The Unwritten Rules of Career Success

Last week I taught a half a dozen workshops for one client on how to succeed at work. In doing research, I came across a survey entitled “Unwritten Rules: What You Don’t Know Can Hurt Your Career.” According to the authors, Laura Sabattini and Sarah Dinolfo, “Building professional relationships, whether through networks and affinity groups or with mentors, supervisors, and other individuals who can share knowledge emerged as particularly important. Effective communication and defining career goals were also deemed important to success. Respondents sometimes learned about important career rules by trial and error or simple observations, but many were proactive in asking colleagues and supervisors for information to understand how things work in their organization. Respondents also said that they wished they had known that ‘just’ working hard is not enough to succeed or that they had been more aware of organizational politics and about the advantages of self-promotion.”

I asked the audience to brainstorm who in their organizations they think are highly successful, to say why they are successful, and to give examples of what these stars do and the skills they have. Not surprisingly, the skills they came up with were in line with what the survey said. According to participants in my workshops, successful people network with others, plan to exceed expectations, do what they say they will do, and take initiative. In addition, my client, a nonprofit organization, said that successful people in their organization are passionate about what they do.

In collaboration with the leaders of the organization, I had designed a checklist of skills that are keys to success and grouped the skills under four categories; two categories were technical skills unique to this organization and the other two categories, Professional Development and Professionalism, were more generic. I had participants complete a self assessment on the checklist.

Three skills came up in every group as areas to work on. All three skills came under the category, Professional Development: 1) seek feedback from a variety of sources, 2) accept constructive criticism in a constructive manner, and 3) implement new professional ideas at work and evaluate their impact. We brainstormed how they could develop or strengthen these skills.

The professional development skills I taught are not unique to my client. According to Michael M. Lombardo and Robert W. Eichinger, authors of For Your Improvement, career stallers and stoppers include Blocked Personal Learner (doesn’t seek input and uses few learning tactics) and Defensiveness (is not open to criticism).

I am curious. What are the top professional development skills you need to work on? What is stopping you from taking these on? What is driving you to do so? And, what cool things are you doing to develop these skills in yourself?


Judith Lindenberger is the president of The Lindenberger Group, LLC, an award-winning human resources consulting firm locate...

Go Deeper | Website

Want More?

New Graphic
Subscriber Counter