Every professional field has a distinct set of competencies required for success.
But there are certain skills that are absolute must-haves, no matter what type of career you pursue. Unfortunately, no one tells you what those skills are until they realize you don’t have them — like when you fumble through your first presentation at work because you never learned the art of public speaking.
To help you out, we rounded up 14 skills that every professional should develop if they haven’t already. Some of them are easier than others, but all of them will help you stand out and advance in your career.
Handing out business cards at an industry event and telling people how much you’d love to “connect” over coffee? It sounds gross right! Unfortunately, networking is crucial to your success in pretty much any field, at any stage of your career. One way to make it less off-putting is to think of yourself as someone with something to give— as opposed to someone who just wants to feed off others’ expertise and experience.
Start by asking people how you can help them, as opposed to how they can help you. And if you’re afraid you’ll get stuck talking about the weather forecast with every new acquaintance, learn to get better at small talk by sharing anecdotes and showing interest in your conversation partner.
Communicating via email
These days we’re all bombarded with email, meaning if you want someone to open (and read) your message, you’ve got to craft it carefully. If you’re emailing a really busy person, you’ll want to write a short subject line and send your message sometime between Monday afternoon and Wednesday morning.
If you’re emailing a potential employer, be sure to address your message to the appropriate person and tailor it to the specific job you’re applying for. In many cases, your email will be the first impression someone has of you — so make it a stellar one.
Writing a resume
Many of us have been writing and sending out resumes since high school — but that doesn’t necessarily mean we’re doing everything right. And when a hiring manager is only spending a few seconds scanning each resume they receive, every detail counts.
Amanda Augustine, the career-advice expert for TopResume, told Business Insider it’s important to include some of the keywords from the job posting in your resume — without making it look like you copied and pasted. Meanwhile, experts say you definitely shouldn’t include information about your hobbies or time off from work.
There are few experiences more anxiety-inducing than walking into a conference room knowing you’re about to be judged on everything from your outfit to your handshake. But with enough knowledge, preparation, and practice, job interviewing becomes slightly easier. In fact, there are a bunch of psychological tricks that can help you impress the person on the other side of the table.
For example, psychologists say you’ll want to simultaneously show confidence and deference by saying something like, “I love your work on [whatever area]. It reminds me of my work on [whatever area].” You definitely don’t want to humblebrag by saying you’re such a perfectionist when asked about your biggest weakness. Instead, be honest and say something like, “I’m not always the best at staying organized,” or whatever’s true for you. Make sure you send a thank-you email after the interview too, in which you refer back to the topics you discussed.
Giving a solid handshake
As Tech Insider’s Drake Baer has reported, polls show that about 70% of people don’t feel confident that they can give a proper handshake. But offer someone a limp noodle at a job interview and a networking event and they might perceive you as underconfident or dispassionate.
Here’s the right way to give a handshake, according to Esquire writer Tom Chiarella:
On the street, in the lobby, square your shoulders to the people you meet. Make a handshake matter — eye contact, good grip, elbow erring toward a right angle. Do not pump the hand, unless the other person is insistent on just that. Then pump the hell out of their hand. Smile. If you can’t smile, you can’t be gracious. You aren’t some dopey English butler. You are you.
Dressing for success
“Dressing for success” might really work — one study found that students dressed in suits, as opposed to sweatpants or their normal clothes, did a better job in mock negotiations. That’s likely because their negotiation partners showed more respect and deference for them. If suits aren’t your thing, you can still stick to the “one-third” rule: Buy one-third the amount of clothes you could, but spend three times as much on every item, whether that’s a dress or a tie.
Negotiating your salary
Asking a hiring manager for a higher salary, or petitioning your boss for a raise, can be so intimidating that some people avoid it entirely. But if you fail to negotiate, you could potentially miss out a whopping $1 million over the course of your career.
Start the process by grabbing a trusted friend or colleague and role-playing the negotiation, first acting like yourself and then acting as your boss. When you get to the real-life negotiation, don’t forget that you can negotiate non-monetary forms of compensation too, like vacation time. If you still can’t get the number you want, consider requesting an accelerated salary review process.
Being on time
It’s downright unprofessional to consistently barge into the middle of meetings and roll into work an hour than everyone else. Learn how to be punctual — or better yet, early. Research suggests that bosses perceive employees who show up to the office early as higher performers than those who show up later — even if the early arrivers leave early, too. If an early start time just doesn’t work for you, talk to your manager about creating a more flexible schedule, and be sure to stick to it.
Managing your time
It’s not just the number of hours you work that determines your productivity — it’s how you use those hours. If you don’t know how you work best, you could end up wasting the majority of the workday.
Productivity expert Chris Bailey recommends finding your “biological prime time,” or the hours of the day when you have your most energy. Use those hours to work on the tasks that require the most focus and concentration. For many people, the early-morning hours are the best time to do cognitively demanding tasks. That’s because of a phenomenon called “decision fatigue,” which describes how our mental energy gradually decreases as the day goes on.
Meanwhile, Étienne Garbugli, a Montreal-based product, and marketing consultant and the author of “Lean B2B: Build Products Businesses Want,” advises young professionals to stop multitasking and limit the number of hours they spend working.
Making your boss like you
Fair or not, your boss’s opinion of you can have a huge impact on your professional success. Fortunately, you don’t have to be a brown-noser — or a workaholic — to win their favor. Instead, try “managing up,” or learning what’s really important to your manager and then delivering on that. You can also impress your boss by setting (and achieving) stretch goals or objectives that go beyond what others thought was possible.
Asking for advice
Most of us have been in a situation at work where we could really use someone else’s opinion or expertise, but we’re too afraid to ask for it, out of fear of seeming stupid. It’s time to get over that fear.
Research suggests that asking for advice can, in fact, make you look more competent. That’s likely because, when you ask someone for advice, you make them feel smart and knowledgeable, so they feel positively toward you in return.
Public speaking is right up there next to interviewing on the list of hugely intimidating professional experiences. Unfortunately, no matter your profession, you’d be hard pressed to get through life without ever having to give a presentation.
Take a tip from two top psychologists, who overcame their anxiety before going on the TED stage by getting absorbed in the presentation before theirs. Whatever you do, avoid common public-speaking mistakes like not rehearsing what you’re going to say and speaking without pausing at all.
Try as you might, you simply can’t please everyone. When your well-meaning coworker asks you to proofread her report the night before your report is due to management, you just might have to tell that coworker “no.” It’s just a matter of learning how to say it. Successful people typically try to understand the request so they know why it’s important to the person asking, and then determine whether it fits with their personal goals. If it doesn’t fit, they decline the request and explain why.
Getting enough sleep
Compared to giving a public speech or negotiating a raise, getting a solid night’s rest might seem like a piece of cake. But as Tech Insider’s Kevin Loria reported, over 30% of Americans sleep less than six hours a night, meaning a lot of us are suffering from serious sleep deprivation.
Huffington Post founder and editor in chief Arianna Huffington recently spoke to Business Insider about the effects of sleep deprivation in the workplace. According to Huffington:
- The science shows that the prefrontal cortex, where the executive functions that are part of leadership — the problem-solving functions, the team-building functions — are housed, is degraded if we don’t get enough sleep. So all of the things we value in business are going to be affected in a negative way if we don’t get enough sleep.
- Dr. Ana Krieger, medical director of the Weill Cornell Center for Sleep Medicine, gave us some tips on getting a better night’s sleep during the workweek, including banning electronics for 20 minutes before bedtime and writing down everything that’s bothering you so it doesn’t weigh on your mind.