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Monday, July 16, 2012

Mentality: The Essential Element for Success

While skills are essential to career success, what is equally if not more important is your mentality. As the saying goes, “It’s not what you have but who you are.” Your mentality affects your habits and actions, and ultimately decides your destiny.

The importance of the right mentality is most easily seen in sports. As sports fans will know, in critical moments, mental strength can make or break an athlete or a sports team. A recent example is the English football club Chelsea, which won the UEFA Champions League in May against all odds.

No doubt, luck was a factor behind the team’s success (for example, Barcelona, its opponent in the semi-finals, hit the woodwork twice in the match). But Chelsea won largely because the key players – who were above 30 and knew this year was their last chance to win the competition – showed more focus and more determination than ever. This mentality lifted up the team and helped them lift the trophy, a feat they failed to achieve even at their prime a few years ago.
And the right mentality isn’t only important to athletes. It’ll help you a great deal whichever industry you’re in. If you have the mental qualities below, you’re fully prepared to live a wonderful life and have a fulfilling career.

1) Curiosity: Work is about problem solving. After all, you’re hired because your organization wants you to solve problems for the customers. Curious people are in general better problem solvers because they love to ask questions, think about new ideas and explore the unknown. Plus, in today’s fast-changing world, existing knowledge may become obsolete sooner than we think. Curiosity motivates you to keep learning and is a valuable asset to have. 
2) Persistence: From sports to music, from business to academia, those who achieve excellence work hard for years and, more importantly, persist in the face of obstacles. First, there is no substitute for hard work, and the discipline required is often what separates the mediocre and the exceptional. Second, determination is essential for any achievement as difficulties and failures are always a part of life. You have to bounce back after failures in order to taste the joy of success.

3) Passion: With passion, you’ll find it easy to be persistent and curious about work because you love what you do and you want to do it well. You’ll be dedicated and give it your best, and both your happiness and your work performance will improve. It’s important to realize there is no such thing as the best or the most successful industry. However exciting or lucrative an industry is, if you aren’t interested in it, there is no way you’ll do well in it. You won’t be happy either. That’s why you should choose a job that matches your passion.

4) Courage: Though it may not come across your mind, courage is an important quality. Even if you’re passionate about work, the prospects of big projects, presentations and decisions can be stressful and intimidating. You need the courage to step out of your comfort zone to grow and learn, to seize chances and accept big responsibilities, and to stay calm and perform under pressure. Above all, you need to be brave enough to pursue your passion and live the life you want instead of doing what is expected of you.

5) Hope: Sometimes it’s not easy to be brave and determined in the face of huge pressure and difficult challenges, and this is where hope comes in. With hope, you trust your abilities to handle the problems and believe everything will turn out to be fine eventually. Hope is a powerful motivator that enables you to persist even in the bleakest circumstances.

6) Humility: Though you should stay hopeful and believe in yourself, you need to be humble at the same time. When you succeed, it’s easy to suffer from overconfidence, which may lead to one’s own demise. The truth is our success is often partly the result of luck and collaboration, rather than entirely due to our efforts and talents. Humility reminds us there’s a lot we don’t know and there’s a lot to be done. It keeps our ego in check, and helps us remain realistic and objective when we’re tempted to feel self-important after success.

You may think it’s tiring and stressful to have the above mental attributes. You’re right. But nobody says success is easy. Success often comes with a price, and it’s your decision as to what kind of life you want. If excellence is what you want, you must learn to develop the right mentality.
Donald Trump once said, “What separates the winners from the losers is how a person reacts to each new twist of fate.” No matter what twists of fate you face, if you have curiosity to arouse you, persistence to support you, passion to guide you, courage to empower you, hope to motivate you, and humility to caution you, you’ll surely flourish in life. 

Questions: How have the above mental qualities helped you in school or in your career? Have you suffered a setback because you didn’t have the right mentality? Please share you stories.


Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The 7 Essential Skills to Advance Your Career

Last time I explained why higher education doesn’t guarantee a good first job, let alone a successful career. One reason is the mismatch between what colleges offer and what is needed in the job marketSkills are what employers want, but higher education focuses on knowledge transfer.

So, what kind of skills are employers looking for? Here are a list of skills that are useful across most industries. Not only should you strive to improve these skills, you should also think about how to demonstrate them in job interviews.

1) Analytical thinking: Most professionals are required to make decisions on a daily basis. To make a sound decision, you need to interpret data and facts, think from different perspectives, and weigh the pros and cons of different options, all of which require good logical reasoning. This is why analytical skills are highly valued in the workplace.

2) Numerical skills: Of course, you don’t need to be an expert in stochastic calculus or abstract algebra, but basic numerical skills are important in most jobs. All organizations have to generate revenue and manage costs in order to survive, and budgeting is important even for non-profit organizations. Itll help if you’re comfortable with numbers.

3) Computer skills: Computers have become an indispensable tool for work. It’s crucial to know how to handle simple spreadsheet analysis and create nice presentation slides, because these tasks come up more often than you think in a typical office job.

4) Communication skills: Make sure you can clearly express your ideas in both speaking and writing. As Haruki Murakami said, “A lot of trouble in this world has its origin in vague speech.” Good communication skills help you avoid misunderstanding, and bring clarity and efficiency to your organization. Being a good listener is important too, since communication is a two-way process.

5) Presentation skills: In many different positions, you’ll be required to sell products, ideas and/or proposals in presentations, either to clients or to supervisors. Whether you can progress in your career often depends on if you can impress them, which in turn depends on your presentation skills.

6) Leadership: Leadership enables you to leverage your skills and experience to achieve better results for the team. Remember that leadership isn’t limited to experienced executives. Even as a junior employee, you can take the initiative to promote your ideas and motivate and influence others. Just believe in your ability to act as a leader and make a difference.

7) Interpersonal skills: Since collaboration is prevalent in most industries nowadays, the ability to work effectively in teams is essential in modern workplace. In fact, business is about people. To deliver consistent results, you need to build relationships and partnerships with clients and colleagues.

Surprisingly, even graduates from top schools may lack basic language, arithmetic and computer skills. It seems while college education may help develop the above skills, there is no guarantee.

Its unfortunate that some students spend lots of time studying (or partying) but do little to improve and broaden their skill set. Without the right skill set, college students can’t find the job they want. Disappointed, they may complain and feel that society owes them because their hard work to obtain a degree doesn’t pay off in the end.

To avoid this situation, students should think strategically about developing these skills outside classroom. It takes time and efforts, but its a high return investment which better prepares them for the job market. The knowledge-based economy is in fact a skill-based economy, and students need to be aware of that.

Questions: Do you agree that the above skills are important in todays job market? Is there any other skill that in your opinion should be added to the list?

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