In our youth, we were taught to “stop, drop, and roll” for fire safety. I remember going outside and practicing in elementary school – maybe you do too. As a professional, you can use the same principle for job safety instead of fire safety. Distinguish yourself by making a habit of proofreading written communications. In other words, stop, drop and proofread each written communication!
I receive many resumes and cover letters. It becomes clear when the writer did not take time to proofread. Common errors include misspelling the recipient’s name or organization (I’ve gotten “Dear Robert” and “Dear Mr. Custard”). Even worse is when the job applicant sends the same cover letter to several potential employers and forgets to change the organization or misspells the organization. These are very simple errors that can be prevented by a few minutes of proofreading.
Consider asking a friend or colleague to proofread important documents, including job applications, high-priority emails, letters, or messages. A fresh set of eyes can improve your communication immensely by noticing errors you overlooked or pointing out poorly articulated ideas. For example, misplaced commas or punctuation can convey an entirely different meaning, as explained by Lynne Truss in Eats, Shoots & Leaves.
Don’t trust spell check or auto correcting software on your phone. Proofreading will help you find auto-corrected errors, the most common of which include words with multiple spellings or misuse of “their,” “they’re,” and “there.” I had one cover letter that was probably auto-corrected to say “I am defiantly interested.” You can find plenty of examples of epic fail auto-corrected text messages through google!
On email, be sure to check the recipient so you don’t reply instead of forward, or reply all instead of replying to one person. Also re-read your message to make sure you don’t promise an attachment that’s not attached, or write something you will regret later.
In this competitive job market, don’t be that person who is excluded from consideration just because you forgot to stop, drop, and proofread. Distinguish yourself through clear written communications.
Don’t be afraid to ask. There is no way that one person can know all the answers, but a person can learn many answers by asking others. Distinguish yourself in the workplace by making a habit of seeking knowledge, feedback, and collaboration with others.
In 1945, Friedrich Hayek wrote his essay “The Use of Knowledge in Society.” He argues that knowledge is so dispersed among individuals in society that decision-making cannot be done rationally by a central authority. He writes,
“the knowledge of the circumstances of which we must make use never exists in concentrated or integrated form but solely as the dispersed bits of incomplete and frequently contradictory knowledge which all the separate individuals possess.”
In the workplace, this means that your colleagues have knowledge that will help you make better decisions. Those who have been around the organization for longer than you probably have a better idea of past activity from which they have learned valuable lessons. You won’t know about that until you ask them, and ask the right, specific questions. You can even ask people who no longer work there but have knowledge from previous time there.
When you make a mistake, don’t be afraid to ask for help to fix it. It may be embarrassing to admit your mistake, but the long-term benefit from your humble honesty, and faster repair of the problem, outweighs the temporary discomfort. You will gain respect when you form a pattern of gathering dispersed knowledge from your colleagues, and asking for help when you make mistakes.
In the case of development for nonprofits, don’t be afraid to ask for gifts. When you are passionate about your cause and asking for support, people will respond. Even a “no” should be interpreted as “not now” and you can ask for other help like friend referrals or in-kind gifts.
America’s Future Foundation is here to help you advance your career in the liberty movement, whether that means improving your speaking, writing, organizing, debating, or networking. However, we can’t help you if you don’t ask…
The days of lifetime careers with one company or organization are gone. But what does this mean for young professionals who are starting in the liberty movement, or any similar field? Yes, the ability to change jobs always exists, but sticking with your position will distinguish yourself.*
Unfortunately, some young employees are constantly searching for a new, seemingly better position. They think the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. I know someone who worked at an internship for six weeks, moved on to a new job for three weeks, and was already sending out resumes for a new position. While this is an extreme case, it speaks to the importance of loyalty to your employer.*
There is no “correct” amount of time to spend doing each job. Only you know if it is the right fit and what kind of long-term growth opportunities exist. With that said, you should generally stay with each job for at least 18 months to two years, unless there is an obvious reason to leave. When I see resumes that list 3, 4, or more jobs in 2 years since graduation, it makes me wonder how committed that person is.
Dennis Nishi writes in the Wall Street Journal how, “career experts say that staying put should be a top option…Experts also add that when you don’t retreat from a job, you learn to deal with less-than-optimal situations and people, which is a negotiation skill that hiring managers value.”
If you like the organization, communicate clearly with your manager to see if long-term advancement opportunities exist. If not, you are justified in leaving after 18-24 months when a better opportunity arises. When you move on, don’t burn the bridges. Maintain positive relationships with your former employers to the greatest extent possible because you don’t know when you will collaborate with them again. This is especially true in the liberty movement.
No matter how long you stay at a job, be entrepreneurial. When you find gaps that exist and start working to fill them, you will certainly distinguish yourself. Nishi recommends changing jobs within the same organization if you are not satisfied with your current role.
*There is a flip side to this coin. I put an asterisk on the loyalty point because you don’t want to miss an opportunity just to be loyal. Don’t stay at a job for more than 2-3 years if you don’t enjoy it and there are not clear opportunities for advancement. Find something better where you can create more value.
Education doesn’t end when you graduate from college. One way to distinguish yourself is to keep reading throughout your life. Morton Blackwell, president of the Leadership Institute, writes, “People who don’t read cheat themselves. By not reading, you limit what you can achieve, make mistakes you could avoid, and miss opportunities that could improve your life.”
What you read should be based on your own interests and preferences. If you like the Twilight series and the Hunger Games, that’s great. However, you should also consider reading the classics of freedom and business advice books to help get better at what you do. But where should you start?
One place to start is Morton Blackwell’s “Read to Lead” list which is available here, or in a more detailed format. You should also consider libertarianism.org’s recommended introductory books. Tyler Cowen makes reading suggestions as do Ross Douthat, Matthew Continetti, and others.
To get more in depth, I recommend a book by Dr. Lee Edwards called Reading the Right Books: A Guide for the Intelligent Conservative. This book about books selects “101 books published after 1900 that a conservative can profitably read to further the right ideas in his life and work.” The majority of titles will be interesting to anyone (not just conservatives), and as Edwards notes, “Do not accept unthinkingly everything that an author writes. A book is a stimulant to our thinking.”
Business advice books are also helpful to distinguish yourself. While some ideas may not apply to a nonprofit or public policy setting, much can be gleaned from the wisdom of successful entrepreneurs and business leaders. Some I’ve found helpful include Jim Collins’ Good to Great (and its nonprofit companion Forces for Good), Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People, Charles Koch’s Science of Success, Peter Sims’ Little Bets, and Brian Tracy’s Goals.
As Winston Churchill said,
“If you cannot read all your books…fondle them—peer into them, let them fall open where they will, read from the first sentence that arrests the eye, set them back on the shelves with your own hands, arrange them on your own plan so that you at least know where they are. Let them be your friends; let them, at any rate, be your acquaintances.”
What are your favorite books? Which have influenced you the most?
Last week, my wife and I had a delightful dinner at a local restaurant. However, the waitress chose not to write down our orders and they were incorrect. That seems to happen almost every time the order is not written down.
We can learn a valuable professional lesson from the waitress: organization is essential, even when it doesn’t seem so. You can distinguish yourself by staying organized whether its your email, your paper files, your schedule, or your time management.
I am surprised when a colleague asks me to forward an email that was already sent. This shows that the employee has not set up a system to organize saved emails. David Silverman has some excellent tips to manage your inbox. For example, he recommends “daily scrubbing” because “I brush my teeth twice a day. And every day, I run through every email in my inbox to see if I can get rid of it.”
We live in a digital world where documents and messages are almost all available on the computer. However, the lesson from the waitress who tried to remember my order is that there is value in writing things down and keeping organized paper files. If you take notes during a meeting, be sure to file that appropriately or type it for the digital file. In the nonprofit sector, we often get written correspondence from donors that needs to be saved. Make sure you are keeping a logical file system – eHow has some tips on where to start. (These are meant for your home but can be applied to your office as well.)
Your schedule is difficult to manage given the meetings, appointments, travel, and events you need to attend. A written system is essential to make sure you are on time for appointments and so you can adequately prepare. I keep a digital calendar but also write down my schedule to ensure that nothing is missed. Be sure to also include any weekly events you attend so as not to double book yourself.
Once you are organized, your life will seem less chaotic and cluttered. You will be able to focus and get more done because you won’t spend time worrying about when you agreed to meet someone, where you put an old email, where you put an invoice from last summer, or that letter from an important donor. Don’t be like the waitress who makes a mistake that could be prevented.
“If you’re early, you’re on time. If you’re on time, you are late.”
This adage seems simple and based on common sense, but many people don’t follow the advice given their busy schedules, distractions, technology, failure to plan ahead, and other reasons. However, the virtue of clearing your schedule to ensure you are early is a great way to distinguish yourself.
As Andy Ellwood discusses in this Forbes piece,
I’ve fought hard to make sure that subways, cabs, and ‘really quick questions’ from co-workers haven’t keep me from being where I said I would be when I said I would be there. Being prompt shows respect for the busyness of others and gets meetings off to the right start. There is nothing worse than walking into a meeting apologizing.
This advice is especially true for your job interviews or any other first meeting with someone. If you arrive at the stated time or after, you are saying (without speaking) to the other person that other things are more important. Arriving early makes a clear statement that you care about the person you are meeting and value their time highly.
Don’t use excuses to justify your tardiness. There are very, very few valid excuses that prevent you from arriving early for a meeting or job interview. The only valid excuses have to do with items outside your control. However, even those can be mitigated by planning ahead and building extra time to arrive early. For example, build in extra time so you can still be early if stuck in traffic, or your bus or subway is delayed.
If you really make it a priority to be early, you will be early. The person with whom you are meeting will notice. Make it a pattern to be always on time, and you will distinguish yourself.
One important habit that Stephen Covey discusses in “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” is being proactive. This involves taking initiative, but also a good attitude.
Covey writes, “Our behavior is a function of our decisions, not our conditions.” He continues by contrasting reactive people who “are driven by feelings, by circumstances, by conditions, by their environment” to proactive people who “driven by values-carefully thought about, selected, and internalized values.”
That’s not just book knowledge. The best employees I’ve known are people with a proactive attitude who know and have thought about their attitude before conflicts or crises arise. For example, do you look for ways to uplift your colleagues or do you talk about them negatively when they are not there? Do you engage your boss when you disagree or do you complain to everyone else in the office? Have you taken time to think about how you react in difficult situations before they come up?
A proactive attitude embraces unpleasant or mundane tasks and goes above and beyond what is expected. Proactive employees come up with solutions instead of complaining about problems or blaming someone else. Are you the person who stays after a program to help clean up, or do you complain about the mess and wait for someone to do something? Do you seek ways to improve your productivity, or do you surf the web and wait until the next assignment comes?
What ways are you proactive? Do you agree with Covey’s distinction between proactive and reactive employees?
The Boy Scout motto “be prepared” can be used to distinguish yourself in the interview and workplace. Proper preparation for routine business tasks can improve your productivity and put you well ahead of average performance.
Preparation can be used in many situations including meetings, projects, job interviews, and time management. Although conceptually simple, I am surprised at how little preparation goes in to most work. And it’s something I need to improve myself.
Sometimes the “tyranny of the urgent” dictates what we do each day with interruptions, phone calls, small projects, and emails taking a large share of time. But don’t let that take time away from preparation. If you have to, close your email program, close your door, or go to a quiet location where you will not be interrupted. Additionally, plan for what tasks you need to complete in advance and hold yourself accountable to the timeline. Really take time to think about your priorities each week as opposed to completing whatever seems most urgent without planning.
Before a meeting, make sure you have thought about questions like: Who are you meeting with? What is this person’s background? What do you share in common with the person that might spur a conversation? What is the goal of the meeting? What is a follow-up item to propose? I’ve gone to meetings before with little or no preparation and missed big opportunities to find common ground, suggest collaboration, or ask for a larger gift.
Before a job interview, ask who will be included in the interview so you can learn more about everyone involved. Read the organization’s website and familiarize yourself with the main projects so you can discuss them intelligently. Speak with others in the organization if the opportunity is available – those who work there now or have recently. The employer can tell when the candidate has prepared and that is an indicator how the person will probably perform on projects once hired. Needless to say, candidates who are not familiar with the organization and do not have constructive questions and suggestions are less likely to get the job.
The famous Nike slogan “Just Do It” is not just a corporate marketing campaign. Rather, you can use it to advance your career by having a bias toward action and initiative.
The best employees and interns are those who not only meet expectations, but come up with creative solutions to solve problems and create value. In addition, they don’t just suggest ideas to improve their colleagues’ performance, but are willing to help.
I’ve worked with many interns and colleagues over the years. Those who distinguished themselves were able to solve problems themselves without frequently asking their supervisor.
In addition, the best employees suggest new ways of doing things that are more efficient. This may take the form of asking colleagues if they need help instead of checking Facebook when some free time arises. Or it could mean staying ahead of industry standards and using the latest technology to get your job done better.
How can you implement this immediately? One way is to think about your role more as an entrepreneur whose job is to create the most value possible, as opposed to a person who checks tasks off a list.
Some of your most important responsibilities are not necessarily listed on your job description. Innovate new ways to achieve your personal goals and your organization’s success.
Here, Jenna Ashley Robinson discusses the new chapter.
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