Success in any field ultimately comes down to being able to leverage your skills and talents. You can’t control every variable, but you can certainly control what you learn and how you apply it. Luck tends to favour the prepared, so it’s imperative that you prepare yourself for the real world by accumulating the proper set of skills and knowledge.
In his book, How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big, Scott Adams devotes an entire chapter to describing how being armed with a certain set of skills can put the odds in your favour when it comes to securing your dream job, moving up the corporate ladder or running a successful business.
While there are a vast array of skills you can acquire, it is good to examine the ones that will prove to be the most advantageous to your various endeavors. Skills that are in demand and provide utility across multiple domains should be prioritized.
Each skill you acquire increases your odds of success by allowing you to expand your horizons and opening up more opportunities. Synergy results when certain skills are “stacked” together. A unique combination of skills integrated with innate talents can produce astonishing results if channeled the correct way.
In essence, you are constructing a portfolio of skills, much like an investment manager constructs a portfolio of stocks. The proper combination of complementary and in-demand skills will result in a great return on your investment.
Mastery in many different disciplines is not required; if you can attain an amateur level of expertise this is usually more than enough. It is the overall interaction of your innate talents and the skills you learn throughout your life that matters, not each one in isolation.
In our high tech and hyper-specialized society it is fairly common for education experts and career advisors to recommend to students that they master a particularly narrow field. The so-called renaissance man or woman is increasingly becoming an archaic ideal, with each field of study becoming more and more specialized (though I still believe that being well-rounded individual is something to aspire to).
While the above argument is, in general, a great foundation, receiving an education in a specialized subject is only one piece of the puzzle. Each year more and more people are attending university; this increases the supply of people that hold degrees and, thus, the standard university becomes less valuable.
Becoming proficient at something at a mastery level is a great first step – but more work will be required to stand out from the crowd the university degree will become as ubiquitous as a high school diploma.
The following is a list of skills that I think are important today:
Developing solid communication skills should definitely be on your list. Being able to convey information in a clear and cogent manner to a group of people is crucial and valuable.
You may one day be thrust in a situation where you have to persuade a board of directors to pursue a specific business plan, or pitch a product you have developed to a group of venture capitalists. Being able to make a persuasive, coherent and memorable speech is vital for success in the upper echelons.
Even if you don’t anticipate that you will be doing many formal speeches, you can use your public speaking skills to keep bad habits like stuttering in check, and help avoid filler words such “uhm” or “like.”
Writing goes hand in hand with speaking. Whether you are writing a Facebook post, an email to a colleague, or an in-depth report for your boss, your writing skills will play a role in how others perceive you. Writing that is punctuated with grammatical errors, spelling mistakes and disjointed sentences will be glaringly obvious to those who write well. They will notice the defects in your writing and it will send the message that you are uneducated and unprofessional.
If you can’t write well, read more. Reading and writing go together; by reading more, you absorb the intricacies and nuances of sentence structure, organization of thoughts and expressions and expand your vocabulary.
Hone your writing skills by starting a blog about something you are passionate about (that way it won’t feel like work) and ask for honest feedback.
Consider taking courses in public speaking and writing if you feel you are very deficient in these areas.
Just as important as writing and speaking, learning how to properly socialize with people is also near the top of the list.
Humans are social animals; few people can live a solitary lifestyle and expect to make something of themselves. In order to become successful in any field, developing skills in rapport building, effective conversation, networking and the like, should be in your talent stack arsenal.
Here are some tips:
- Start conversations by asking questions and taking an interest in the person you are talking to; this is a great way to initiate a conversation as people love talking about themselves. Eventually you will discover some common interest with the person you just met.
- Use humor sparingly until you get to know the person you are conversing with; you may say something that is cringe-worthy or inappropriate. Become familiar with the type of humor the person enjoys.
- Know who you are speaking to and adjust your vocabulary, tone and choice of discussion topics accordingly. Research shows that people tend to like and trust others more if they act and talk like them.
- Pay attention to your body language. Stand up straight, make eye contact, don’t walk with your head down and always offer a strong, firm hand shake. Project power and confidence.
- Know the social event you will be attending so you dress in the appropriate attire (this can actually be classified as a separate skill on it’s own).
Sports, Games and Pop Culture
This may seem silly at first but being an expert in sports, games and pop culture can prove very beneficial; it can enable you to easily relate to a wide range of people. Most people have at least some interest in these areas, not to mention passion. Social activities, and even business deals, frequently involve sports and games.
Scott Adams recommends learning golf and I could not disagree more. Golf seems to be the sport that is most closely associated with business professionals. Knowing how to play could allow you make a valuable acquaintance, secure a new customer or even cement a lucrative business deal.
People also engage in charity-driven events or team building workshops that may involve things like running a marathon, hiking, cycling, etc, so it helps to keep in shape. The more fit you are the more you can partake in these activities and connect with people.
I also recommend learning at least some of the following (if it interests you):
Sports and games are excellent ice breakers. If you are very proficient in one it can help spark conversation and shine the spotlight on you (great if you’re introverted and have trouble initiating conversations). Even the shyest person will feel a sense of confidence if they are able to showcase they’re mastery in a particular sport or game.
Knowledge of popular culture and professional sports is also helpful. I’ve found people to be wildly enthusiastic about the following:
- Video/online games
- Sports (football, hockey, soccer, basketball, baseball are the main ones)
- Food/cooking/knowledge of local restaurants
I believe that being knowledgeable in a few of the above is necessary to some level. People are generally more enthralled by what’s happening in the world of pop culture and sports than the realm of politics and philosophy and other such “boring” things. It would be quite unusual to find someone who has no interest or at least a general knowledge these topics (don’t be that person).
Even if you consider yourself primarily an intellectual, it’s not a good idea to live in a bubble, having no clue what the world is up to. Remember that one of the keys to getting people to know you and like you is signalling that you are like them – and you can’t do that if you are sitting in a coffee shop reading obscure and esoteric books.
Learning the rudiments of common technological devices, online platforms and emerging digital trends is becoming increasingly necessary.
- You should be conversant with smartphones, tablets, laptops and similar devices.
- You should be familiar with the various social media platforms, though you do not need to have an active account on a dozen sites. Utilize at least one.
- You should be comfortable with word processing and spreadsheets to some degree as these are frequently used in business.
- Know how to install and configure hardware such as printers.
- Know the basics of troubleshooting software/hardware issues.
- Know how to protect yourself against viruses, malware, spyware and other malicious software. Learn to identify and avoid online white-collar criminals.
- Learn to code in at least one language.
The more technically adept you are the better off you will be. As automation increases and artificial intelligence begins creeping in, you should avail yourself of the multitude of resources available to become more technically proficient.
While social media sites can be valuable, you may want to consider taking things to the next level by creating your own website.
A personal website may become more vital in the future as competition increases; this could be a unique way to differentiate yourself from the crowd, show that you are engaged in your industry and are truly passionate about your chosen field. A well-designed website can help secure a job, grow your network and market yourself as an expert in your field.
Own your name online by purchasing your own domain: yourname.com.