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10 Ways to Push Yourself to Excel at Work in the New Year

10 Ways to Push Yourself to Excel at Work in the New Year

If you’ve played your cards right, 2014 gave you everything you wanted—a Christmas bonus, maybe a raise or a promotion? Not exactly?

Well, now you have a reason to take your game to the next level in the coming year. As Jack Dorsey so famously said, “Success is never accidental.” Take your future into your own hands with these 10 steps to push yourself to excel at work in the coming year, based on Stephen Key’s 5 Ways Successful Entrepreneurs Challenge Themselves.

1. Diversify your circle

Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks? The first step in getting different results is trying different things. I’m not saying you have to become “that” guy, but you can start by listening, paying attention, and being receptive to the people around you, regardless of their age or security clearance. Listen to what the kids are saying and listen to what the grandpas are saying. You might learn about an innovative solution to a problem, or an antiquated system that could use your expertise. Diversifying your work circle will widen your scope of influence and expose you to opportunities you won’t see otherwise. Take it from Steve Jobs, who recognized this crucial key to innovation early on:

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A lot of people in our industry haven’t had very diverse experiences. So they don’t have enough dots to connect, and they end up with very linear solutions without a broad perspective on the problem. The broader one’s understanding of the human experience, the better design we will have.”

2. Read and/or listen to podcasts

This year, make it your mission to feed your brain. If you keep on doing what you’ve always done, you’ll keep on getting what you’ve always got. Think of business blogs and podcasts as your leafy green vegetables. Check out the Financial Times blogs, the Wall Street Journal, or some of the Company Blogs out there to see who’s doing what, where the best ideas are coming from, and what organizations on the cutting edge are paying attention to. Join a local business book club or check out these podcasts for some ideas on where to start.

3. Ask your clients what problems they need to solve

It was Bill Gates who said, Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.” The tools you need just a phone call or e-mail away, because the most perfect feedback loop is one where you can continuously meet (or, even better, anticipate) your clients’ needs. How do you know what they need? Ask them! Every great business is built upon this principle: that excellence is a symbiotic relationship where you are not trying to sell someone on something they don’t need, but responding to their existing needs with tailored solutions. It’s arrogant to assume you know what your clients want. Instead, ask them: what’s missing from their process? What problems have they not been able to solve? What do they like that other companies are doing really well? Once you know what issues are most important to your customers, you’ll know what you need to work on to not only keep their business, but be a partner in their success.

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4. Increase your technological knowledge

This goal should be on everyone’s list every quarter, because technology advances so fast that there will never be a time when there isn’t something new we can learn, no matter what field we’re working in. Make it your goal to learn something new this year—how a process works, what a team you’re not on does, or where your suppliers source their materials. Take a bold step into a technology you’ve never studied before. Yes, change can be scary, but if you really want to own it in 2015, you want to be on the leading edge, not on the Luddite side of the bell curve. Start at the most remedial level if you need to, and remember this quote from our old friend Dr. Seuss:

The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go!”

5. Work with people who are smarter than you

There’s a certain type of manager who is afraid to work with young, smart, ambitious team members, for fear that they will eventually lose their job to an understudy. The downside to this attitude (which these kinds of managers never think about), is that when everyone beneath you is dumber and lazier than you, they won’t be jockeying for a promotion, but you will be a slave to micromanagement because no one will be pulling their own weight. It’s impossible to delegate, drum up new ideas, or even take a vacation if you’re not supported by intelligent, hard-working people who are good at their jobs. Anyway, a rising tide lifts all boats, doesn’t it? Get comfortable with surrounding yourself with brilliance, and you’ll shine too.

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6. Look around at the people who are successful in your company

Take a good look at the people in your company that you admire or want to be like. Now, take a look at yourself. See any differences? What about the way you dress, or what you do at work? Of course it matters if you’re capable and deserving, but at the higher levels of management, presentation matters a lot. No one who wears board shorts to work or does keg stands at the Christmas party gets put into a client-facing management position. If you really want to get ahead, it might be time to trade that ratty t-shirt in for something a little more polished, and cut back on the outlandish pranks.

7. Make your meetings more effective and productive

First, don’t waste people’s time. Come to a meeting with a purpose. If you use Outlook to schedule your meetings, put the agenda and all the questions you need answered in the invite. While in the meeting, type the answers in as people answer them, rather than taking notes, compiling them, and sending them out later. Don’t leave the meeting without having a thorough understanding of questions answered, to-dos remaining, and task assignments. Make your meetings effective and people won’t feel like they’re losing time out of their day for nothing.

8. Get organized

Let’s face it—your professionalism is somewhat dependent upon what people see when they work with you, and the messier your desk is, the more disorganized you are perceived to be. You may thrive in chaos, but a pile of post-its and empty coffee cups around your computer doesn’t exactly say “Please put me in charge of something important.” The knick-knack overload that makes your workspace so personalized and comforting could be working against you. You have to make an effort to at least look as together as possible if you want to be seen as management material instead of a minion.

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9. Establish expectations for the coming year with your supervisor

Look, your supervisor isn’t psychic. If you didn’t get what you want at the end of 2014, you should probably set up a meeting to review not only your performance, but also your expectations for the coming year. As Lee Iacocca once noted, The discipline of writing something down is the first step toward making it happen.” Showing your boss you are committed to results is an important step in demonstrating your value as an employee. Entrepreneur Ramit Sethi has an excellent blog post with suggestions on what to cover in a meeting like this. Once you establish a record of how you’ve performed thus far, what you should be doing better, and where you expect to be in 12 months, you can make a road map of how to get there. Over the next year, all you have to do is show up, deliver what you’ve agreed to (and preferably a little more—see Step 10 below), and check in with your boss quarterly on your progress. A caveat: if your boss is resistant to meeting with you, dismissive of your goals, or refuses to establish expectations, it might time you thought about looking for a different job!

10. Make a habit out of going the extra mile

We’ve all heard this joke: Two men are sitting in a tent, and suddenly realize a bear is approaching it. One man starts putting on his tennis shoes, and the other man says, “Do you really think you can outrun a bear?” Tennis-shoe guy says, “I don’t have to outrun the bear—I just have to outrun you.” Take a look around. What do you have to outrun to really shine? Your own laziness? Your resistance to change? Because it’s time to accept that your coworkers aren’t your competition—you are. If you want 2015 to be better than 2014, you’re going to have to outrun the “you” of yesterday. Put on your tennis shoes and make a habit out of going the extra mile.

To quote Woody Allen, “Eighty percent of success is showing up.” The other 20% is up to you—are you just going to show up, or are you going to shine? The choice is yours.

Featured photo credit: Gerd Altmann via pixabay.com

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Published on September 16, 2020

12 Practical Interview Skills to Help You Land Your Dream Job

12 Practical Interview Skills to Help You Land Your Dream Job

Today, with many companies going remote—at least until there’s a COVID-19 vaccine—technical proficiency is a vital skill for every interviewee to master. You may be asked to interview for a job on Zoom or Microsoft Teams. The way you handle yourself in the online interview (your interview skills) will say much about your ability to work from home efficiently.

Does your workspace look clean or cluttered? Is the area free from noise? Is your home office well lit?

Once hired, you may be asked to organize meetings on Zoom and other platforms. Along with mastering the technology, you will have to learn to follow certain protocols.

Now is the time to get up to speed on your technical skills. Learn which interview skills are needed for the particular job for which you are applying and practice them.

Online learning sites, such as LinkedIn Learning and Udemy, offer courses for free or a nominal membership fee. If you are a DIY type, make use of training videos offered through your particular digital tools.

Additionally, demonstrating that you have these 12 interview skills will help you land your dream job.

1. Organization

When you work in a brick-and-mortar office, some of the organizing is left to others. Your direct supervisor may host a Monday morning quarterback meeting where each worker reports on the progress on their tasks.

When you work from home, much of the organizing will be left up to you. To a much greater extent than before, you will need to develop a schedule and stick to it. Some tasks may be faster to complete from your home office where you don’t have other workers competing for your attention.

Conversely, you may find that some tasks that would have gone quickly in an office seem to take forever from your home computer. Your phone may ring a lot, which can distract you, or you may have kids and a spouse who inadvertently disrupt your schedule.

To do: Set a schedule and stick to it.

To discuss during your interview: Be specific. Point to the interview skill you utilized to create a schedule for a complex work project and followed it.

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2. Flexibility

You set a schedule for the completion of your tasks, but your prospective boss gets their work done between the hours of 2:00 and 8:00 a.m. Your West Coast partners are three hours behind your East Coast partners, and one of your partners lives in England while another lives in Australia.

Feedback and collaboration (see point 3) may need to happen asynchronously. Be the flexible candidate—the person who is willing to occasionally disrupt their schedule for the greater good of the team.

For extra credit: don’t just look up time zones, look up whether they observe Daylight Savings Time.

To do: Be flexible about meeting times.

To discuss during your interview: Highlight a time when you worked on a team where members lived in different time zones. Discuss your processes.

3. Collaboration

As recently as six months ago, before the pandemic raged around the world, collaboration wasn’t quite as essential as it is today. In a remote office setting, collaboration doesn’t just mean working well with others—but actually sharing documents and editing them online on time.

Several cloud-based tools, such as Google Drive, Basecamp, and Trello, enable the type of collaborative teamwork that most companies want today.

To do: Download the correct software and practice using it.

To discuss during your interview: Discuss how you worked remotely with a group. Share how you overcame certain challenges.

4. Poise

Murphy’s Law states, “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.”

When things do go awry, keeping your wits about you will demonstrate your consummate professionalism under fire. This will show your future bosses that you will be able to work well under the pressures of remote work.

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What could go wrong, you ask? You might be muted without realizing it—your Internet connection may not be robust, your headphones may blip out, your cellphone may ring, Zoom could have an outage. The list goes on and on.

To do: Make sure you have the most up-to-date versions of Skype and Zoom uploaded.

To discuss during your interview: Consider highlighting a time when a project did not go as planned. Demonstrate the interview skills that allowed you to rise to the challenge.

5. Communication

Your ability to handle online communication is one of the top critical skills you will need to thrive in today’s remote workplace. Download Slack if you haven’t already. Get used to toggling to a different form of online communication if one of your tools fails.

When it comes to the preferred format for your online interview, demonstrate proficiency by offering several different options. Give your phone number, Google Chat Hangouts name, and Skype ID.

To do: Familiarize yourself with video conference and online chat tools, such as Slack, Fleep, or Workplace by Facebook.

To discuss during your interview: Be prepared to share the online communication tools you’re using and examples of how you use each one.

6. Good Computer Hygiene

Setting up a backup system for your computer files is one of today’s crucial requirements for working in the digital age. Storing documents that can be shared by team members is also an efficient way to work together on presentations, articles, and reports—although studies show nearly one-third of employees avoid them because of the time it takes to find documents.

Be prepared in your interview to indicate your experience utilizing this technology, describing how you organize and store files using cloud-based collaboration tools. How do you keep track of links and tabs? Do you use Dropbox? Google Docs? Confluence? Others?

To do: Take inventory of the cloud-based document sharing and storage systems you know and use.

To discuss during your interview: Describe the document sharing tools and backup systems you utilize—both for personal protection and professional file sharing.

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7. Proper Meeting Etiquette

Today, presenting yourself virtually has its pros and cons. While you only have to show a professional persona from the waist up (make sure to straighten up your office space behind you), you must boost your energy to show that you’re engaged in the discussion.

Make your voice as upbeat as possible. Have your talking points at the ready and be careful not to ramble on, as long virtual meetings easily become tiresome. Use the mute and chat features to avoid interruptions.

To do: Once you know the meeting platform, make sure you have it mastered before your interview.

To discuss during your interview: Offer to share your screen to show an example of a work project— while at the same time demonstrating your prowess with video conferencing tools.

8. Respecting Feedback

In the age of working remotely, there may not be as many systems in place to obtain feedback (such as yearly performance reviews). Workers may need to ask for feedback, while managers may need to give more feedback than usual as the team adjusts to working off-site. Respecting feedback is on top of the interview skills list that you should learn.

Taking a proactive approach with giving and receiving feedback and incorporating it into your work style is a desirable quality that your employers will note.

To do: Reflect on the positive feedback you’ve received from past employers to bolster your confidence.

To discuss during your interview: Share a time when you received feedback that made you grow in the job. If you’re a manager, share a time when you gave feedback to an employee who needed to better their job performance.

9. Project Management

Staying on task with projects has evolved far past a to-do list, with electronic tools that can track time, manage team workloads, and even do the client billing. While your prospective employer may have its preferred project management program, your experience with any of the various options—whether it’s Basecamp, Teamwork, Smartsheet, or another—will be applicable.

To do: Know which project management software is likely to be used by the industry in which you’re interviewing, and familiarize yourself with its features.

To discuss during your interview: Highlight a project management feature that is particularly useful in helping you excel in your work, and explain how you utilize it.

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10. Staying up to Speed

Employers expect their remote workers to be technically proficient so that technology runs smoothly and doesn’t create work disruptions. Bosses count on remote workers to know enough about their systems to manage them without relying on the help of overworked IT staff.

To do: Make sure you have a fast internet connection and have a back-up plan, such as a second computer or other tethered devices.

To discuss during your interview: Note that you are diligent about keeping your computer and software up to date.

11. Attention to Cybersecurity Issues

“Virus” is a loaded term these days. Spreading a computer virus in your company, however, will not only bring productivity to a halt, but it will also make you a pariah. While working from public places using free Wi-Fi (with uneven security provisions) has waned, in pre-pandemic times, coffee shops accounted for 62 percent of Wi-Fi security breaches.

To do: Keep antivirus software updated and don’t download software without verifying its authenticity.

To discuss during your interview: Emphasize your awareness of cybersecurity risks and your care in taking necessary safety measures.

12. Teamwork

Work relationships now mostly happen in virtual settings, yet employers value team-oriented workers.

Being a part of a team gives you a sense of connection and shared purpose. A well-honed team understands how mutual reliance makes the sum of its parts greater than when individuals act on their own, improving the end product.

To do: Take stock of your attributes as a team player and where you can cultivate skills that will enable you to work more collaboratively.

To discuss during your interview: Inquire about the company’s culture and how it encourages a sense of community despite working remotely.

Final Thoughts

Preparing for remote positions available in today’s job market will mean honing your interview skills to highlight your technical abilities as well as your adaptability. By adhering to these To-Do’s and perfecting your online interview skills and charisma, you will rise above the competition and win over any prospective employer.

More Tips to Improve Your Interview Skills

Featured photo credit: Christina @ wocintechchat.com via unsplash.com

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