Harry N. Stout
264- Seven Actions for Career Success
Having looked at my success in the corporate world, a subscriber asked me to provide my thoughts on what it takes to get, keep and succeed in a job today. As you read this post, you should know that I came from very humble beginnings. I refer to them as the “without world” in my books and blog. On my branch of the family tree, I was the first family member to graduate high school—yes, high school—and then college and to have a corporate career.
My working life began at age 12 with a lawn mowing business and four regular Saturday customers. The duties included mowing lawns, raking leaves and odd jobs for elderly neighbors close to home. These jobs gave me the cash to buy the things I needed. My father’s work situation and my younger brother’s heart illness brought hard times on my family requiring my early start and search for work.
The working habit continued through high school and college and expanded into painting houses and janitorial work. I graduated first in my class in college—I received four B grades—and became a certified public accountant and worked in public accounting for over a decade. This work experience led to work in the financial services industry, where I completed my corporate career as the Chief Executive Officer of an over $80 billion in assets company managing over 3,200 employees. It seems strange to summarize over 30 years of work in a few sentences.
The aim of this post is to highlight the seven key actions I took to become successful. These actions were the result of lifelong learning and a lot of trial and error. So here goes. These are the seven actions to help you get a job, keep that job and progress in your professional life.
1. Education is primary. I attended college to acquire the skills necessary to get a job that would pay me an acceptable income. I received a B.S. in Accounting from Drexel University. Upon graduation, I got a job with a Big 4 accounting firm, after serving the firm as an intern. The decision to study accounting was a practical one and had nothing to do with a passion for the subject. This practicality is important. You need a basic education and skill set to get that first job. Study a subject that pays, address your passion later.
After graduating college, I followed what I believe to be the golden rule of lifelong learning—spend one hour per day improving your knowledge in your chosen field of endeavor. I have followed this rule for over 25 years, and it works. Staying current on the key matters essential to my business needs is a priority.
Education will help you get a job and keep it. Study your prospective employer and its particular industry. I am surprised how many job seekers today do not have a reasonable understanding of their actual or prospective employer’s business model, results and its competitive position within its industry.
2. Have a Positive, Expectant Attitude. I learned this from reading the books of Denis Waitley. Denis studied top athletes and winners in many fields of endeavor. He discovered that one of their keys to success was that they expected a positive outcome from their efforts. I have followed this advice my entire career. From getting hired to working each day, my attitude has always been positive and focused on producing the best results possible. Stay positive and focused on your efforts—it will help you win.
3. Preparation is Primary. I have always prepared myself for the job interview, the new assignment or the promotion I wanted. In my view, preparation reduces stress and anxiety. From clearly knowing the company I was interviewing with to the deliverables needed from me on a project, preparation was and is key.
4. Feedback is the Breakfast of Champions. This is a concept that I learned from Dr. Ken Blanchard. To get the job I wanted or the promotion I longed for, I kept asking what I needed to do to get better. Feedback is not personal. It is information you need to make changes in how you conduct yourself, knowledge you need to add or new skills you should acquire to get the job done. Ask for the feedback, digest it and become a better professional.
5. Failure is Like Fertilizer. This is a phrase I learned from the author, Denis Waitley. I believe you learn more from your failures than from your successes. Allow yourself to objectively look at the situations. If you analyze your failure, you should have a better understanding of what you need to do to succeed in the future. It is the same thing with job interviews. With job interviews, you are learning to date companies. You need to master how to date well and open doors to be able to build long-term relationships.
6. Learn to Communicate. The ability to effectively communicate with co-workers, managers and customers is essential to professional success. Invest the time to learn skills from how to have meaningful conversations to making presentations. If you cannot effectively communicate your thoughts and ideas, you will be viewed as less of a teammate and contributor.
7. Be Authentic—Be Yourself. This was difficult for me and took several years for me to master. You need to learn to be relaxed in all settings from interviews to daily work to major presentations. You need to come across to others as relaxed and focused. Don’t let the task overwhelm you. Stay focused and in the moment—be yourself.
I have learned that finding a job, keeping a job and progressing in your career is an iterative process. If you want to be successful, you must always be learning, getting feedback to improve your skills while dealing with a variety of personalities as you do your job. Take what you learn and use it to improve your job performance. The actions are clear, you just need to follow them for success.
Ready to improve the quality of your financial life? Harry is the host of a new podcast from the FinancialVerse where he shares practical ways to relieve money stress and anxiety. Each 7 to 10-minute episode is designed to fit into your busy lifestyle. Subscribe today or just ask Alexa or Siri to play the FinancialVerse podcast.