Today's economy

Seven steps to a successful career

By Kevin Press,

Comments (7)

A successful career person.Today is the 24th anniversary of my first day at a proper, full-time job. My career began Jan. 16, 1989 at Landscape Ontario, a horticultural trade association that employed me as its national magazine editor. (I’ll spare you an explanation for why I recall the date.) As a young man with a rather severe allergy to grass – not to mention a complete lack of familiarity with how trade magazines did business – the irony of this first post was not lost on me.

In fact I’d say the first career lesson I learned was that things weren’t going to go the way my guidance counsellor and I planned. That’s not an unusual conclusion to come to in today’s economy. Professionals in this tough, competitive environment understand that their career paths are bound to include a few detours. Take whatever opportunity comes your way, and work the heck out of it.

That’s been my approach, for what it’s worth. Here are seven lessons I’ve learned along the way:

1. Keep your eye on the big picture

One of the things that makes leaders stand out is an awareness of economics, politics and other external factors that affect the field they’re in. If you’re not yet in a leadership position, your ability to speak to these issues will impress those who already are. It’ll also provide you a stronger foundation from which to make decisions.

2. Communication skills matter even more than you think

If you can write a succinct email, deliver a decent speech and make small talk with the CEO, you’re ahead of more than half your colleagues. It’s not all about style of course, but if your written and verbal communications skills are weak, even your best ideas will be ignored.

3. Never stop being entrepreneurial

No matter how secure you feel in your role, keep working it. If you’re in a big organization, look for great projects and find ways to make a contribution. If you’re with a smaller company, find ways to do the same thing within your industry. Join a trade association committee; volunteer to help organize a conference. At the end of the day, successful people look for ways to help other people succeed.

4. People around you will get emotional, and it doesn’t matter

It’s unavoidable. Coworkers are going to fly off the handle every now and then. It’s not your problem. Just because someone comes at you aggressively doesn’t mean you have to adopt their tone. Your ability to remain calm and focused ensures that you control the exchange. That’s powerful.

5. Stop trying to figure out if change is good

Your opinion almost certainly doesn’t matter. Get over it. Before I started my full-time career, I volunteered as the assistant program director of a community radio station. That meant I spent a good deal of 1986 thinking about whether or not we should switch from vinyl records to compact discs. Needless to say, I wasn’t consulted.

6. Get close to — and stay with — the smartest leaders you can find

You’ll know them when you see them. Find ways to work with or near the best and the brightest. Judge the organization you’re with by the quality of its leadership and by who gets the promotions. Learn as much as you can from them and find ways to win their support.

7. Never let them see you sweat

Sure it’s a cliché. But it has served me well. Stop talking about how busy you are. Stop complaining. Everyone’s got more to do than they can manage. It’s a matter of prioritization, mostly. Do what you have to do to meet the hard deadlines, and maintain an open dialogue with your superiors about what you can deliver and when. If they don’t respect that, refer to step six.

Working well More bright ideas for managing your career and making the most of your benefits.

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Mustafa M. on

Gr8 Article. Being persistent in one’s role as well as giving it all you got does eventually get rewarded and recognized. # 4 & #7 are hard to master but are truly crucial to vertical moves.

keyfound on

Great tips – Its always important to follow number 7. Networking is very important too. You never know where people will be in a few years so its always good to keep in touch.

Tony DiGiovanni on

Great article. It reflects the enthusiasm and positive attitude that Kevin exhibited at his first job working for Landscape Ontario. I feel a sense of pride observing a life journey based on core values.

Gagandeep Anand on

Well done Kevin…insightful and succinct! Love it.

David N on

Excellent career advice for people at any point in their careers. Thanks for posting this Kevin!

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