Career Key

Author: Career Key's President and CEO, Juliet Wehr Jones, GCDF, J.D.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Confidence in New Skills Leads to Career Success

If you feel confident you can do something well, you are more likely to do it, value it, and actually do it well. A self-fulfilling prophecy. Psychologists may call it "self-efficacy" or cite the "expectancy-value theory." Whatever you call it, we know from experience that when you feel you've mastered a skill, you tend to do it more, and therefore improve.

It makes sense then that the #1 top rated job expectation people look for is in the type of work they will do; the kind of work that best fits one's abilities and gives one a feeling of accomplishment. See the all 10 top expectations here. After you inventory your interests, abilities, identify your skills, and find out what skills the career you want requires but you don't have, what do you do next?

How do you improve a skill you've never done before, or done poorly in the past, but need it to get a particular job or enter a new career? Here are 3 tips:
  • Get some entry level experience doing a required skill, even if you have to volunteer to do it. Yes, many employers will not pay to train you. But that doesn't stop you from volunteering or working somewhere else for low pay, then moving up to a better position as quickly as you can.
  • Ideally start by observing someone, job shadowing, or at least having an experienced person nearby for questions.
  • And then "buck up" and just do it; project confidence even if you don't feel it. Nothing makes people more nervous than if you yourself are nervous. Everyone expects new people to fumble a little, but they do expect you to handle these fumbles well. And be smart about it - accept suggestions and criticisms but don't wallow in it. Move on.
My personal example was beginning the practice of law. I had done clerkships, internships, and summer jobs in law offices. But until you get your "bar card," you do not sit alone in an office with a needy person who is often paying dearly for your expert advice. The skills and abilities that I needed to learn were:
  • Knowing the law: knowing the answers to the legal questions I was asked, thinking quickly on my feet.
  • Admitting ignorance: knowing how and when to say "I don't know but I will find out, and give you a call tomorrow." You don't have to say everything you don't know, but sometimes faking it is a bad idea, especially when it's obvious. Most people respect you for not trying to overreach your abilities - it makes them more confident that what you are telling them is correct.
  • Diplomacy: knowing how to tell people they do not have a case, but validating their concerns in a respectful way.
  • Handling angry people: knowing how to deescalate and end conversations in a respectful way, even if someone is not showing you the same courtesy. Clients are in your office involuntarily - nobody wants a problem that needs a lawyer so cut a little slack.
And the list goes on. But after you do things for a week, a month, and longer, the ball just starts rolling until 6 months later, in my case, I felt like I had a basic mastery of these people skills - at least enough to sleep at night and feel like I had a future. And to this day, I use these same skills, although in a different role, over and over again.

I got my first job by offering to volunteer, and them probably feeling sorry for me and offering me a job with low pay - but enough for me to live on. I grabbed it and felt lucky - I still appreciate my first employer for giving me a chance. I've found that asking people for chances and taking advantage of them when offered are the key to personal growth and building new skills for career success.

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