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The magic formula for a successful career

Dr. Conrad Pramböck - 14 grudnia 2015

I have asked countless business partners the following question: "What steps did you take to become successful in your career?" The response I got most frequently was: "Basically, I was lucky. I happened to be at the right place at the right time, talking to the right people about the right things."

Initially, you may get the impression that everybody does the same things—receive good education and training, be diligent, work hard—and that it depends on the whim of Lady Luck whether you are to enjoy a successful career, or whether you have to toil away for peanuts like a hamster in a wheel.

That is not entirely true, though. You can take control of your own destiny. The good thing about Lady Luck is that you can invite her into your life by creating an environment she likes.

This is easy to do—it takes only three steps.

1. Develop your skills

Learning skills requires both theory and practice. How are the two different? In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice, but in practice, there is. It is not by taking a few driving lessons in the run-up to your driving test that you will become a confident and safe driver but by clocking up thousands of kilometers behind the wheel afterwards. In the same way, even the best education and training, such as an MBA, can only be a first step towards taking control of your own development by putting theory into practice.

In developing your professional skills, you need to remember just one magic word: focus. Broadly speaking, having a successful career is all about being able to do one single thing truly well. So well in fact that you are second to none. In other words: create your USP. It does not matter what it is that you excel in or how strange it may seem to others. Sebastian Vettel is in a class of his own when it comes to racing around a track in a Formula 1 car. Arnold Schwarzenegger has the biggest muscles. What can you do better than anyone else?

Why does being the best matter? Because nobody is interested in who comes second. Let me illustrate my point: who is the fastest mouse in all Mexico? Speedy Gonzales. Who is the second fastest mouse in all Mexico? ... ??? There you are.

You have to be so good that only you can get the job done. This is even reflected in the slogan used by a well-known player in the coffee business: "Nespresso, what else?" Your employer and your business partners have to say: "If we can't do this with you, we won't do it at all." An Apple fanboy would never switch to a Samsung mobile, after all.

2. Earn people's trust

You can earn people's trust in many ways. The easiest is to live up to your promises on a daily basis. In business, you can assert anything you like, provided you go on to prove that what you say is true.

There are many ways for you to claim that you excel in something: during a job interview, while talking to potential clients, at a networking event, on your website or your blog, during a presentation, in your résumé, on LinkedIn or XING, etc.

Promises are good, but facts and results are better because they add credibility to what you say. When somebody asks: "Do you speak Russian?" a simple "Yes, I do" is a good but insufficient answer. "I wrote my Master's thesis in Russian" sounds much more powerful and convincing. Here is another example: "Are you familiar with the American culture?" "Yes, I am. I spent a year in New York." This leaves no room for doubt about your skills.

It is absolutely necessary for you to continuously prove your skills. Roger Federer stayed at the top of the world rankings only for as long as he won tournament after tournament. Even the best tennis player of all times has to demonstrate his skills during each and every rally.

It is good to talk about your successes and achievements, but it is even better if others talk or write about you. As a rule, Wikipedia removes articles that are not backed by objective, independent sources. There is no room for self-promoters on this platform.

Here are some examples of how others can help you build your reputation by talking or writing about you: A journalist publishes an interview with you. The organizer of a seminar announces you as a speaker. A university of applied sciences lists you as an external lecturer on its website. A client recommends you.

3. Build and maintain your network

You have developed your skills through education and practical experience. You are doing your best to earn people's trust. Now it is time to make the right contacts.

In order to be able to meet the right people, you first of all need to know where you want to go professionally. Ideally, you are striving to make the dream of your life come true, i.e. to achieve something that is of incredible personal importance to you and that feels simply wonderful. Formulate your career objective, preferably in writing, and talk about it with as many people as possible.

Ask the people you trust: "Whom else do you know I should contact for advice on this matter?" The more specific your goal, the easier it will be for your vis-à-vis to name contacts. If all you know is: "I am looking for a new job, any job," you will most probably get an answer like: "Well, good luck with that." This is not at all helpful. If, however, you say, for instance: "I intend to relocate to Southeast Asia to do business development for a German-speaking mechanical engineering company. Whom do you know I should talk to about this?", you provide detailed information, making it easier for your vis-à-vis to point you in the right direction. Ask if you may approach the persons whose names you have been given, and if you may tell them where you got their contact details from. As a rule, the answer will be "yes".

Networking means working towards achieving what you want to achieve by using the contacts of contacts. Approach the persons you have been referred to and set the scene: "Our mutual friend XY has asked me to get in touch with you directly.” Briefly introduce yourself, and explain what you are trying to accomplish, e.g.: I am the sales manager of an Austrian manufacturing company. We plan to expand our business operations to Scandinavia, and Mr. XY suggested I turn to you for advice on this matter."

Ask the contacts of your contacts, too, who else might be able to help. This way, you can gradually expand your network. Add these persons to social platforms like LinkedIn and XING. This will allow you to re-establish contact with them easily, even after years.

The magic formula for a successful career

Take the three steps skills — trust — network in a different order and you get the magic formula for a successful career. Irrespective of whether you want to become a manager, a successful entrepreneur, a movie star, a Formula 1 world champion or a top model, the magic formula for a successful career reads: "My network has faith in my skills."

It is in this type of environment that Lady Luck will come your way, bringing you gifts, business assignments and job opportunities you never thought possible. If you are not successful, it is because you failed to take one of these steps.

Many people start their careers by building a network of contacts. This is putting the cart before the horse. While still at university, they meet the CEO on the golf course, hoping for his benevolent support. It is much better, though, to first develop your skills and then build your network. The first person who needs to have faith in you is you. After all, you will find your career particularly satisfying when you can passionately say one thing about all your professional activities: "I can do that really, really well."

 

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Dr. Conrad Pramböck

Head of Compensation Consulting
Pedersen & Partners

cp@conradpramboeck.com
www.conradpramboeck.com

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