A lot of job descriptions will state a requirement for the applicant to be "able to work both under their own initiative and as part of a team". That's pretty standard; I'm sure most people entering the job market for the first time will soon get a sense that this is important.
But most experienced, successful professionals know that some qualities are more valuable than others. Those people who seem to get promoted a lot – what do they have that others don't, aside from the technical ability to do their job well? What do successful people have in common?
Here's my take on this.
Listening is an art. By learning to actively listen, you can learn from people who are good. Active listening means taking information in and processing it. It means being awake to new information, staying alert and attentive to change. Good listeners spot opportunities and, above all, are in the right mind-set to learn from more experienced peers.
Anyone can start a task, but not everyone can finish it. Staying power is crucial in a world where we are rarely allowed the luxury of being able to focus exclusively on a task until we get it done. Competing priorities jostle for our time and attention, and it takes tenacity simply to finish a job.
Work on yourself, not just your job. Treat your own development as a project. Don't wait for your boss to do it - push to learn new skills, acquire new experience and address your weaknesses. Read around your skill area, or new areas that interest you such as management. Look to address your weaknesses through online, self-directed or in-house learning, or through a mentor. Do it now.
No doubt there are a few sharks in the business world who lied, cheated and backstabbed their way to the top. But thankfully, most of the time, honesty is recognised as the virtue that it is. Admit to your weaknesses and mistakes. Be honest with your feedback and your feelings, but be careful about how you deliver messages. Brutal honesty is not always wise. Most of us work in communities, so when you need to give honest feedback, temper it with a degree if diplomacy, another important quality.
You may be friendly with your colleagues but this does not necessarily make them your friends. Be careful about what you repeat and who you trust. Gossip is a form of currency in some work environments: don't trade in it. You should definitely have your work face on during working hours.
6. Broad exposure
From the outset, try to get broad experience of a business so you understand it from the inside out. Some people I know have done this by ensuring they spend time with other departments, to understand how different functions work. Others began their career in a central function, like admin or HR, which gave them broad exposure to people across the business right from the start.
Even if you're a specialist it's wise to learn as much about other departments as you can, so you can get a good sense of the wider business and your place within it. You'll be better at your job as a result.
Most of my good friends from school are all business owners like me. We're all still in touch, too. And I don't think that's a coincidence: business owners tend to be strong networkers, and strong networkers stay in touch with people!
We also tend to offer one other advice and support - a good network continually repays itself. So be a networker: develop those contacts and hold onto them, even early in your career. It's never too early - or indeed too late - to start networking.
Resilience is defined by the OED as "The capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness," or "the ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape; elasticity." In other words, resilience is your ability to bounce back from adversity. I think coping strategies should be taught as part of our formal education, but you can learn resilience anywhere, including personal relationships, family life and friendships, all of which can be a useful proving-ground that can arm you for your career.
9. Knowing what you're good at
IT. Project management. Inspiring a team. Getting the job done. Turning a poor performer around. Writing a solid plan. Organising people. Developing processes. CSS.
Whether it's hard or soft skills, most successful people are known for something that is useful. Yes, you should work on your weaknesses. But if you're naturally good at or passionate about something, you can make yourself useful. So identify your strengths and build on them.
Everyone – and I mean absolutely everyone - has strengths they can use. You might not be a superstar when it comes to hard skills, and you may never be an expert at anything. But you could be a great team player or brand ambassador and do just fine out of that. Learn your strengths and make the most of them.
On a related but broader note, we often enjoy what we're good at, so identify what makes you happy and pursue it. That's one key to a happy career, which is the ultimate determiner of success.
Don't despair if you still don't know; self-knowledge is difficult to develop. It's why a lot of people change careers in middle-age; they finally understand what really makes them happy, or perhaps realise their priorities have changed. Personally, I knew early on that I wanted flexibility and to be my own boss, but it still took a long time to achieve.
10. Emotional intelligence
In your career you'll meet adversity. You'll experience frustration, stress and probably fear. You'll have to work with people whose way of communicating upsets you.
In order to maintain perspective, you'll need to learn how to process your feelings. That takes emotional intelligence.
Emotional intelligence is important enough that entire company Management teams and Boards of Directors are trained in it, often at great expense. With strong emotional intelligence you can inspire and unify teams, resulting in enhanced success and high-performing teams. Conversely, a lack of emotional intelligence in leaders can have disastrous consequences.
But for now, remember that everyone communicates differently and anyone can have a bad day, so don't take it personally if someone articulates something in a way that upsets you. You don't know what's going on in their life or what pressures they are under. It's very rarely about you.
Have I saved the best for last? Perhaps. A positive, willing attitude is one of the best things you can bring to any job. Although it's hard to teach a great attitude, I think most people are inspired by those who possess one, and the smart people can probably figure out that attitude is a bit like mood: with a bit of emotional intelligence, you can choose your attitude.
We always take time to get to know our candidates' qualities and skills so we can place them in the right role for them! Get in touch today so we can help you to move on in your career.
Helen Floor, Managing Director, The 1-1 Group.