Professional job descriptions bristle with jargon denoting industry-specific skills — e.g. bioburden testing, C/UNIX environment with UML, common S&C EVMS toolsets, first-chair complex litigation. Proficiency in the specified skillsets may determine your eligibility for the position but it won’t be the criteria used by employers to distinguish among candidates. Savvy recruiters use every facet of the hiring process — letters, resumes, phone calls, interviews, references — to evaluate you for the skills that distinguish quality professionals.
If you are sub par on any of the following key professional skills, dedicate yourself to a continuing program of self-improvement. Let yourself become a laggard in these skills and you will limit your potential for career success or even set yourself up for a hard fall.
This is the skill easiest for others to see and the most difficult to preserve. The day of a working professional is one long series of temptations to fudge facts to bosses, clients, co-workers, vendors. Unfortunately, each fudged fact creates even more pressure to continue the deceptions. Before you know it, you are buried under a mountain of lies. A timely object lesson is the Enron disaster. It will certainly end up crushing the careers of dozens of onetime superstars. The unflinching truth is usually difficult and sometimes costly, but consider each a sound investment in your future.
Any effective team or working group is held together by one or two individuals who know how to listen. I don’t mean they know how to listen to the words, I mean they know how to listen for the hard reality behind the words. It’s no secret that most people are seriously deficient in communication skills. The professional who knows how to listen actively through the static becomes the trusted medicine man, the trouble-shooter to whom everyone turns in times of confusion and crisis. Organizations live and die by these rare individuals.
Professional problems can often be solved by turning to a written source, be it a company memo, instruction manual, public regulations, journal article or industry website. Essentially, that’s what highly paid lawyers and consultants do day in and day out. That’s because few people are skilled readers. Even fewer have the stomach to take precious minutes or hours out of a hectic workday to close the door and puzzle through pages of dull text. Those who put in the sweat become authority figures. Get a good reading lamp and develop your gluteus to the maximus. It will be kissed often.
The larger the organization, the more it depends on written documents — memoes, letters, reports, research papers, feasibility studies. Even many impressively educated professionals find writing to be an ordeal. It is no coincidence that in large organizations promotions often go to those best able to take the burden of generating pithy papers off the shoulders of superiors. Sharpen your pen and scratch out your own ticket to the top.
Not all tasks are of equal value. That’s why two professionals can devote equal talent and effort and end up with very unequal rewards. Prioritization is deciding which task is the most valuable on any given day, then focusing on that task. To prioritize, you must first take the time to understand your organization’s key mission and the changing conditions that dictate how it can best be advanced. In other words, keep your antennaes out to see what’s going on so you can stay where the action is. Action figures get mad play at promotion time.
When an important task doesn’t get done on time, it’s often because it didn’t get delegated on time to the right person. Delegating well is the essence of a good basketball team — sometimes you shoot, sometimes you pass. In any organization, you are part of a team. Top pros know when it’s best to pass part of the work to someone in a better position to get it done on time. Sometimes that means delegating it back up to the boss. That will make you look better than hogging the ball only to drop it.
Handling Interpersonal Conflicts
Many people head for the hills or lose their cool whenever they sense an interpersonal conflict brewing. Yet open conflict is a routine and healthy aspect of any working organization. Make a habit of seeing conflicts as red flagging organizational glitches. Resist personalizing it. Resist becoming excited or emotional. Instead suggest ways to resolve it as calmly and constructively as you would any other professional problem. You will be recognized as management material.
Badmouthing others and betraying confidences are surefire ways to earn the undying illwill and mistrust of co-workers. They are sins avoided at all costs by quality professionals. Loose lips sink careers.