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Home > Reading Room > How to be an ‘A-List’ Employee or Candidate

SPJ Reading Room

How to be an ‘A-List’ Employee or Candidate
The Top 5 Qualities You Need to Advance Your Career

By Ross Macpherson

Hopefully, we all understand the importance of marketing ourselves in our careers — selling our skills, our experience, our education, our accreditation and our professional value to our current and future employers.

What we often forget, however, is the importance of the qualities or attributes that signal a top performer.

In fact, in survey after survey asking managers and leaders what they look for in model employees, attributes are frequently the first mentioned — not skills, not education, not certification, but rather personal attributes and qualities that separate top performers from the pack.

Throughout all of these surveys, while many unique features appear, common themes keep coming to the surface. Below, you will find the Top 5 qualities that appear again and again. If you can demonstrate these qualities on the job, highlight them come promotion time, and communicate them in an interview, then you will separate yourself from the competition.

1. Self-Motivated/Lifelong Learner
Being self motivated refers not only to getting the job done without being told, but more importantly it means taking responsibility for doing whatever is necessary to get the job done.

In other words, employers are looking for people with a passion for self-improvement — people who will manage their own personal and professional development, learn aggressively, and take the initiative to get the expertise required to add more value to the company. Hiring managers very often look to the education section of a resume to see if candidates have continued learning and growing as part of their career.

So, take control of your professional development and growth.

2. Interpersonal Skills
Most people will agree that good interpersonal skills are important, but what do we really mean by it? Ultimately, it boils down to this: getting along. Getting along with others, whether customers or colleagues, is at the heart of fitting in with the culture of a company, being a valuable part of your team and being successful.

Only in rare cases will a company reward the unpopular, unfriendly lone wolf who nevertheless delivers results — it may pay off short term, but in the long term, people just get tired of putting up with it, especially if it infects team performance.

So, get along with those you work with, those you work for, and those you want to work for. Fitting in and getting along may not be in your performance targets, but it will pay off big time.

3. Think Strategically
Employers want people who not only focus on their areas of expertise, but who also see where and how it fits in with the big picture.

Strategic thinkers are always looking to find out where the organization needs or wants to go next, and then they position themselves to help the organization get there.

In other words, in addition to doing your assigned job, try to see your organization (or your division or department) as your customer, and then seek to meet that customer's needs.

The better you understand your company's strategy, and the more you can contribute to its value, the better job you can do in communicating your value.

Communicating your value is ideally a matter of positioning your skills, experience and knowledge in the context of what's important to the company. If you continue to think strategically and contribute strategically, you will start to stand out as someone who can really make a difference.

4. Inquisitive/Champion Innovation
Top performers are always looking for a better way to do things, and top employers are always looking for these people.

You don't necessarily have to be the person to build the better mousetrap, but if you keep an open mind, question the status quo, and encourage innovation and out-of-the-box thinking from those around you, you may be the one who recognizes the need for the better mousetrap.

So, be inquisitive and ask questions both of yourself and what you see around you. Whether you have the power to influence your organization or just your own desktop, if you can help it stay on the cutting edge, you'll stand out as a top performer.

5. Flexible/Adaptable/Open to Change
This is not a new concept, but it often remains the difference between those that move ahead and those that stay behind. Business is about change — those who embrace it will thrive, and those who resist it will not. It's that simple.

However, embracing or rejecting change really only differentiates the good performers from the poor performers.

If you want to take it to the next level, if you want to be the top performer among the good performers, you also need to be able to anticipate change.

This is especially true for managers and leaders but still applies to everyone else. Just as I spoke of above with encouraging innovation, the ability to anticipate change — seeing it coming and sometimes even going out after it — keeps companies on the leading edge, and separates the leaders from the followers.

Ross Macpherson is the President of Career Quest, a certified professional resume writer, and a career success coach who has helped thousands of professionals advance their careers. Get your copy of his free report "The 7 Most Powerful Strategies for Job Search Success" and receive his e-newsletter Career Accelerator by visiting yourcareerquest.com.

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