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How to Futureproof Your Career

In the current Covid-19 environment we are witnessing a dramatic change to how some products and services may be delivered in the future. The switch to virtual GP visits has been almost seamless and we can expect other roles to look very different in the future.

However, the key human factors that differentiate high performance will not change, there will always be a “value” or “market” for people who can display a set of key competencies and behaviours in a manner that drives results for their organizations. This article will look at those competencies and behaviours for both those who are early in their career and those already at a more senior level.

If the old adage about the key advice when buying a house is "location, location, location!", then the career and recruitment equivalent is "attitude, attitude, attitude!". Skills and competencies can always be developed and experience can always be gained, but a positive attitude is a personal attribute - and is entirely within your control.

Recruiters will always look more favourably on those who display a positive attitude, as an individual with a positive attitude can bring the performance of a whole team up (whilst an individual with a negative attitude can have the exact opposite effect).

Early in your career

The attributes I outline below cost nothing, are entirely within your control and cannot be replicated by technology. Having the attributes below, however, is not enough. You must be able to illustrate how you use the attributes to drive positive outcomes for your employer.

If you are applying for your first job, you must show how you've used the attributes to deliver an impact for other groups, such as volunteering for charities, sports teams, involvement in university or college societies, choirs, drama groups or the completion of your studies.

1. Work ethic

In the modern world, customer demands are varied and unpredictable, so organizations need the ability to flex output as demand changes.

High performing teams rely on all team members pulling their weight and going above and beyond to assist others in delivering a positive outcome for the customer. Consequently, all organizations have a need for individuals who have a well-developed work ethic and commitment to do what is necessary to meet the needs of the organization, the team and the customer.

You need to show that you are willing to get your hands dirty, roll up your sleeves and get stuck in.

2. Body language

Your body language “speaks” volumes about your attitude and is visible to others long before you are aware they are even looking at you.

Your presence in a room is largely dependent upon the body language you choose to display. If you choose to have an open smiling face then it is likely others will be drawn to you. People like to be around others who display a positive open disposition. Keep in mind the old proverb, a face without a smile is like a day without sun.

3. Energy and passion

Being creative, taking the initiative and problem solving all require energy. Those who display their energy and passion for the task at hand can inspire others to rise to the challenge.

Energy creates momentum and can stimulate open-minded constructive debate to elicit diverse perspectives and new potential solutions. Ideas are fantastic but implementation requires action and there can be no action without energy.

Recruiters and hiring managers will always look to hire people who will bring a positive energy to the team or organization.

4. Attitude

A positive attitude can be infectious within a group and can give others confidence that solutions will be found. It is not unusual in a work environment to be presented with a challenge to which a ready-made solution is not available.

Our attitude in how we tackle the challenge can have a very significant impact on the outcome. Those who approach a challenge with a positive open mind, sometimes referred to as a growth mindset, are much more likely to find a workable solution than those who bring a negative disposition.

For the vast majority of people to be successful, they will have to work constructively in teams or with key clients and stakeholders so they must display a positive attitude. We know a negative attitude may well inhibit others from collaborating with us.

5. Being prepared

There is no substitute for being prepared. The best way to show in an interview that you are prepared is to outline how you have researched the company, its culture, its values and how they align with your values and sense of purpose.

Being on time for all interviews and being appropriately dressed also indicate the level of preparation you took in advance of the meeting – e.g. how did you mitigate the risk of being late?

6. Willingness to learn

All work environments will present us with the opportunity to develop and learn. Whether or not we take those opportunities is largely down to ourselves.

Those who are willing to learn are those who can turn adversity or an unplanned negative outcome into a learning opportunity. They will be willing to step out of their comfort zones and take on new challenges as they see the development opportunity inherent in grasping new experiences.

Conveying that you are willing to learn shows that you have the humility and self-awareness to know that you can always improve.

At this point, it might be useful for you (for each of the items above) to make a note of how you have displayed those competencies and behaviours to deliver a significant outcome for others. Ask yourself will the scenarios you have generated differentiate you from other applicants for the role you are looking to find?

Later in your career

For those at a later stage in their career, the competencies and behaviours above will be taken as a baseline set of requirements. To truly differentiate yourself you will need to display an additional set of competencies.

None of the competencies outlined below cost anything, they are completely within your control and will always be relevant no matter what technology is developed in the future.

1. Emotional intelligence

The concept of emotional intelligence encompasses five competencies: self awareness, self control, motivation, empathy and relationship skills.

Emotional intelligence is centred on the core principle of being able to perceive, control and evaluate emotions in oneself in order to inspire others. Emotional intelligence also encourages one to be aware of the impact of emotion on one’s own decision making as well as on the behaviour of others. There is an expectation that as one matures one develops a stronger sense of one’s emotional intelligence and can use that intelligence to deliver material impact for one’s organization.

2. Authenticity

In the modern world, people like to work with and for individuals who are genuine, open about their hopes and fears and comfortable in their own skin. What you see is what you get. There is no hidden agenda or false persona being portrayed by the individual. They are comfortable with displaying their values and how they weave integrity and ethics into their decision making.

3. Communicate with clarity

The ability to simplify and communicate in a very clear concise manner will go a long way towards enabling a successful outcome for most undertakings.

Ambiguity in the success criteria or the plan of action for any initiative or undertaking will undermine the likelihood of achieving a positive outcome. Those who can communicate with confidence in a manner that will resonate with the audience will always be valued within an organization. The ability to set clear expectations of what one needs or the outcome one will deliver is an invaluable asset.

4. Recognition

Invariably, to be successful in an organization you will have to collaborate with others. Being able to demonstrate that you value their contribution is critical to ensuring that their collaboration continues.

The key way to demonstrate that you value their contribution is to publicly call out their positive impact or to listen and incorporate their suggestions in the final solution. If you feel that you do not want to include the individual’s suggestion it is important that you take the time to show that you have listened and articulate why you are not going to use their idea on this occasion. People don’t expect everyone to agree with them all of the time but they do like to know that their contribution was considered and that their opinion was valued.

5. Courage and confidence

Many people have experience, competencies and skills but lack the confidence to use that knowledge to take appropriate risks or make tough decisions. As you mature in your career, people will expect that you can demonstrate how you use your skills and experience to make good decisions and how the quality of those decisions differentiate you from others.

Tips, tricks and takeaways

Prepare to communicate your scenarios using the STARR approach:

  • Situation - briefly describe the situation within which you have displayed the behaviour.
  • Target - what were you hoping to achieve at the outset?
  • Activity - what competency or behaviour did you display to achieve the outcome?
  • Result - what was the outcome?
  • Reflection - what did you learn from the experience?

For more practical insights on thriving in the work environment, see my book The Successful Career Toolkit or sign up for a coaching session.

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