July 31, 2013

3 Skills Millennials Need to Succeed

Working in a "bridge" position as a consultant between Baby Boomers and Millennials I've noticed skills that young professionals need to thrive in this economy.
Professionalism for Millennials comes down to meeting the demands of their senior counterparts. Here is what I believe are the top 3:

Speed Matters: When you receive a phone call or email respond quick. That means within 48 hours, but preferably 24. Follow up is essential and the ones who do it faster and better get the prize. Sadly, I've witnessed many missed opportunities that had nothing to do with talent or experience, instead lack of urgency. Move fast or you'll get left behind.

Improve Your "Soft" Skills: In the age of technology, communication has eroded. Texting may be easier and more convenient, but it's not professional. Want to know what impresses management? Public speaking ability. Now you need to be able to write a clean email, hold your own during a face to face conversation and command presence in an interview/ audience. It drastically increases your chances for a promotion and pay raise.

The Ability to Sell: It helps to sell a tangible product, but what you really need is the ability to sell yourself. If you are fortunate enough to have a corporate job with benefits now, start working on your "side hustle" because the new economy demands everyone is at least a part-time entrepreneur. When I look back on my college years, I wish I majored in business and started a sales job when I was a teenager. That's a skill most college graduates don't leave with, but can benefit you for the rest of your career.

I don't claim to be the authority on career advancement or Millennials, but I've worked with enough as a career coach and recruiter to recognize what matters. In fact, the 3 skills I listed above aren't exclusive to the young professional, they're important to your career period. It's helpful to know what you want, but understanding a need then solving it equates to long-term success. 

July 17, 2013

Don't Play Hero Ball

Hero Ball refers to a selfish brand of playing basketball. When a player is more concerned with his own statistical performance than winning, there's a problem. Today's athlete is easier to market based on individual talent, but talent alone doesn't directly equate to winning. 
Let's transition to the professional world. If you're solely interested in being successful alone, you're missing the boat. Yes, you need to be a certain degree of selfish to get ahead, but it's hard to climb high without the help of others. 

Take for instance attending a networking event. I've been to plenty to know who's in it for themselves vs. those who genuinely want to help others. The "sharks" who are after the sale craft their pitch and want you to buy. When they realize you have nothing to offer, they leave. Someone who is genuinely interested in connecting with others asks more questions and wants to know how they can help you. Another true indicator of intentions is what, if any follow up is done after the meeting. 

Going back to my example of the athlete, not only is a "hero" out for themselves, they're also hard to play with. You'll notice they tend to jump from team to team (company to company), season after season (year after year), not because they're not talented, but because they don't make everyone around them better or get along with many people.

It's important to note, every success story has many people who helped him/her get there along the way. You won't hear about them because it's not newsworthy, but every tall building needs a foundation to stand on. 

Be ambitious, pursue your dreams, but don't be a hero and step on people to get there.

July 10, 2013

Learning To Say No To Good Things

Guest Post by Josh Allan Dykstra

Entrepreneurs never want to pass up a good deal.
We thrive in the shimmering halo of possibility. We’ve learned through experience that one opportunity almost always births another, and that it’s our job to see the things others miss. We are always on the alert for the next Whatever. Our ears are constantly perked and our eyes are open wide. If they aren’t — if we don’t stay available and flexible and receptive and enthusiastic — we miss those things that make us, and our businesses, grow.

Literally, we create real things out of no-thing; this is the only sentence on our job description (if we had one).

As we grow as entrepreneurs, however, a new challenge emerges: learning to say NO to good things.

This is hard, because our experience has taught us to not do this. One of the reasons we were able to create a business from scratch is because we said YES to a million things others said NO to. We saw opportunity where others saw certain abject failure. We refused to relent when others may have quit.

But a never-ending stream of “YES” simply isn’t sustainable, for a couple of reasons:

First, we have to learn to say no to good things when they’re attached to the wrong people.

As your career progresses, you will inevitably come across amazing, potentially world-changing ideas that you want to be a part of. Your honed marketplace instincts will kick in and scream “PAY ATTENTION” — loudly, right in your ear. But as you learn more about the idea or project, you’ll also learn more about the people who are behind it.

Like they say: everybody’s normal until you get to know them.

Ideas that look good (and probably ARE good) on the outside can have not-as-golden insides, and the insides are always about the people.

I am not talking here about scumbags or assholes, by the way. Hopefully your instincts told you to stay away from those people altogether. I am talking about really decent people with really, REALLY great ideas — but who don’t treat you like you should be treated. This area gets rather gray very quickly, and it’s why learning to say NO to these opportunities is so damn hard.

As an entrepreneur we should develop obscenely strict standards for the kinds of behavior we’ll tolerate inside our inner circles, and we should be fanatical about protecting it. All the money in the world isn’t worth spending your time beating your head against a brick wall. Be militant about finding ONLY situations that are healthy and in alignment with the way you deserve to be treated.

Second, we have to learn to say no to good things when they don’t fit our long-range strategy.

When you’ve created something real, people will notice. Recruiters may stop by and say hello, random people will track you down on Twitter and want your attention, and opportunities will present themselves.

First off, this is amazing and we should be forever grateful that there are people who seem to care about what we’re doing. We may work hard to get what we’ve got, but we’re absolutely no better than anyone else, and for someone to seek out our expertise on, well, anything should be a ever-humbling experience.

We should also be very careful.

As your business grows, very well-intentioned others will attempt to pull you in a thousand directions. You’ll get invited to job interviews and nonprofit boards. You’ll be asked to guest post on blogs, share people’s content, and help friends-of-friends. I’m sure many people have opinions on how to handle this; my current policy has three parts:

1.    First, be nice to everybody.

2.    Second, be straightforward and don’t BS people.

3.    Third, have a larger strategy that helps you know when to say NO.

The first two are hard, but not complicated. The last one is not-so-hard once you have it, but it’s really complicated to get there, which is why I want to talk about it a little more.

For me, a larger strategy starts by getting crystal-clear about the “noble cause” of your career. Start here:

-       What’s the big problem in the world that you’re on a life’s mission to solve?
-       When you think about the state of the planet, what pisses you off more than anything else?
-       What is the one thing you’d like to be known for?

These are a few of the questions that helped me find my noble cause (which, if you’re curious, is: to improve the wellbeing of people by creating better places to work).

Without this “noble cause” I wouldn’t have a clue what to say NO to. I’d end up fracturing my attention in a million unproductive ways. (It’s hard to stay focused even with this, honestly. When your “problem to solve” is appropriately large, it leaves you many ways to get there.)

I’ve also found that, for me, family and health and balance are a crucial part of my “life strategy,” and that my sincere desire for those things also helps tremendously when having to say NO. Whatever your equation is, find a way to get your long-range target on the wall, and use it to filter out the stuff that won’t help you hit it.

July 3, 2013

Focus on Being the Best, Not First

Apple wasn't the first to create to tablet.

Nike didn't invent the shoe.

Disneyland wasn't the first amusement park.

Yet the one thing they have in common is they're the best at improving an existing idea.
As an entrepreneur, it's much harder to be the creator than it is the refiner. Let me give you a personal example:

When I first started my business as a coach, I had to "double sell." That means on top of trying to get a potential customer buy my services, I had to explain what my services were. I spent more time educating people what I did then once they understood I had to convince them that they needed what I was offering. I'm not the first coach, but since coaching isn't mainstream the odds are stacked against me.

When you improve an existing idea, context is in your favor. People need a starting point to make a decision because that's how your mind works. Your brain builds on what it already knows. That's why commercials play over and over again - to brainwash you into thinking you actually need what you're seeing. 

So if you're thinking of starting a business, start with the end in mind. What are your sales goals? What is your financial model? How are you going to get people to buy your product/service?

Competition isn't easy to deal with, but being a pioneer is that much harder.