When you’re just starting out in your career, it’s easy to feel like your professional trajectory has gone astray, or like you’re stuck in a position without a lot of room for growth. But when you take a look at some of the world’s most successful CEOs and entrepreneurs, they too started from humble beginnings. Ever wondered “what’s their secret?” or “how do I get there?” You’re in the right place.
We’re exploring some of the best career advice from CEOs and world-renowned executives want their employees to know, and even what your management team wants you to know in order to grow within your own position. From career quotes to tips, we’ve got just what you need to take your professional development to the next level.
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- What do executives look for in employees?
- Career advice from top executives
- Key Takeaways: Best Career Advice
What do executives look for in employees?
There are certain qualities we know hiring managers look for: education, relevant work experience, and good communication skills. But how often do you get insight on what the leaders of your company are looking for? Probably not so much, but knowing what they’re seeking in new hires can help you nail the job and even prime you for growth in your career. Of course, specific hiring needs depend on the job at hand, but there are some characteristics that virtually any company executive is searching for.
Chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, Warren Buffet says:
“You’re looking for three things, generally, in a person: intelligence, energy, and integrity. And if they don’t have the last one, don’t even bother with the first two. I tell them, ‘Everyone here has the intelligence and energy—you wouldn’t be here otherwise. But the integrity is up to you. You weren’t born with it, you can’t learn it in school.”
According to Buffet, the culmination of these three qualities just might set you apart from the competition and put you in a position to excel within your company. But in addition to his three pillars, there are some characteristics that have been proven to be powerful among hiring and training staff.
As part of their Future of Work study, Pew Research Center found that understanding computer technology, working with others, and training in writing and communication are considered “very important” in the hiring process. For a list of other top characteristics from the study, see the chart below.
Career advice from top executives
So now that you’ve got your resume all polished up with these top skills, it’s time to take your job application and path to promotion to the next level. Whether you’re hoping to advance in your current position or you’re preparing to rule your own business venture, you may want to test the tried and true advice from some of the world’s most successful executives and career experts.
Go above and beyond
Ask just about any CEO their philosophy on growth, learning, and progression, and they’ll probably mention something to the effect of “there’s always room for improvement,” or “never stop learning.” And it’s true. No matter what industry you’re in or how much you think you know, there’s always a chance to expand your knowledge and emerge from the glass ceiling that’s in your way.
According to career posting site, Glassdoor, participating in classes, certifications, or workshops are among the top ways to grow your career. Many companies will even sponsor their employees if they want to learn something new and flex their skills on the job.
Just taking the step to ask your manager if there’s an opportunity to do more or learn more in your area of expertise could put you in a position for promotion if something comes up later on down the line.
Keep in mind, your actions don’t have to be too big if your schedule is already overwhelmed, simply learning from a career advice blog or industry publication can help you glean some insight and inspiration from experts in your field.
Learn to say no (sometimes)
Many employees and even managers make this mistake when they’re just starting out in their career: saying “yes” to everything. No one wants to disappoint their boss or worse, their clients, but there’s a line that has to be drawn if you want to retain your value as an individual or business. When the quality of your work suffers, sometimes it’s better to know your bandwidth than to try to be a hero.
Don’t believe us? Take it from Wayne Pacelle, former president and CEO of The Humane Society, speaking on the best career advice he’s ever received:
“One of my former board members said, ‘Don’t try to do everything because that’s an impossible task, and no one will notice anything that you do because you’re spread too thin.’ So he said to concentrate on a few big things, make an impact and people will notice that impact.”
Grow your professional network
You’ve likely heard the ancient entrepreneurial adage, “it’s not about what you know, but who you know.” And while business networking has certainly changed over the years, it’s still just as important as ever. In fact, according to a recent study, 85% of jobs are filled through networking.
Perhaps you’re thinking: I’m comfortable in my job, why would I need to network? But the reality is, even if you’re not actively on the hunt for a new job, you never know what opportunities might come your way. Plus, in addition to job prospecting, networking platforms also give you the chance to do some recruiting of your own when it comes time to expand your own team.
Many of us associate the world’s most successful businesses and business owners with risk, and there’s a good reason for it. Think about business moguls like Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey, and Elon Musk—they all have at least one thing in common: they’ve disrupted their respective industries and cashed-in on the result. They didn’t play it safe or stop when someone told them no, they just kept going.
Whether you’re considering a new job offer or thinking about starting your own business, there’s a lot to learn and benefit from when you take (reasonable) risks.
In her commencement speech at Johns Hopkins University, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki gave some of her best career advice for college grads:
“Life doesn’t always present you with the perfect opportunity at the perfect time, opportunities come when you least expect them, or when you’re not ready for them. Rarely are opportunities presented to you in the perfect way, in a nice little box with a yellow bow on top…Opportunities, the good ones, they’re messy and confusing and hard to recognize. They’re risky. They challenge you.”
Be a good boss
If you’re in a position of leadership—from supervisor to CEO—it’s always a good idea to reflect on your management practices if you want to advance your career. But what is it that differentiates a good boss from a bad one? To start, here are a few of the characteristics of a bad boss, according to a survey from Glassdoor.
So obviously, you’ll want to try your best to avoid toxic traits like being disrespectful and talking loudly, but how do you advance from being an okay boss to a leader that your staff admires? Here’s some career advice from Forbes to take you from being a good boss to a great boss:
- Make an effort to listen
- Adapt to the needs of your team members
- Give positive feedback
At some point in your career, you’re likely going to be in a place where you’ve gone above and beyond, you’ve improved your skill, and you’re waiting for that glorious meeting with your boss when they tell you you’ve finally been promoted. But it doesn’t always work out that way. Sometimes you may encounter roadblocks that you might not be able to control.
No matter what challenges you face though, career expert and contributor to the Society for Human Resources Management, Martin Yate, says employees seeking growth should make an effort to announce their goals. What this means for you is simply having a casual meeting with your manager and letting them know about:
- Your proven successes
- Where you want to go with your career within the company
- What you can bring to the table as you grow
Yate says you should position your statement more like you’re asking for help to grow, rather than directly asking for a promotion.
Explore other avenues
One of the most important elements of building a career that is fulfilling and maximizes your potential is to explore different career avenues until you find one that suits you. For some, finding their lifelong passion started when they were a kid—maybe they always wanted to be a teacher or even an astronaut. But this isn’t the case for everyone, and that’s okay. Sometimes you have to experiment a little in order to find the job you really love.
“Do not be too timid and squeamish about your actions. All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better. What if they are a little coarse and you may get your coat soiled or torn? What if you do fail, and get fairly rolled in the dirt once or twice? Up again, you shall never be so afraid of a tumble.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Here are a few ways you can bolster your career exploration:
Research careers: Start your search by browsing skills on a few job posting websites. Do you love to write? Try searching for writing as one of the required skills and see what’s out there.
Seek mentorship: One of the best ways you can get tangible work experience is by partnering with a mentor that works in a field that you’re interested in. This way, you can shadow them, ask questions, make industry connections, and even do mock interviews.
Brush up your resume: Once you’ve done some exploring and found a path you’re interested in pursuing, it’s time to brush up that resume of yours. Accentuate any relevant skills and work experience you might have and use any industry connections to your advantage on your reference page.
Nail the interview, but stay true to your word
There’s something to be said about a strong interview—being a good interviewer is a great skill to have, but it’s not necessarily what dictates success in your career. You can say in your interview that you’re an excellent collaborator or that you have X, Y, Z skills in whatever, but it’s not until you step onto the job site that you can really flex your strengths and impress your higher-ups. But keep in mind, if you’re going to boast a certain certification or skill, it’s important to be honest and be able to back up your claim when it’s time to get the job done.
“Honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom.” – Thomas Jefferson, third President of the United States
There’s always room for improvement
One of the best career advice quotes on this list is a quote on constant improvement from PepsiCo CEO, Indira Nooyi. She says:
“The distance between number one and number two is always a constant. If you want to improve the organization, you have to improve yourself and the organization gets pulled up with you. That is a big lesson. I cannot just expect the organization to improve if I don’t improve myself and lift the organization, because that distance is a constant.”
Whether it’s continuously training and learning, or taking a look at your financial standing and looking for improvements, there are plenty of areas to adjust and grow within your business and your career. Consider subscribing to some career advice blogs, industry news publications, and attend a few relevant workshops to help you learn more about improving your skills and your business operations.
Don’t be shy about showing your passion
From nailing a job interview to securing sales, passion is a word we often hear when talking about successful staff and executives. But did you know there are statistics to back it up? According to a study from Gallup, highly engaged teams are 21% more profitable than those who are not.
But how can you show your passion beyond talking the talk? Here are some ways you can show your commitment to your career path:
- Volunteer with an organization that’s related to your industry of choice
- Write a blog about your career-related interests
- Do an internship or shadow an employee at the company you’re applying for
- Express your passion in your cover letter
- Take relevant coursework
- Participate in workshops or think tanks related to your field of expertise
Be a problem solver
Oftentimes when we’re just starting out in the workforce, it’s easy to marry your job description and stick to the tasks you agreed to when you were offered the position. But the reality is, your job description is not always designed to be a comprehensive overview of all of the things you’ll be doing at your workplace. Sometimes, you’ll be asked to take on new responsibilities that aren’t included in your job description but are indeed relevant to your success in your career, as well as the success of the company.
Career expert Martin Yate breaks it down with this quote on problem-solving:
“Your job also exists because without it, problems would occur that get in the way of the profit imperative that rules every company. This means that regardless of job title, you are hired to be a problem-solver within your area of professional expertise. Taken a step further, your job is to:
- Identify potential problems in your area of expertise.
- Anticipate these problems.
- Prevent as many of these problems from occurring as you can as you execute your duties.
- Solve problems efficiently when they drop on your desk, and do so with due consideration for your colleagues, especially those who must subsequently deal with your work product.”
Now, this isn’t to say you have to say “yes” to everything (as we know from the tips listed above), but you may consider new opportunities as areas to grow in your position, rather than daunting tasks. Who knows, you could even see a pay increase or promotion later on down the road.
One of the most effective ways to jump into a new career or industry is to find a mentor that’s in a position you want to be in. When you partner with someone who’s already made mistakes, learned the ins and outs of the industry, and made connections, you can glean important insight from them that they’ve gained on their path to success.
There are plenty of resources for those looking for mentee opportunities relevant to their field of interest. Here are a few to get you started:
- The U.S. Small Business Administration: SCORE
- Young African Leaders Initiative
- S. Department of Agriculture: New Farmers
- Million Women Mentors
Career advice for women
Women in the United States (and around the world) face a unique challenge in the workforce, and you’ve likely heard of it. Or maybe you’ve experienced it yourself. We’re talking about the gender pay gap.
According to a recent study by Statista, women overall make 80 cents on the dollar when their wages were compared to the earnings of their male counterparts.
What does this have to do with career advice for women? According to many successful female CEOs, business owners, and career experts, the ladies in the workforce may need to seek career advice that speaks to their specific struggles to help them overcome certain barriers that might be in their way. So what do these powerful women have to say to young female entrepreneurs following in their footsteps?
Here’s some of the best career advice for women from those who’ve helped pave the way:
- “Just go for it. Too often, women have a confidence gap that makes them pause and slow down while men dive in and learn as they go. Just go for it!” –Kathleen Murphy, president of Personal Investing, Fidelity
- “We need to accept that we won’t always make the right decisions, that we’ll screw up royally sometimes—understanding that failure is not the opposite of success, it’s part of success.” –Arianna Huffington, Founder of The Huffington Post
- “You’ve got to kill it and over-deliver on every task you are given. And I mean every task. There is no task too small for you,” – Tiffany Pham, Author of “You Are a Mogul”
- “Always take on new challenges—even if you are not sure you are completely ready.” – Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook
As for specific ways women can boost their resumes and skillsets in the workplace, LiveCareer recommends these career strategies:
- Keep your resume updated
- Develop a recognizable personal brand by creating connections
- Ask for feedback
- Project confidence
- Be someone that everyone wants to work with
- Take steps to plan your career advancement
Key Takeaways: Best Career Advice
No matter how far you advance in your career, there’s always something to learn from your peers, executives, and other successful leaders who know what it’s like to make career advancements, changes, and failures. Use these tips and career advice quotes to inspire you as you take on new challenges and further your professional goals.