3 Skills You’ll Need for Every Job


Access to high-quality education has never been easier than it is today. You can buy and download best sellers the day they come out (as I just did with Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook), enroll in an online or in person class at your local college with no fuss through their continuing education department, or subscribe to any number of video training sites such as lynda.com.

2013 is a terrible time to use the old excuse that you don’t have time to learn more to increase your value in a tight job market. So with all the options available, you’ve got to figure out how to turn an ocean of available content into a manageable drink that comes at just the right time to quench your thirst.

There are three drinks worth taking as you look to advance in the business world–whether you’re running your own show or working at a company. My journey in each of these is at a different stage, with project management experience topping the skill list, but achieving mastery in all three is a long-term goal.

Knowing How to Work With Numbers

Call it big data, call it Excel wizardry, call it business intelligence. You need to know how to put all the basic math you learned in school to work in spreadsheets and data visualization programs so you can use numbers to drive decision making.

My nascent knowledge of the world of Excel is my entry-point, because it’s a tool I use every day. Go on. I dare you: make a Pivot Table. Learn how to scale formulas and analysis across multiple rows, sheets, and workbooks. My brain hurts when I look at numbers in grid format, but taking 20 minutes a week to get better at data analysis is a long-term investment that equips me to back up decisions I make with the facts that make those decisions compelling and forward-thinking.

To get started, take an Excel spreadsheet with some dated data and save it as a new file. Make this your practice file. You’ll play with this one. Then invest 10 minutes twice a week to increase your knowledge of the program and try adding formulas and data analysis to your routine.

The key to making this meaningful is to really start asking yourself this question: What do I need the data to tell me? Meaningful analysis begins with great questions. Try sketching out or writing out on paper what you’re hoping to get from your data–do you need to know average products bought per customer, average cost of items you sell, or how to project total earnings for the year? Clear goals make it easy to jump into the data and figure out what to do next.

Knowing How to Manage Projects

Back when I earned my PMP credential from PMI in 2011, I saw it as a less expensive, more practical alternative to the expensive, lengthy investment MBA. Today, I still believe that’s true. In fact, the PMP has increased in value in the past three years, in my opinion. Sure, it’s a beast to prepare for, and there are a lot of requirements and paperwork to fill out.

But investing in the ability to manage projects large and small makes you good at whatever you try in any industry. Project management is a skill much like communication–it’s broad and multi-faceted and interesting in that just as you think you’ve got it by the tail, you find yourself on a new project with a new learning curve that begs you to learn again what you thought you’d mastered.

Good project management means that you know how to understand what a business needs, how to deliver it, what it will look like once it’s delivered, how to communicate with people along the way, how to manage teams, and smart ways to buy and distribute the assets you need to get it done. It’s that simple. Being able to do it well on big projects that have millions of dollars behind them or how to scale it back to plan a company picnic means you’re versatile and know how to build results with purpose in mind. This is a core skill that separates competitive professionals apart.

Whether you intend to go after a certification or not, take some time to learn the fundamentals of project management–take a course, read a book, and start applying the principles of knowing why a project is happening, knowing the stakeholders, determining what you need to deliver, managing budgets and schedules, communicating with the team and end users of the project, and delivering the results to specifications. To get your feet wet, volunteer to take on planning a low impact event at a nonprofit you help or for your social committee at work. Start small. Make a project plan on one page that spells out what the end result is, who’s involved, the milestones and tasks that will get you there and when they have to happen, and the budget you have.

Knowing the Basics of Marketing

Customer service is marketing. Sales is marketing. How you do your job every day is marketing–it’s a message you put into the world about your company and how it does business. Knowing the tools of marketing (how email works, what click through rate is, how to use analytics programs, what your SRPs and KPIs are) is part of the conversation, and knowing the skills of engagement and content creation is the conceptual component.

At every level of every company, the people are the marketing–the walking, talking marketing. Knowing how to increase the funnel of people checking out your company, how to get more folks to convert to customers, and how to keep existing customers happy is worth your time. At the close end of the spectrum, you want to get familiar with the tools your company uses, be they Google Analytics, Adobe Analytics, Siebel, or the like. You’ll also want to know the buzzwords: content marketing, SEO, SEM, social. Learn the cost to acquire a customer, a customer’s LTV (lifetime value), and your conversion rate for key products or services. This buys you entry into basic conversations that will accelerate your marketing.

At the far end of the spectrum, you want to know how to start and maintain conversations with your customers, share something of value with them, and grow your personal and business brands. So invest some time to start thinking of yourself, whether you’re a new grad or a business manager, as a marketer. An easy entry point to understanding marketing is to start creating some content of your own (as I’m doing here) and using social media or word of mouth to drive traffic to it. Monitor who’s coming to watch or read. Engage with them. Repeat.

Number crunching, project management, and marketing–three skills that you’ll be glad you have at any job you take.


5 Ways the Best Managers Multiply Your Success


Who’s the first boss who impressed you? I was lucky early on in my publishing career to synch up with a boss who was also a mentor and a friend–someone who cared about me first as a person and second as a member of our team. Our favorite managers, though they all look and act differently, multiply the quantity of them and the quantity of us to get a result that’s far greater than what we imagined we could do.

Let me explain: I have a personal metric–an unproven but nonetheless strongly held belief–that I should be adding at least five times my pay in contributed value for any job I do. Minimum. In my mind, a paycheck is an investment in our capacity and our return back to the company. So if I make $100, my company’s investment in my services, I should generate the equivalent of at least $500 in revenue contribution. The best bosses put a multiplier on that–helping us get to $1000, $5000, and beyond–because they accelerate what’s possible with that $100. That’s a win for the company, and it’s a win for us, because as we grow and improve, that earned interest rolls with us, job to job, new boss to new boss.

So how do the best managers help us multiply our value? Five simple things.

1. They Set Goals

Look for bosses who set goals that spell out the expected wins, tie those wins to expected timelines, and remove the barriers that might hinder success. Think: “In the next 18 months, close 50 new accounts valued at $3000 of business or more each.” Then they help you secure the business terms you need to close the deals you bring in.

If you don’t have goals written down with metrics and a clear picture of success, get that conversation on the calendar right away. You can open it with, “I’d like to verify that what I consider my most important work is aligned with your expectations. Could you go over my list of goals with me?” Bring a list of the goals that make sense to you and start there, aiming for a collaborative conversation.

The best managers know, on the flip side, that not setting goals, setting nebulous or changing targets, or adding steps that make goals harder is counterproductive. Beware the boss who says “I think x would probably be good enough” when x is what you’re tasked with or the boss who holds you accountable to goals that were never formally communicated.

2. They Get Specific

Which do you prefer: “Hey, good job in that meeting?” or “Hey, we were really impressed with how proactive you were in requesting that client change. It saved us a good week of back and forth.” The best managers are specific–when they’re coaching and when they’re congratulating. They don’t leave to broad interpretation what they can communicate succinctly right now. Specificity includes a message, timely examples that illustrate the point, and clarity on the value of your actions (good or bad).

If your manager isn’t there yet, when something’s right or wrong, ask clarifying questions. “I’m glad the report was helpful. What about it hit the mark so I can build on that next time?”

3. They Help Pave Smooth Roads

Who doesn’t love a boss who makes it easier to get your work done? The best managers help you remove the speed bumps that slow success–you just need to bring them your process, tell them what needs to change and what your plan is, and ask for their support in going faster.

Equally important: they don’t put up random speed bumps to test you or trap you in your process. They like you best when you’re zooming. Help your boss get there by trying, “Can you help me? There’s an obstacle I need to get around, and after considering several solutions, I’d like to do x. Here’s why…”

4. They’re Organization-Minded

Aligning with your company’s larger initiatives is critical to job relevance and stability. Managers who read org priorities and translate them into team and individual priorities buy you a piece of the action. This has nice side benefits: you’re always a relevant commodity because the work you’re doing is high priority and visible to the right people at the right times.

If you’re not clear already, ask what targets the organization is aiming for in the next 12 months. Offer a few probing questions about how your boss sees those initiatives impacting your team. Suggest that you chart your group’s path to align with company priorities.

5. They’re Real

The one quality I’d argue is most important in the best managers is that they tell it as it is. You get the real person, the real message, the real connection. No censored orchestration at the expense of the team knowing how to be successful.

Of course, this doesn’t mean they’re loosey goosey with confidential information or careless with sensitive strategy, but it means you can look each other in the eye. Take the first step by being real yourself–voice an opinion, even if it’s unpopular. Say what’s hard to say, tactfully. Share something about your life when it makes sense in conversations. Care about the whole person. When people are real with each other, amazing things happen, such as ego getting out of the way, decision making happening around facts, and dissent leading to better outcomes.

You’ll know you’re working with the right boss when you a) leave your meetings happier than when you entered b) welcome challenges as opportunities to accelerate rather than reasons to disengage c) know where you stand and why d) work toward a tomorrow that matters to you and to the company.

It’s both that easy and that difficult.