Employers highly value technical skill. But that alone doesn’t punch your career ticket. Many technically astute individuals suffer long years of lessons in the school of hard knocks until a mentor takes an interest in them or they eventually piece things together.
As you progress through your career, you may have occasion to wonder why someone less skilled than you is promoted or why management makes other seemingly irrational choices. The first thing you must understand is life isn’t a pure meritocracy and neither is your career.
Typically people starting out are advised to gain more technical skill. But what if you’ve already been doing that? What if you are pretty sharp, but still really not going anywhere career-wise?
Here are some things that may advance you or hold you back. Think on them and see if you can figure out how to use them in ways that work for you.
• A positive attitude. People like being around people who give off positive energy. Nobody likes being around people who leave them feeling drained.
• Constructive input versus criticism. No organization is perfect. Those who want to find fault usually can. An astute boss is always looking for good ideas. So if you think something needs improving, begin a conversation rather than an attack. Your angle is not “what’s wrong,” but “maybe this can be better—can I bounce an idea off you?”
• The ability to listen. Technically sharp people tend to be more prone to talk rather than to listen. But stop and think about this. How much time does it take to listen to the other person? A few minutes? Develop the discipline to give that few minutes, and you will be amazed at what you get back.
• Humility. Some people just can’t admit to being wrong. Yet, acknowledging a mistake is how you learn not to repeat it. A coworker points out something not quite right in your work. Do you thank that person and invite constructive input, or do you lash out at that person for daring to suggest you could be wrong?
• Self-motivation. Along with this go self-discipline, self-supervision, self-control, etc. Don’t make your supervisor babysit you; show that you take responsibility.
• Understanding when to escalate. Bosses love employees who handle problems on their own. But they also dread employees who attempt this by going outside their areas of expertise or authority. You don’t need to walk a fine line, here. If you’re not sure whether to handle it, think of how you’d like to handle it and talk with your boss about your solution before going ahead with it. The key here is communication.
These are only some of the nontechnical characteristics and skills that will serve you well if you make a deliberate effort to develop them. Don’t try to do it alone, either. Find a mentor. This could be anyone with some life experience, even if that person isn’t in the electrical industry. One important point is you never argue with your mentor. That person is there to guide you, not debate with you.
You don’t want to waste or poison a mentor relationship. It is highly advisable that you read a book on how to identify potential mentors and how to conduct your side of that relationship.