Are you an achiever or someone who unwittingly self-sabotages your career?
As a former agency executive, mentor and now professor I love to hear success stories from graduates and past colleagues. I am also contacted frequently by panicked graduates and former colleagues who have not yet found their way professionally. Over the years, I’ve noticed several commonalities between those who achieve success and those who flounder. Here is what I’ve learned:
1. Grades matter, but not as much as you’d think. Students with the highest GPAs aren’t necessarily those who are the most successful. In fact, those who solely focused on earning the best grades, while forgoing extra-curricular activities or internships, tend not to land the best careers.
2. Confidence can take you far. Some of my best students lacked the confidence to pursue their dream careers and instead floundered unhappily because they didn’t dare to leave their safe zone and try something new. Those who are secure in their abilities have far greater success.
3. Cockiness is a killer. Confidence is great, but the inability to accurately evaluate skills and abilities, and be willing to learn, greatly impedes achievement.
4. Initiative is essential. Far too few students understand initiative. The ability, willingness, and passion to generate ideas can take control of a career. Those who possess an entrepreneurial spirit achieve great success.
5. Low energy applicants fail to compete with passionate job seekers. Uncovering an energy and excitement for the career you seek is essential. If you haven’t found your passion yet, you will not beat those who have a spark.
6. Goals must be identified and defined. I often hear people say they’ll work anywhere and take any job in their industry. No employer will hire you just because you want a job. You must want that job. Define your goals and identify, and execute a systematic approach for achieving them—with passion.
7. Self-sabotaging is common practice for those who don’t succeed. I have seen numerous resumes and cover letters that start: “Although I don’t have much experience … I’d love this job.” I’ve heard interviewees downplay their successes and apologize for weakness (unprompted). It amazes me how often people bring attention to perceived shortcomings. Worse are those candidates who don’t even put their hat in the ring because they don’t think they can compete. If you truly don’t think you possess the right qualifications, volunteering is a great way to fill resume gaps and build new credentials and contacts.
8. Laziness leads to dead ends. Failure to research companies, read newsletters or industry trades, and build a professional network is a career stopper. Sending generic form cover letters, not customizing resumes for each position, and lacking knowledge of a company’s business is a time waster. Successful people stay up to date with industry news; they are intellectually curious and eager to explore opportunities beyond their comfort zone.
9. Opportunities don’t come just because you say you want them. Blindly sending your resume to dozens of generic job boards is like running on a treadmill: It will get you nowhere. Successful professionals understand that they alone must uncover, approach, and secure opportunities. Career job postings are the least effective job search strategies.
10. Personality, please. My former boss would make decisions based on the airplane test. He would consider “who would you rather be stuck next to on an airplane for eight hours?” That candidate would win over an equally qualified, but less personable applicant. Are you dynamic or a dud? Sometimes shyness can be perceived as being aloof or unfriendly. Work hard to come across as friendly, happy, and open to new experiences.
In a competitive job market, it may be hard to stay positive. However, there are great careers out there for professionals who possess the confidence, initiative, passion, and willingness to pursue and create opportunities for themselves. Anyone who is motivated can chart a positive path to achievement. So get started and renew your efforts and apply your knowledge, skills, and energy towards career and life success.
Lorra M. Brown is an assistant professor of public relations/professional communication at William Paterson University in Wayne, N.J. She serves as the internship coordinator and advisor to the Student Public Relations Association. Prior to her faculty position, she held senior-level positions at Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide and Weber Shandwick Worldwide.