The Road to Success for Wallflowers

October 16, 2007

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Many employers are looking for workers who have very specific personal attributes. Yet being great at what you do while dispossessing that "special something" should not stop hard workers from getting ahead. There is no one solution, but a combination of strategies could do the trick.

Employers are looking for workers who have the personal skills, tendencies and attributes that help to keep productivity — and thus profits — up.

According to ACT Research, these personal skills are as follows:

Carefulness; Cooperation; Creativity; Discipline; Goodwill; Influence; Optimism; Order; Savvy; Sociability; Stability; and Striving.

But here's the thing: try as we may, not all of us naturally possess every one of these personal traits — that "special something."

For instance, no matter how willing and engaging an employee is, he or she may not have the natural ability to be "likable in interpersonal work situations" (Cooperation) or to "enjoy being in other people's company and to work with others" (Sociability). Some of us are simply wallflowers, who remain on the sidelines of social activities. And while we may not focus on or highlight the negative, we may not be naturally "optimistic," either.

Yet being great at what you do while dispossessing these natural personality traits should not stop those who work hard and aspire to get ahead from succeeding in their career.

To that end, here are some tips for career advancement. While none of these will turn your career around, they can make a difference and give you an edge over — or at least put you on the level of — those with the natural ability to dominate social situations.

Do Your Homework As with most request prerequisites and attempts at change, find out where your company is going and where future needs might be. You must know where you've been and where you are in order to know where you're going.

Find a Mentor Develop mentoring relationships, either inside or outside the department or even company. A good mentor will do more than stroke your ego — he or she will help you avoid setbacks and unnecessary stress by looking critically at your goals and how best to achieve them. This gives you not only a source of information and career guidance, but also an ally.

Studies have shown that four out of five promotions are influenced by a mentor higher up in the company.

Sharpen Your Skills Keep learning. A proven way to advance in your career is to acquire new knowledge continually. Stay on top of trends and developments in your field and ensure that your current résumé reflects those needed skills.

Take advantage of on-the-job training. Most companies offer free group training in computer skills and aspects of management. (After you complete them, be sure to list them on your résumé.)

Group training also helps develop interpersonal skills — which play a crucial role in gaining the respect of your boss and coworkers. (See above list of top personal skills sought by employers.) People skills will also attract the notice of outside influencers who might open new doors of opportunity for you. Listen carefully to people, and communicate clearly and effectively.

Be Innovative Differentiate your competence. "Anyone hoping to advance must distinguish his or her performance on the job," Siobhan O'Mahony, an assistant professor at Harvard Business School, tells HBS Working Knowledge.

Think creatively and put your business acumen to work. Stay on the lookout for creative solutions to problems that will make you — and your boss — look good. Most employers claim to want a fresh perspective.

Tackle New Challenges Seek out new opportunities. Serve on an advisory board. Hear about a new project around the water cooler? If it matches your skill set — even if you don't have the formal experience — volunteer by asking your supervisor if you can work on the project team (Best not to take the lead quite yet…). If you get the assignment, go the extra mile to do a good job.

If you really want to stretch yourself, volunteering to help other departments or teams — or simply asking for more responsibilities — can increase your value within the organization. Asking for (gasp) additional work shows an interest in and desire to help your department and company to succeed. It also puts a spotlight on your value to the business… which leads to our final tip.

Sell Yourself Broadcast your accomplishments. Don't brag — simply take control of the way your coworkers think of you. People who are good at presenting their past experience in a way that allows for an easy translation to the desired job can narrow the gap between their past experience and future capabilities.

In business, your reputation is possibly the most valuable thing you own. Make a name for yourself by being dependable, professional and cooperative — and that is how you will be known.


WorkKeys Personal Skills Assessment: What the Talent Assessment Measures ACT

Ten Tips on Career Advancement All Business

Career Advancement: Build a Plan that Limits Stress Mayo Clinic, Oct. 16, 2006

Stretchwork: Managing the Career Progression Paradox in External Labor Markets by Siobhan O'Mahoney and Beth A. Bechky The Academy of Management Journal (AMJ), Vol. 49, No. 5 / 2006

Career Advancement Without Experience by Julia Hanna HBS Working Knowledge, Aug. 9, 2006

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