level in the organization, you don’t know everything. Take advantage of training opportunities to further expand your knowledge and skills. This can be important for the future. Seek out informal training opportunities as well to learn how things are done in other parts of the organization.
- Know the Product or Services – Regardless of where you sit in the organization, challenge yourself to learn as much about the products and services you sell and who your customer are. This knowledge will help you succeed in any job you do within the company and your initiative will be rewarded.
- Think Outside the Box – Resist the “we’ve always done it this way” thinking. Get your job done, but think about opportunities for improvement. Present carefully thought out ideas to your manager for consideration. Be someone who cares about continuous improvement.
- Build and Manage your Reputation- Your reputation is a valuable asset, manage it carefully. Be known as someone who does quality work, who cares about people, whatever it is that is important to you and the future career to which you aspire. This is your personal brand and it should be proactively managed.
Building and enhancing these critical skills early in your career prepares you for later success.