Who are the people, who have left positive marks on you? In my job supporting graduates in their school-to-work transition by increasing their employability. I often ask this question to employers. At first, answers usually tend to be unique but the longer a discussion on the topic goes, the more I seem to find the same pattern time and time again: Independent from the setting, such positive marks (or lasting impressions) are created through impact. Impact comes from what seems a somewhat magical formula containing an open mind, curiosity, interest and passion. In this kind of atmosphere positive impact comes from actions that fit the purpose. Functional or disciplinary skills are important but even more so are generic skills like the ability to embrace others, unleash the strengths of others, work in a team, communicate well, focus, select and judge relevant information, solve problems and make decisions. This list of 21st Century skills goes on and on. So far so good. But this is only the starting point for the truly interesting question: On what ground do these skills grow best? What is the mental composition or set of basic traits for these skills to grow to an extent that notable impact can be achieved? Listening to employers around the world, I see three major traits forming such grounds:
A strong Value System that drives Personal (and Social) Responsibility and avoids indifference. In its core, such a value system responds open-mindedly to its environment, accepts the concept of equality independent from any cultural backgrounds, ethnic affiliation, religion or gender. It has a positive appreciation for diversity, the strength of others and implies a concept of continuous development and learning. Bearer of such value systems respect and integrate the values and opinions of others, they tend to question themselves and step in when they become aware of antisocial behaviours irrespective of role, level and formal position.
The Willingness to demonstrate Citizenship. Whether it is at work, in the local community, in sports or among family and friends, these people understand the importance of small actions within a larger system. They have a sense of belonging to such that system and are willing to take an active part in forming and adding to it with a healthy portion of selflessness. They take responsibility, demonstrate endurance and do so not primarily for reputational reasons but because a situation demands so.
A distinct Can-Do Attitude. Impact comes from actions. Initiating actions often involves the stepping out of one´s own comfort zone or at least. At least, it involves some effort towards an outcome bearing a degree of uncertainty. And the trigger is a can-do attitude. Let´s be honest, most of us love the comfort and security of a stable surrounding and it is often too easy to find good reasons, not to act. But those with a can-do attitude tend to be different.
I especially remember one of my ice hockey coaches as a teenager. He was convinced that only “good values” would let you play fair and hard at the same time. If you wanted to play in his team, you had to demonstrate good values. In school and during our spare time we were challenged as a team to act against unfairness and social misbehaviours. If someone was bullied our coach wanted to see us stepping in. Not acting was considered as bad as actively doing wrong, on and off the ice. The drill was simple: personal and social responsibility, citizenship and a can-do attitude off the ice would allow you to participate on the ice. Inactivity, ignorance and indifference however meant sitting on the bench on game day. What kept us outside the rink as a teenage hockey players, keeps adults from generating impact as well. Take maybe the biggest challenge you are facing as a graduate: your own school-to-work transition and dealing with the first-time job seeker´s dilemma: no job without experience and no experience without a job. Some handle this transition much better than others. Too often I hear that the school should have done more towards career readiness, that job centres should become more effective or that the tough job market is to blame for failed career entries. Meanwhile I hear employers seeking people who are willing to take responsibility, demonstrate ownership and act. So, if you are facing that school-to-work transition dilemma, I would like to share this advice with you: Challenge yourself on your readiness to take responsibility, willingness to demonstrate citizenship (or ownership over your own school-to-work transition) and push yourself in your can-do attitude. This way you will identify and catch opportunities faster and more often. Sooner or later you will create impact, generate visibility and find open doors in your career (and in life).