No matter how many times mentors say them, there are pieces of advice – golden nuggets of been-there-done-that wisdom – that no one (okay, almost no one) ever follows.
Not the clichés you see every day like “Become a morning person”. Or the false-positive, affirmation-ridden stuff like “Make someone happy… with a smile!” Nor are these the really bad bits of advice dispensed so often we accept them as fact, like “Follow Your Passion”.
These never-fail insights would make a significant impact on the lives and careers of many… if (sigh) anyone would actually follow the advice:
1. Follow Up
As a society, we suck at following up. I have no idea why… laziness; fear of success; a failure to prioritize, perhaps. I just know that about 2% of those who take a business card, or say they will follow up – after a tweet, phone call, one-on-one meeting, networking function, etc. – actually do.
Want to stand out among all your competition – no matter what you hope to achieve? Follow up.
2. Personalize Everything
Think those generic connection requests on LinkedIn and auto-DMs on Twitter will get you noticed in a positive way? Think that generic cover letter and resume will get you an interview? Think that email template you send to potential mentors will be the beginning of a valuable relationship?
Your thinking… is wrong. In today’s world, every communication you send must be personalized. Period.
3. Make a To-Do List
“I don’t do to-do lists” is one of the biggest red flags in the professional world. No matter how you keep track – pen and paper, smartphone, laptop, iPad – a to-do list is a mandatory element of staying organized and being able to properly prioritize your next activity.
Don’t come by list-making naturally? Try the “CNN” method of listing tasks, which by default helps you prioritize: C = “Critical”. N = “Need to do”. N = “Nice to do”. Works, every time.
4. Find a Mentor (Lots of Mentors!)
One of the key traits of crazy-successful young careerists comes down to one thing: the existence of professional mentors. Perhaps a stable of them, or a “Personal Board of Advisors”.
Not sure where to find mentors? LinkedIn Groups are a place to start. Or visit #InternPro chat and/or #jobhuntchat on Twitter, each Monday evening starting at 9pm and 10pm ET, respectively. Those chats are mentor goldmines… you just have to do some digging.
5. Read, Read and Read Some More
Check out the autobiography of just about any major innovator in modern times… insatiable reading is near the top of everyone’s “never fails advice” list. Blogs, books, white papers, best practices, rants… it doesn’t matter what you read. Just read. And get your brain moving in a direction different than it might be used to going.
Don’t think you have time for a lot of reading? Next time you’re tempted to download a game to your smartphone, download a book or blog post by someone like Seth Godin or Ted Coine instead.
6. Know that No Soft Skill is More Important than Hustle
I’m at the point now that if I hear one more person talking about establishing their personal brand – but never really see that person actually DO anything – I’m probably going to go ape sh*t.
Present all the soft skills you want. Create the most polished profiles possible. But if I can’t clearly see that you are a “do-er” and not just a “dream-er”… that you are not willing to bust your ass, old-school style… it is all just talk. And I am not interested.
7. Present Yourself as a Problem Solver
In our current economy, every organization is trying to do more with less. There is just no room for automatons who simply “do their job”. Those companies seek innovative thinkers who provide solutions… or at least ideas that contribute to solutions. They want those who will generate impact.
How to do that? So simple:
- Identify a challenge.
- Think – or build a team to think – of a solution.
- Present the solution.
- Actively listen to the feedback.
- Improve the solution.
8. Own “It”
It doesn’t matter what “it” is. It could be that challenge that needs a solution. Or maybe a big project that gives you a chance to shine. Perhaps it’s the garbage that needs taking out, or a bathroom that needs cleaning before a client comes to the office. Or, just maybe its a mistake you made. No matter what is thrown at you, or to you… own it.
How do you project this in-demand trait? Take on this mindset: “This is my job to do. I will do it to the best of my ability. Once done, I will ask for more responsibility.” Not a bad way to go through a career.
9. Be a Stalker
Yep, a stalker. Just short of the restraining order… stalk. Stalk recruiters. Stalk potential mentors and influencers. Stalk potential business partners, collaborators and innovators. Yes, you’ll eventually run into someone who thinks you’ve crossed the line into creepy; that comes with the territory… (just know THAT is the time to back off).
Tom Bolt, recruiter extraordinaire, puts this best: “If anyone wants to get my attention as a recruiter, they will approach me on social media, email me, apply to my jobs online, call me… literally stalk me.”
10. Be THE Expert
Here’s the aspect of career development that falls on deaf ears more than anything else…
Perhaps it is because many young careerists have been in academic-theory-hell for too long. Maybe it’s because we think being everything to everybody is the best way to get that job. Or maybe it is because we don’t yet have a narrow point of focus.
Whatever the reason, trust me on this: if you want to get noticed, become THE expert on whatever marketable subject works best for you. Candidates get passed over, all the time. Experts (real subject experts, not the self-promotional variety) get recruited, all the time.
11. All Anyone Cares About: Results
My personal favorite, especially when someone says: “But I worked really hard on that!”
In the real world, it does not matter one little bit how much effort you put into a project. The only thing that matters is… results. How does your work measure up against milestones? Did you meet the goals of the project? Did you exceed expectations?
If not… the last thing you want to talk about to a boss, mentor or potential employer is how hard you worked… to achieve nothing.
As you build your career, be the 5% who will follow this worthy, career-changing advice. And don’t be afraid to pass it along to others. Just don’t be surprised when they don’t listen (but be incredibly grateful for those who do… that’s when the magic happens!)
About the Author: CEO and Founder of YouTern, Mark Babbitt is a serial mentor who has been quoted in the Wall Street Journal, Mashable, Forbes and Under30CEO.com regarding job search, career development, internships and higher education’s role in preparing emerging talent for the workforce. A keynote speaker and blogger, Mark’s contributions include Huffington Post, Switch and Shift, The Daily Muse and Under30CEO.
Mark has been honored to be named to GenJuice’s list of “Top 100 Most Desirable Mentors” and was recently featured on HR Examiner’s “Top 25 Trendspotters in HR” and several top blogger lists, including JobMob’s “Top Career Bloggers of 2012”. Contact Mark via email or on Twitter!