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8 Pieces of Advice Every Young Professional Should Be Told

8 Pieces of Advice Every Young Professional Should Be Told

Everybody has heard the saying, “Work smarter, not harder,” but isn’t it hard work just thinking about ways to be smarter? The following eight pieces of professional advice will serve to inspire or revolutionize your strategies for success, as they have done for mine.

1. Find a person who has the life or job you want.

Purely as a result of their own ego, this person will tell you all about how they got where they are, and how you can too. Even if this is a person you don’t know that well, drop them an email to ask if you can buy them a coffee and talk about their job. I did this three times while working in banking; bankers aren’t known for their generosity, but they are known for their ego, and what does any successful ego love more than talking about itself? I’ve also done this several times since leaving finance to go into my dream career, medicine. (Another benefit of this is they always insist on buying the coffee anyway.)

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2. Develop an interesting and relevant skill that isn’t a prerequisite.

Everybody who is worthy of being called your competition has the necessary skills and experience for the job you want. Just like driving through a city at rush hour, if you try to beat everyone else on what is normally the proper, most efficient route to work, you will arrive later than if you took the slightly inconvenient back roads with less traffic. The same goes for the skills market: you need to be good at the prerequisite skills, but if you only put your energy into those, you might find the traffic on that route overwhelming when you try to stand out. Develop a niche skill that is desirable but not something the competition has to have. It will make you more interesting and more useful.

3. Get a mentor.

Ideally this would be somebody senior within your company, but really it can be anybody more experienced than you in your industry: someone who is respected and who has influence. Again, if you appeal to this person’s ego and/or generous side, you will have somebody you can send hundreds of career-related questions to. They will also become incredibly useful when you need somebody to vouch for you.

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4. Realign your day-to-day efforts with the expectations you have for your future.

If you picture yourself achieving something impressive one day, then ask yourself: “Am I doing anything that is impressive right now?” If the answer is no, then you need to pick up your game. You can’t plod along in the middle of the pack if one day you hope to lead it. What are you already doing today to set yourself apart from your peers?

5. Make a five-year plan.

This isn’t just to help you figure out where you want to be in five years’ time; most importantly it is a detailed plan of how you’re going to get there. Start with where you want to be in five years and then work back, step-by-step, including each task/project/accomplishment you will need to achieve to move between steps. The results will probably scare you because if you’re ambitious you will realize there are steps you need to take now to be on schedule.

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6. Don’t say, “If it’s meant to be, then it will happen.”

This thought is incredibly comforting and it can occasionally be useful when you’re bravely bouncing back from a setback. But really this thought is just an excuse for inaction. It will be toxic to achievement if you’re not careful because this mind-set may remove the burden of progress from you and allows you to become passive instead of leading the charge on your goals.

7. Surround yourself with people you admire and ditch the ones who breed negativity.

People tend to recalibrate their definitions of what is normal, what is possible, and what counts as success based on their surroundings. You can achieve things that nobody thought possible of you once you’ve reset your standards to a higher point. At the same time, the more successful or happy you become, the more you will either encourage negativity or inspiration in your friends or colleagues. They may have to adapt to a new perspective of what is possible. Surround yourself with people you admire to raise the bar for yourself so you accomplish more, and get rid of those people who want to bring you back down to the level that they’re comfortable with. Just be careful that the people you admire are a diverse group or you risk becoming a polarized, one-dimensional person.

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8. Practical intelligence is a much higher predictor of success than IQ—work on it!

A decent IQ is a prerequisite for any good job, but it’s repeatedly been shown to not be a great indicator of success. In fact, research suggests once you have a moderately high IQ (>125), this is sufficient for pretty much most jobs in the world. A much more reliable indicator of someone’s success than IQ is their creative and practical intelligence. Malcolm Gladwell, author of Outliers, describes this as, “not knowledge for its own sake. It’s knowledge that helps you read situations correctly and get what you want.” A high IQ enables you to apply yourself very well to a given task, which is good but isn’t going to set you apart. To be successful in the world you have to create tasks, and figure out which tasks you should apply yourself to in the first place.

Have you got any hot tips for young players? Have you ever been given professional advice that worked really well for you? Let us know in the comments below.

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Last Updated on April 17, 2019

10 Essential Soft Skills That Will Help Advance Your Career

10 Essential Soft Skills That Will Help Advance Your Career

What’s the secret of professional success? Some of it lies in the mastery of your discipline and all the technical skills you have to carry out your job; but a much bigger part lies in the soft skills list you possess.

Soft skills are your people or relationship skills—how well you get along with others and your ability to communicate and collaborate—as well as the personal characteristics you bring to the job, such as optimism, a can-do attitude and the motivation to work hard. These skills are not always easy to point out, but their absence can cause serious problems and negatively affect the whole work atmosphere.

They say that hard skills will help you get the job, but soft skills will help you get along—and get ahead. With that in mind, here’s the top-10 essential soft skills list to help you advance your career.

1. Communication Skills

Communication skills are hands-down the most sought-after soft skill that bosses want, and this one ability covers a lot of ground.

To communicate well, you have to listen carefully, interpret the context of the conversation, express yourself clearly, persuade others of your point of view, check your body language and use an engaging presentation style that won’t intimidate or bore your audience. That’s a big ask!

Your personality traits can influence the way you communicate with others. For instance, some people get straight to the point and center their arguments around facts and logic; others are cooperative and sensitive to how others feel. Both these approaches are equally valuable but there can be misunderstandings if you don’t understand where the other person is coming from.

Taking a comprehensive personality test can help you understand why you communicate the way you do and where your blind spots are. It can also help you understand other communication styles is so you can tailor your communication to the person you’re dealing with.

After all, connecting with your conversation partner is the hallmark of good communication.

2. Flexibility

Change is an essential part of any business. Companies need employees who are flexible enough to work with new initiatives, open to new ideas, and generally are able to tough it out when things don’t go as planned.

Research has found a link between job performance and flexibility over the long term because there will be times when you have to step outside your routine and rise to fresh challenges that didn’t exist before.

Being flexible doesn’t mean you have to hop into a new task or job role like an expert. Rather, it’s about showing you’re willing to accept new responsibility and learn different things.

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Bosses look for people who are prepared to step outside their comfort zones and are open to alternative solutions when their first idea doesn’t work.

3. Being a Team Player

Working on a team can be challenging but learning to do it well can definitely help you get ahead in your career. Employers look for people who can negotiate, cooperate and manage conflicts with other people to achieve a common goal. That includes the ability to build lasting relationships with customers and clients.

What makes a good team player? Essentially, it’s someone who knows the goal and knows her role. Employers look for evidence that you know your strengths, your responsibilities and how you can best contribute to the team, then put those skills into action by sharing ideas and communicating in a respectful manner. That’s the definition of being a good team player.

This is another area where taking a personality test can help you get ahead. When teams work together, each member brings a unique set of skills and qualities to the group. Research has shown that different combinations of personalities affect how teams collaborate and how productive they are.

Knowing who you are, and how you work on a team, can drive new insights and open the door to better teamwork.

4. Positive Mental Attitude

There are plenty of things you can’t change at work, like the people you work with or the fact that the printer is broken again. The one thing you can change is how much you let these things bother you.

Bosses like people who are calm, rational and upbeat—those who diffuse tensions in the workplace, not get all grouchy and go around slamming doors.

Studies show that people who maintain a sunny disposition have better relationships at work, are happier in their jobs and make better decisions than those who whine and complain. Some suggest that a positive mental attitude can also make you live longer—which means it’s beneficial for every area of your life![1]

It’s not always easy to keep a “glass half full” mentality when work is stressful and the deadlines are piling up. But there are some things you can do to help maintain a positive attitude. Laughing at your unfortunate circumstances keeps the work environment positive, and taking “sanity” breaks can help you keep your cool in high-pressure situations.

Managers look for positive mental attitude in a team member that is ready for a promotion, so it really does pay to keep your cool in challenging situations.

5. A Strong Work Ethic

People with a strong work ethic are committed to the role, persevere when things get tough and are inspired by challenge. These people are ambassadors for the organization, and will always be seen as top talent and ideal candidates.

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If you can exhibit this skill, then expect to be seen as a great candidate, eligible for new opportunities and positions throughout your career.

Since a strong work ethic can mean different things to different people, it helps to show specific examples of your exceptional work ethic during a performance appraisal or interview. For instance, you might talk about:

  • A time when you persisted in the face of challenges and did not shy away from hard work.
  • How you volunteered to help with projects even though these tasks did not form part of your job description.
  • The networking, workplace learning and skills betterment you’ve undertaken, which shows ambition and drive (people with a strong work ethic have those qualities in spades).
  • How you own your mistakes and never, ever point the finger of blame at others.

For help with building a strong work ethic, check out these tips: How to Build a Reliable Work Ethic

6. Public Speaking

Who’s terrified of public speaking? Pretty much everyone, since public speaking is America’s number one fear, ahead of death at number five and loneliness at number seven.

Yet, according to Warren Buffett, mastering this one skill you could increase your personal value by 50 percent.[2] That’s huge!

If you’re not natural at public speaking, you’re in good company. Buffett had to work hard to overcome his stage fright and once dropped out of a public-speaking course before it started—because he was afraid of public speaking! He eventually realized that he needed to build up his confidence by just doing it; over and over in front of small groups.

For a more structured approach, Toastmasters International teaches public speaking and leadership skills through a variety of pathways. Membership of this non-profit looks good on your resume but the real payoff will come when you can put your newfound skills to use on the job or in the interview room.

Or, you can check out this advice: The Ultimate Public Speaking Tips to Hook and Impress Any Audience

7. Integrity

From a manager’s point of view, the two integrity skills that will set you apart are:

  • Always doing what you say you will do
  • Owning an error instead of minimizing or hiding it

…even when no one is around to check up on you.

There are lots of people who have climbed the ladder without scruples, but they are not the people who others trust, respect and support when promotion time comes around.

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Behaving with integrity is a safe and consistent way to enhance your reputation and achieve your professional goals.

8. Managing Your Time

Phone calls, texts, Slack pings, meetings, huddles, side projects, multitasking—we are busier today than any generation before us. There’s no denying the workplace is an incredibly distracting place to be.

A lot of us have traded effectiveness for busyness which we wear as a badge of honor, both as a proxy for productivity and to show our value to the company. But what bosses want, what they really, really want, is someone who actually gets stuff done on time.

Time management is not merely the art of being on time, but of managing your time so you focus on the projects that really matter and add value to the business. This means prioritizing well, sticking to schedules, delegating, and not getting distracted by tasks that are easier to perform or less important. It means planning ahead and learning when it’s appropriate to say no.

Time management can be a tough skill to maintain, but not a difficult one to pick up. Monitor your actions for a few days—how long do your tasks take to finish? What’s interrupting you? What causes you to lose focus? Once you have the answers to these questions, you can set a schedule for yourself to make sure you’re spending your time wisely and this valuable asset is never wasted.

These 20 Quick Time Management Tips to Super Boost Your Productivity are also great to try.

9. Assertiveness

In any workplace, you typically will find people with the following conflict styles:

  • Passive: Those who go out of their way to avoid conflict.
  • Passive-aggressive: Those who express their negative feelings through actions rather than words.
  • Aggressive: Those who respond to conflict in a hostile and rude manner. These people get their opinion heard but they won’t make any friends in the process.
  • Assertive: People who stick up for their rights while still respecting the rights of others.

Managers look for assertiveness above all other styles because it allows decisions to be made without conflict or alienating people.

How do you use this information for yourself?

It starts with understanding your personality so you can anticipate how you will react when conflict arises and address your own shortcomings. Then, you can start influencing the team for top results, and securing your own career advancement in the process.

Learn how to be assertive and gain respect:

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How to Be Assertive and Stand up for Yourself the Smart Way

10. Creative Thinking

LinkedIn recently analyzed over 50,000 skills that employers search for when looking for candidates to find out what skills are currently in demand.[3] Taking the number-one slot on the 2019 soft skills list was creativity: the ability to solve problems and think outside the box.

Creativity is about bringing fresh, and sometimes unorthodox, ideas to the table. This helps companies to innovate, and companies that do not innovate will not survive very long.

How do you showcase your creative thinking skills? The golden rule is to participate.

Be brave and share your ideas during group brainstorming sessions. Volunteer to run a society, networking event or recruitment drive. Ask “what if” questions: “What if we add this information to the client welcome pack?” “What if we eliminate step 3 from the process?”

These activities demonstrate that you’re prepared to go beyond “business as usual” towards creative problem solving—an ability that will serve you every day, all throughout your career.

You can learn to unleash your creativity power:

What Is Creativity? We All Have It, and Need It

Final Thoughts

The good news? Every item on this soft skills list can be learned. Although you may feel lacking in certain areas, taking an inventory of your strengths and weaknesses will allow you to focus in on the areas that you’ll benefit from developing.

So take an inventory of your personality, skills, and talents. This will give you a baseline for your communication style, attitude to change, conscientiousness and more. You can then identify your weak areas and develop strategies for improving your team-building, assertiveness and conflict skills.

The better news? The effort is worth it. Developing your soft skills opens the door to a new job or a promotion, and helps you succeed once you get there.

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Featured photo credit: Rachael Gorjestani via unsplash.com

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