7 Career Skills You Need to Succeed. And How to Develop Those Career Skills.

by Walter Rodriguez, PhD, PE

Admittedly, for the last five decades, I have been studying self-help books --- as a way to improve both myself and my teaching career. In reading those books, I have learned "critical success factors (CSF) and Key Performance Indicators (KPI)as well as the career skills necessary to succeed in both life and business. 

From teaching and interacting with students at a 2-year public community college early in my career; to teaching and research at top graduate schools for several decades, I have learned seven (7) key career skills we need in order to succeed in the information-age. Better yet, I also learned how to develop and teach those critical skills to my students. Below are the 7 key career skill that are essential to our success:

1. Confidence - According to Dr. Ivan Joseph, confidence (or rather, self-confidence) is "the ability to believe in yourself to accomplish any task, no matter the odds, no matter the difficulties, no matter the adversity." Fortunately, self-confidence is a "learn-able" skill. You may develop confidence through consistent participation in sports or hobbies or anything you can become good at or passionate about to persist despite challenges. Reason: Building confidence takes "repetition, repetition, repetition." For instance, if you like to learn how to shoot a 3-pointer, you practice consistently using the 3-point technique. [This is related to what Malcolm Gladwell's calls the "10,000-hour" rule --- which we will discuss in Skill # 7 below).]

2. Collaboration is the ability to "work together to a common purpose to achieve business benefit." Anya Kamentez's "How to Raise a Brilliant Child, According to Science" states that "collaboration is everything from getting along with others to controlling your impulses so you can get along and not kick someone else off the swing." Yes, she is referring to kids, but haven't you observed and become frustrated by adults or coworkers or friends behaving a similar manner? I have experienced this at all levels during my long career (but I better stop there before I get in trouble.) 

3. Communication includes exchanging data, information, knowledge and wisdom in both verbal and visual form. In the information age, learning how to use productivity office software (spreadsheet and presentation tools) is almost as relevant as: speaking, writing, reading and, more importantly, listening. In fact, listening is an absolutely essential ability to building long-lasting relationships, as further discussed in Skill # 6 below.

4. Systems Thinking (and critical thinking) involves the use of framework and models. This requires a full blog article. But, the video below is a great start! 

5. Creative Innovation is absolutely essential to our career growth and development. It is not "the left-brain/right-brain binary that we've come to believe."Fortunately, creative innovation can be learned, since it's  essentially a process. It's about being willing to explore tens or hundred or thousands of ideas that may ultimately fail. It involves being willing to seek solutions, after having failed and failed until you find a working idea.

6. Reading peoples's emotions is a key to enduring relationships and successful negotiations, according to Roger Fisher and Daniel Shapiro ["Beyond Reason: Using Emotions as You Negotiate"]. For instance, "expressing appreciation," that is, finding and showing value in what others say, "think, feel, or do" is a powerful tool. If you meet what seem to be a seemingly stressed-out colleague, ask: What do you think your colleague is thinking? Is it better to leave him alone, or ask him/her if everything is okay? or try to identify what worries him or her, based on what you know about this person and his/her family? How do you think they feel, and will it be better to wait and comeback later?

7. Specialty Content Knowledge - The last (but essential) career skill is the specialty content knowledge; that is, being an expert in your selected career. According to Malcolm Gladwell, it takes "10,000 hours of practice to achieve mastery in a field."Surprisingly, "natural talent" is not as important--and that's good news for the rest of us. Content knowledge building on the other six skills. Initially, when you start learning a difficult or tedious subject, you/we may feel inclined to abandon. But, ask yourself: How come many other folks in this field really like it. The answer is that they persisted until they became comfortable with the subject and finally love it. A career is like marriage or long-term friendships, you have to be patient and work at it every day, persistently.