Researching for my upcoming book, You Beyond The Mirror, I conducted interviews with hundreds of individuals in the U.S., Europe and Brazil on the topic of career as one of the pillars of our identity. Approximately 80 percent of the interviewees admitted having a strong desire to improve at least one aspect of their careers. Out of this group, 68 percent admitted that despite their desire to make changes, they never seem to find the time.
We may be working remotely and more than ever, having family tasks to handle, but there are still those extra hours we used to spend in commute. With all the e-learning technology at our disposal, we can make incredible progress from our desks and open doors to more opportunities and satisfaction.
To know which skills to learn, and establish priorities in case you need to acquire several, first discover which skills you already have, and which are essential to move further in your career. Think of yourself and your peers: those at your level, above you and those working at similar companies. Who gets the promotions and what skills do they have? What made you get your last promotion or job? What are your strengths and weaknesses and how can you improve those?
Be very objective in your analyses and isolate what frustrates you. For example, you may think there is bias in your company and that’s the reason you are not getting all the opportunities you should. If that’s the case, take this time to evaluate which skills you can develop to possibly go work elsewhere. Even if you can’t leave your job yet, now is when you start preparing.
If you never made a list, do it now. Include your current skills and later, add skills you should acquire. Sort your skill list by three categories:
Formal and informal education: Consider everything that can add value to your company and your clients. Nowadays, not only degrees are taken into consideration. List your experience in different areas, your cultural diversity, languages you speak, countries you lived or worked in. One of my clients worked for years in a company that did not know she spoke a second language. Mentioning it casually one day landed her a better position in a subsidiary in a foreign country.
Personal skills: Can you speak in public? Can you go live elsewhere? Can you travel often? Can you work late or during the weekends? Are you great with technology? Do you write a blog and/or have great social media following? Are you a natural entertainer? (Can you tell jokes, dance, sing, play an instrument?) You would be impressed by how many personal skills, apparently unrelated to your job, may open doors for new opportunities.
Physical skills. Regarding health and fitness, we all know that staying fit is essential for health purposes. What we tend to ignore—especially professionals who spend a lot of time behind their desks—is the importance of being healthy and fit to climbing up the professional ladder. Intellectual power and degrees aside, consider that those who manage to remain athletic and agile at any age may have advantages over those of us who don’t. Also, if you suffer from constant health issues, the company may not fire you, but they will not consider you for important positions and projects. Many interesting jobs involve moving around, traveling or hands-on activities, like organizing events and conferences. These may be excellent opportunities to increase your network and show your new or existing skills. If you are not doing it yet, watch your diet, sleep well, drink enough water and if you can’t exercise regularly, make this simple commitment: stretch and dance one song every day. This should keep you minimally stimulated and flexible!
Now, when it comes to wardrobe and personal care, we hate to consider that physical attributes may increase or diminish professional opportunities. I suggest this fresh look at the subject, which may decrease inner conflicts, and give way to a more tactical approach. Working in different countries, I was on the receiving end of bias a few times. For being a woman, a foreigner, too young or too old. You name it. When it comes to physical attributes, I learned this: There is one part that translates nothing of the individual’s personality and contributions to the company and should not be tolerated. And there is another that may prevail even in the most sensible, anti-bias administration: One doesn’t need to be attractive, but if you want a position dealing with clients, traveling and representing your company, dress accordingly to what’s considered “appropriate” to their culture and brand. Companies all over the world approach image-related subjects either formally or informally. UBS, for example, released a 44-page manifesto on “how their bankers (both male and female) should dress; and the scrutiny becomes higher as you climb the organizational ladder. After all, appearance is one of the components of executive presence.
If you are about to become the company’s face on social media, handling important meetings and public speaking, don’t take offense if they begin making suggestions about your wardrobe and personal style. Instead of thinking that your bosses are crossing the line, I recommend changing your mind frame to, “I’ll be wearing my professional uniform.” This will save you a lot of energy you could be directing toward actual work and new opportunities. Hair, teeth, and nails are also under the radar. Ladies: If you wear makeup, try to create a natural, sophisticated look. If you will be on camera, your makeup will probably need to be heavier because of the lights (I’ll be writing an article about it soon). Gentlemen: Give attention to your shaving. Your face should be impeccable. Every day. No exceptions. If you cannot afford an image consultant, there is quality information online that can help you improve your personal style, in different lines of work, at an affordable cost. Don’t be afraid to explore and new professional opportunities will come your way!