The key to career success may not lie where you think it does. Yes, hard
work, well-developed skills, and dedication are important. But it is your
people skills that ultimately determine your career more than any other
How can that be? Bill Gates and Steve Jobs exemplify the survival of the
smartest, but they are the exceptions. President George W. Bush never
claimed to be the smartest president, but he is known for his likeability.
Donald Trump's over-the-top self-promotion works because he's a personable
guy. Julia Roberts is a talented actress but her immense popularity is in
great measure due to her relatable, engaging style. Sheer brainpower is
not what has propelled these folks to the top-and it's not what propels
ordinary folks to the tops of their departments or organizations.
People skills are not incidental to your success; they are essential. /
Many smart, talented people derail because of poor interpersonal skills,
so it's important to pay attention to the impact you have on others.
People skills are indispensable assets on the job and when you are looking
to change jobs.
Emotional intelligence (people skills, or "EQ") will determine your career
success much more than technical excellence or book smarts. In fact, EQ is
more than twice as important as the combination of IQ and technical skills
in predicting success. Leadership positions are almost entirely due to EQ.
The great thing about people skills is that they can be learned. Unlike
the genetic lottery that determines your IQ, your EQ can be developed and
increased. Just follow these tips:
It's a relationship business. No matter what direction your career takes,
it is wise to remember that your work-whether you're an engineer, a clerk,
or an investment banker-is a relationship business. People advance largely
due to interpersonal skills, so make building relationships a priority in
your work life. The person who builds relationships and networks is able
to make things happen and people enjoy working with him or her.
The first rule of relationship building is reciprocity. Any good
relationship is mutual. To build a strong network, first look for how you
can help others and then others will be ready to offer assistance when you
need it. If you can't think of a way to help, ask how you can help. Others
will remember and appreciate the offer.
Build your network before you think you need it. For example, when a
job-seeking colleague calls, make time to help. Think of good people for
them to contact, offer introductions, and share information on alternative
directions. When a search consultant or recruiter calls, take time to
answer their call and think of a few good people for them to contact, even
if you aren't interested. When you meet with a mentor, make it a give and
take exchange, not just a focus on educating you about the company, job,
or helping you with a challenge. Ask how you can be of assistance to your
mentor. When you are looking for a job-or help with a work problem-having
an active network of people you've helped will make it easier for you to
ask for help and will make it much more likely your helpfulness to others
will be reciprocated. A network is about relationships, not contacts.
New jobs come through contacts. Seventy to 80 percent of new jobs come
through your network. Your network can provide you with direct
introductions, information on companies and individuals, and endorsements.
There are many ways your network can and will help you land a new job.
More and more companies have employee referral programs to motivate
employees to introduce their contacts to their companies, figuring that a
personal endorsement from an employee is a quick way to find good people
to hire. You may refuse to use your contacts, but savvy job seekers will
use theirs, and they are likely to compete more effectively as a result.
In fact, you'll get further in a job search by focusing on your network
rather than surfing the Internet for job postings. Focus the major part of
your job search efforts on contacting and meeting or speaking with your
Develop and use your online network. Combine the power of your network and
the Internet by making use of online professional networks. Many
twentysomethings use MySpace and Facebook for socializing, but online
professional networking is important for everyone's career, whatever your
age or position.
An online professional network such as LinkedIn or Ryze can be a quick way
to update your network and link to the networks of others. This is
indispensable when you are looking for a job, business partners,
information, deals, candidates, and introductions. If you limit your
professional network to people you know and trust, and your network does
the same, you assure the quality of the network.
And like offline networks, the same principle of reciprocity applies. You
can assure this by providing a comprehensive professional profile to help
other users understand how you might help them, and with your willingness
to provide information and introductions to others in the network.
A job search is all about them. Interpersonal skills depend in large part
on your ability to focus on others. When you are looking for a job, you
might understandably think that it is all about you: your needs, your
goals, and your career satisfaction. While those things are important, the
crucial distinction in a successful job search is that when you are
dealing with a prospective employer, it's really all about them. You want
a growth opportunity and a great job, but that is irrelevant unless you
can convincingly demonstrate that you are the right person for the job.
And that means focusing on an employer's needs and goals.
Getting a job, much less keeping one or succeeding, is affected by
emotional intelligence. What is the most powerful factor in getting a new
job? It's the ability to make the strongest case for why an employer
should hire you. This requires understanding an employer's needs,
showcasing track record and skills to demonstrate value to a prospective
employer in terms that are meaningful to them, providing relevant examples
of prior success, and connecting with the interviewer. All of these things
require interpersonal skills.
For example, when a prospective employer asks what you are looking for,
don't say that you want a growth opportunity, with good compensation and
the opportunities to use your skills (who else's would you use anyway?)
and advance in a good company like theirs. Instead, emphasize something
you do particularly well (stick to the facts) that they need and that you
would like to help them with. That's how you make an impression.
Communicate professionally. Good interpersonal relations at work depend on
clear and professional communication. Your ability to establish yourself
as an effective communicator is central to your success. If your boss does
not give you clear instructions on how they like to work (and how they
like you to work), ask. Don't waste time thinking that it's their
responsibility to orient you.
Organize your thoughts into a few clear questions, such as how they like
things done, how often they want you to check in, whether they prefer
email or face-to-face communication, time frames, deadlines, and their
preferred format of the final work product. Getting the information you
need is essential to communicating and performing effectively.
Here are three general tips about the importance of good communication:
A "draft" means your best work, not your first rough thoughts that someone
else (who has even less time or patience than you) will fix; ask for help
but make your best effort first.
Convey a crisp and disciplined message in emails and face-to-face
communication (bullet your message out before sharing it) so that others
aren't irritated by rambling and over-long messages. This conveys respect
for others' time and clarity of thinking and approach.
Don't present a problem without presenting solutions and a recommended
Making a habit of disciplined professional communication will also help
you in the job search. You will avoid rambling, provide hard-hitting and
relevant facts, and ask salient questions. Good work relationships and
good performance depend on good communication. What employer wants to hire
a poor communicator?
Solicit and use performance feedback. The blind spots of otherwise smart
and perceptive people never fail to fascinate. I recently met with a
successful executive who had been observed yelling at and publicly
humiliating an employee. He dismissed the feedback by saying it was the
opinion of one misguided employee. When I pointed out that the feedback
had been corroborated by two other people, he dismissed it by saying the
other employees had left the company, as though that invalidated the
Performance feedback can provide critically important data to our impact
on others. This executive was not trying to be a jerk; he simply refused
to see that he was having an unintended but harsh effect on others,
thereby undermining both his performance and theirs. Left unchecked, he
risks creating a work situation that could implode his career.
Hardly anyone gets enough or good enough performance feedback. To correct
this, ask for feedback on your performance. Do so frequently-at the end of
a project, for example. Don't just ask, "How'd I do?" Ask tough questions
about what you did poorly and where and how you can improve. At first,
people may be afraid to give you candid feedback, but as you continue to
ask over time, they will open up and provide you with useful information
that can improve your career. Early intervention to address areas of
weakness can have an enormous impact on performance. If you are not born
with all the necessary skills (and who is?), you can learn them.
Even on a job search, there are opportunities to ask for feedback. If you
didn't get a job, express disappointment, but ask politely for information
on who did and whether you could have done anything better or differently.
Emphasize in a matter-of-fact way that this will be helpful to you
professionally. Don't betray anger or sadness, just a professional
demeanor which makes it more likely that you'll get useful feedback.
Feedback provides insights essential to identifying strengths and
weaknesses; action planning and follow up can help you define, implement,
and maintain the needed changes. Performance feedback has the potential to
provide the crucial missing link between potential and performance.
Schedule time each week for interpersonal skill building. What do you do
to build your emotional intelligence? As with learning any behavior, a key
is making small measurable steps toward specific goals over time. Always
have one modest goal and small steps you can take to increase your skills
and experience in meeting that goal.
Schedule 10-60 minutes a week to determine another step in meeting your
career goals, such as asking for feedback, scheduling a networking lunch,
reviewing the career tips in this article, or doing something else to
improve your interpersonal skills. The idea is to identify small,
measurable, and not time-consuming steps that you can make and sustain
progress. This creates a clear road map to the career you want and a way
to track your progress.
For example, here are several habits to cultivate that can break a
self-focus and which you can measure and track to see how you are doing:
--Think first of what you can contribute to others, not what they can do
--Volunteer to help a colleague who needs help with a project, a job
search, or a problem. Ask for nothing in return.
--When someone calls you for help, invest time in coming up with some help
for them and don't end the conversation until you have provided concrete
--When a recruiter or a job-seeker calls, spend time helping them with
information and introductions, especially if there's nothing in it for
--Notice others and thank them for their contributions.
--Offer time to a charity or non-profit that helps the needy. Spend time
that is inconvenient to you or cuts into your "me" time.
--Practice random acts of kindness.
--Listen carefully to others in order to understand not to respond;
practice active listening by letting others know what you think you heard
By building skills in relationship-building, reciprocity, paying attention
to your impact on others, communicating clearly, getting and using
performance feedback, and taking regular and measurable small steps toward
strengthening your people skills, you are strengthening your ability to
have a satisfying and successful career, and making the workplace a more
enjoyable and productive place for your colleagues as well.
Rachelle J. Canter is the president of RJC Associates, a consulting firm
that works with organizations around the country helping people make
successful career moves. Canter has more than 20 years of experience
providing coaching and career transition assistance to people in every
industry, function, and geography. This article is based on her career
guide, Make the Right Career Move (Wiley).
This story originally appeared in HemispheresMagazine.com , the online
magazine of United Airlines, November 2007.