It’s August. Hard to believe. The dog days of summer push students panting into a new college year as they load up suitcases, tech, bits of furniture, and personal souvenirs that make small spaces a home. Juniors and seniors—plus savvy sophomores—pack their minds with thoughts of the future: internships, jobs, graduate school, coaching from professors and mentors, appointments with the career counseling center, resume updates, networking, mock interviews, and informational interviews. Quite a list.
A student recently asked me: What will give me a competitive edge? I answered with six questions.
Are you a master of “soft skills”?
Many employers value “people skills” such as emotional intelligence, common sense, humor, logic, empathy, collaboration, cohesive expression, and oral communication sensitive to the setting or context of a situation. How skilled are you at working harmoniously in a multigenerational workplace?
Why should you care? There is a concern that a rising number of employees do not practice soft skills. In fact, HR professionals often reference this trend. In 2016, the Society for Human Resource Management posted this piece: “HR’s Hard Challenge: When Employees Lack Soft Skills.”
Does “service” underscore your attitude?
- It’s not about you; it’s about “them” (for example, employers, clients, customers, and potential customers).
- Listening is your most powerful communications tool.
What are your “core principles” and “professional ethics”?
With the explosion of social media and technology, consumers’ opinions resonate in the culture. Driven by skepticism, many customers seek authenticity, indeed transparency. What’s more, if consumers unite in a powerful voice, they can make or break a brand. A blog post by MDG Advertising nicely summarizes the eight principles of advertising ethics. The mindset is transferable to any profession.
Is it possible to “check your ego at the door”?
Teams, not individuals, drive most projects. You can draw energy from your creative passion while practicing a certain detachment—aware that sometimes your concepts will take center stage in a project. At other times, however, they may disappear if others offer superior ideas. Regardless, a trusting team shares ownership whatever the conceptual source. What’s more, if a project does not meet every expectation of your management or client, detachment will serve you well. You will objectively accept critique, respond to questions deliberately and logically, and seek constructive solutions. Charged emotions never solve a problem.
What does self-awareness mean to you?
Socrates said, “To know thyself is the beginning of wisdom.” Why is an ancient geezer’s thinking relevant to business? Personal branding is a hot phrase. Here’s a recent take from Entrepreneur: “8 Tips for Building Your Brand in 2017.” The publication also offers suggestions on how to achieve this: “5 Steps to Build Your Personal Brand.”
This exercise may deepen your self-awareness. It’s a tool to draw upon when an interviewer says, “So tell me about yourself.” Armed with self-knowledge, you’ll think about how your personality and skill sets contour to the needs, expectations, and corporate style of potential employers.To know thyself is the beginning of wisdom.—Socrates Click To Tweet
Interestingly, a different point of view recently surfaced. Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, thinks personal branding is overblown, as expressed in an interview with Entrepreneur: “Don’t package yourself. Just speak and speak honestly, with some data behind you.”
Whatever the approach, strive for self-knowledge throughout your personal and professional life. We all grow and change, so a little dose of Socrates goes a long way in leading a quality life.
How well do you adapt?
Stephen Hawking said, “Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change.” This quote by the brilliant theoretical physicist, mathematician, and author gives the rest of us something to consider. In fact, it’s common sense for any professional. For example, my career began in technical writing but expanded to jobs in advertising and publishing. I felt shy about creating a blog until popping open WordPress. Its intuitive nature hooked me, opening the door to a virtual playground and certification in social media marketing.Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change. - Stephen Hawking Click To Tweet
At the same time, it’s imperative that anyone who produces quality work retain these constants that predate the Internet:
- Creativity, which demands curiosity and a willingness to expand knowledge (for example, awareness of current events, culture, history, philosophy, economics, technology, and business trends)
- Sensitivity to details
- Sound judgment
- Clear, logical reasoning
- Strong language skills, which marry style, tone, and voice with a firm command of grammar, syntax, punctuation, spelling, and mechanics
Work hard. Play hard. Be mindful of soft skills—even in tough times.