- Michael Thompson
If I started my career over again, this is where I’d start.
As a career coach and mentor at a handful of universities and business accelerators, I spend a great deal of time helping people navigate their careers.
The biggest mistake I see a lot of people making is they spend too much time worrying about what they want to do with their careers. When what they should be doing is focusing on developing relevant and marketable skills.
If I had to start my career over today, below are the 4 skills I would focus on. Taking the time to hone each of them will not only make your life easier today, but they’ll also help you to create countless opportunities in the future.
1. Work to get your writing skills as tight as possible
The past two months I’ve been working with a client who spent all of 2019 looking for a job to no avail. She spent countless hours making new connections and applying for jobs. Two weeks ago, however, her luck changed: she opened up her email and staring back at her were the words “Great email. Are you free to talk this week?” Last Thursday she signed a contract and in one month she’ll begin her new role as the managing director of a well-known and successful venture capital firm.
This is all because we took a few hours to clean up her profile and make some small but necessary tweaks to her outreach messaging.
Landing interviews by only writing a few paragraphs. Connecting with people you admire in a timely fashion. Attracting potential clients by writing persuasive articles. Building a reputation at work as a clear communicator.
These are just a few of the things that becoming an effective writer can do for you. Most importantly, when it comes to clarifying our thought, few actions are more effective than taking the time to get them down on paper.
The good news is that opportunities to improve your written communication are all around you. Just yesterday I opened up my email and Darius Foroux is offering a writing course. When it comes to writing concise and persuasive text few people do it better.
If you aren’t ready to invest in a course, there are countless ways to improve your written communication.
- Study the effective writers around you and take notes of the people in your workplace who write clear and concise emails, memos, and presentations.
- Draft up messages to send to people you admire and study the ones that land you a meeting and the ones that don’t (Linkedin is great practice for this as it limits your outreach message to 300 words).
- Start a blog so you can hone your personal style while keeping track of your ideas that connect with your audience.
- Reserve time each week to grab a topic that interests you and journal about it to better organize your thoughts.
We all write. An easy way to stand out is by learning how to write well.
2. Become a master at interviews
When I graduated from college, the profiles of me and my friends looked more or less the same. We went to the same university, studied the same subjects, and had the same types of internships or work history. However, 6 months after graduating, half of my friends were flying and the other half was sitting on the couch.
A big reason for this is because one group learned how to sell themselves and one group didn’t.
Contracting a coach or investing in your interview skills isn’t only about landing your next job. It’s also about gaining the confidence to clearly express who you are and what you stand for — a skill that will serve you tremendously in both your professional career and personal life.
If you aren’t ready to pay for a coach below are the exact steps I take my clients through when we are preparing for an interview. The clients, like the woman in the example point above, who throw themselves into these steps get opportunities and the ones that drag their feet don’t.
- Write out your answers to the 20 most popular interview questions in your field.
- Clean up your answers and ask people whose opinion you respect to review them.
- Record yourself giving the answers until you like what you see and hear.
- Ask a mentor or trusted friend to review a handful of your recordings and remind them to not hold back with their critique.
- Do a role-play to make sure you express yourself as well in-person as you do on camera.
That’s it. We’re talking about 10 to 15 hours of work that can potentially open hundreds of doors and earn you thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars, over the life of your career.
Not to mention if you find yourself in a job you don’t like, having strong writing and interview skills can seriously speed up the time it takes to get the job you want.
3. Learn how to engage/manage a community
At the beginning of the 21st-century content may have been king. But my friend, co-founder of Hopin, Dave Schools got it right — today connection is king. The fastest way to create strong connections is by getting involved in your community.
No matter what you decide to do with your life, you’ll need the help of other people. Learning how to bring these people together, and create an environment where you lift each other as you climb together, is a skill that will only become more valuable in the future.
If you are looking for a job why not bring a bunch of job-seekers together with the goal of helping each other navigate your job search.
If you are a creator why not pull all of your creator friends together and start a slack channel where you can support each other’s work.
By being a part of a community you’ll quickly learn the power of leaning on others and just how important getting comfortable asking for help is. Not only that but by getting to know more people you’ll begin to get an idea of the type of people you’d like to collaborate with on future projects.
Opportunities to bring people together have never been easier. Online platforms like Facebook, Linkedin, Slack and up-and-comers like Hopin have done the heavy lifting by creating spaces to play. Creating an offline monthly mastermind meetup for like-minded people takes just a few phone calls to organize.
If you aren’t up for starting your own group, get the lay of the land by joining a few in areas that interest you and take notes of the things the organizers are getting right and also the things you think you could do better.
If I were starting my career today I would jump headfirst into the community building scene. “Career Luck” has a funny way of showing her face to the people who build the most win-win relationships.
Kevin Kelly’s idea of creating 1,000 true fans may be the key to creating a successful business. When it comes to our careers, don’t underestimate the power of bringing together 10 friends.
4. Get comfortable speaking in public
I’m not going to bore you with a long list of people who accredit learning how to speak in public with transforming their careers. Simply take a moment and think about the people you admire. The odds are high that they are all strong communicators. One of the fastest ways to improve this skill is by working on improving your public speaking ability.
This doesn’t mean, however, that you need to throw yourself into the deep end by immediately joining Toastmasters or a public speaking group (though I highly recommend it). I have a stutter, and when I started my career, the very idea of this made my palms gush with sweat. Simply start by chipping away at this skill by moving at a pace that is comfortable for you.
Below are the first 5 steps I would recommend taking, however, for anyone to get started.
- Re-watch your favorite talks but instead of solely focusing on only what the speaker is saying pay attention to also how they are saying it (this article has a long list of questions to consider while watching).
- Study everything you can about how to tell a compelling story (I wish I had read this article years ago).
- Spend an afternoon writing out a handful of your favorite stories (they could be your own stories or ones you have heard that you connected with).
- Record yourself telling these stories while incorporating the learnings you have acquired.
- Recruit a public speaking buddy to practice together with.
To get comfortable you could also start doing video calls with your friends or take an afternoon to interview each other. I have a talk coming up in a month and last week to get back into the swing of things I spent an hour reading stories at my son’s school. This turned out to be an exceptional exercise. After all, if I can keep a group of 5-year-olds engaged then adults should be a breeze, right?
The benefits of taking the deliberate steps to improve your public speaking ability are endless. It will position you as a leader and someone worthy of the spotlight. It creates connections with your audience and can help you to quickly create win-win relationships. Most importantly, it will do a world of good for your confidence.
Public speaking coach Olivia Schofield got it dead right — “An actor is an expert at being someone else. A speaker is an expert at being themselves.”
When reviewing this list one theme becomes very apparent: all the suggestions revolve around improving our communication and relationship building skills.
This is not a coincidence.
The world is full of people who possess the necessary “hard” skills to get a job done. More times than not, however, it’s the “soft” skills that end up being the differentiator between a good career and a great one.
Having coding skills is becoming the norm. However, being tech-savvy while being able to command a stage — now that’s interesting.
Thanks for reading. If you are active on Linkedin, feel free to say hi here.