Last week, Claire Kittle Dixon, the Executive Director of Talent Market, joined us at the Praxis Fall 2014 Opening Seminar to share some of her insights on entrepreneurship and professional development with the Praxis participants. Claire has a decade of experience in the talent development field. She operated her own headhunting firm for more than three years before transitioning into a career in the free-market nonprofit movement.
Here are some of the highlights, along with my personal notes, from Claire’s talk.
Claire Kittle Dixon
1) “The real world is full of big brains. Always remain humble and be ready to learn from people who know more than you do.”
If you’re always the smartest person in the room, then you’re obviously not stretching yourself beyond the familiar and comfortable terrain of what you’ve already mastered. Surround yourself with people who will challenge you to grow intellectually and professionally. Don’t be a “know-it-all.” You’re far more likely to lose people’s respect by pretending to know what you don’t know than by presenting yourself as an eager learner and enthusiastic listener.
2) “Even if you’re brilliant, if you’re cocky as hell, people will be less inclined to work with you and less inclined to learn from you.”
Being smart is overrated. We live in a world where we don’t have to put up with jerks anymore if we want to learn something new. Brilliant artists, teachers, coaches, entrepreneurs, and innovators are all over. So no matter how intelligent you think you are, people won’t hesitate to hire someone else if you’re a big pain to have around. Being easy to get along with is a highly marketable skill. Make people cry when you leave, not when you arrive.
3) “Start by overachieving. Your boss is not a total idiot. He/She knows when you’re not working.”
Never ever assume that your employer is dumb. You have nothing to gain by thinking that way. Even if it seems as if no one is watching you, make it a habit to always be “on.” Unproductive habits have a way of making themselves known. If you’re not adding value, you’ll eventually be found out. Don’t focus on what you can get away without doing. Focus on how you can get better at doing more.
4) “If you kick ass, you’ll be fine.”
Being remarkable and reliable goes a long way. When in doubt, be awesome. There will always be a place in this world for people whose professionalism and productivity can be counted on.
5) “Don’t be afraid to prove yourself.”
You won’t always be taken seriously at first. That’s just the way it is. Sometimes people won’t take you seriously for reasons that are fair (ie. you have no experience) and sometimes people will fail to take you seriously for reasons that are unfair (ie. you look young). Either way, don’t take it personally when people refuse to crown you with trust and respect on the first day (or week, or year). The only way to be taken seriously in the long term is to follow Steve Martin’s advice: “Be so good that they can’t ignore you.”
6) “Never underestimate the importance of physical real in-person networking. Get off the computer, get out, and engage the world.”
Social media is great, but it isn’t everything. In-person interaction gives you unique opportunities to win favor, build rapport, and gain trust. Attend networking functions and other social engagements that are relevant to your professional/creative interests. Keep your social skills in shape. Your ability to win a room, navigate a crowd, and find your rhythm among strangers is one of the most valuable assets you’ll ever have.
7) “Ask for help; Be specific; Follow-up; Say thanks.”
If you don’t ask for help, you’re less likely to get what you need. If you’re not specific in your requests, you’re less likely to be satisfied with how your needs are met. If you don’t follow up, you’re more likely to be ignored, forgotten, or overlooked. If you don’t say “thanks,” you’re less likely to receive help in the future. Take personal responsibility for making things happen in your life. Don’t sit around waiting for someone to read your mind or notice that you need something. Assert yourself. Be tactful, but don’t be timid.
8) “Ask important people if you can buy them coffee.”
Why? Because it’s not about the coffee, it’s about your willingness to bring something of value to the table when you’re asking a busy person to lend you their time. Offering to buy coffee is a signal that says, “I’m willing to invest in my future, I’m willing to put my money where my mouth is, and I’m grateful for your willingness to make yourself available.”
9) “Do not ignore the importance of reputation. Every job counts whether you’ve worked there for 6-months or 6-years.”
Treat every job like it matters. Your reputation, for better or worse, goes a long way. Even when you leave a job that you don’t like, be classy about it. Don’t burn bridges. If you hate your job, remain professional. Handle your responsibilities with diligence and maturity until you’ve made an actual decision to move on. It’s a fact that people talk. Make sure they’re saying good things when they talk about you. Be known for doing great work.
10) “The best marketing comes from others. You can toot your own horn, but it doesn’t mean crap compared to what I hear from someone I know and trust.”
Let other people do your boasting for you. The best way to do that is by doing boast-worthy work.
11) “Don’t forget about fulfillment. If you chase the money, you’ll never have enough. Try to get as close to possible to something you enjoy.”
You’ll bring far more enthusiasm to your work if you find pleasure in it and you’ll gain other people’s trust far more easily if you can respect yourself for the decisions you make. As you work to build your market value, try to remember the value of actually caring about the market you work in.