Entering the workforce as a new graduate is undeniably exciting, with a long runway of opportunity, possibility, and the chance to make a real impact on the world lying at your feet.
For ambitious grads, it’s also a fantastic time to take control of your career and its future. You can start immediately building the key skills you’ll need to be an effective – and competitive – manager later in your career.
To ensure that your pathway to becoming a manager is not obstructed, make sure that you consistently focus on developing these key skills.
1. Become More than Digitally Literate
Developing basic code literacy, social media, and digital marketing skills is essential for leading cross-functional teams and projects, understanding online challenges and roadblocks, and recommending technology-driven solutions to senior management.
Don't stop at a basic understanding of any of these elements. Everyone nowadays dabbles in code and paid online advertising. Take the time to really understand how technology is impacting your industry and what key innovations are going to change the 5-10 year outlook for your organization.
Opportunities to learn are widely available through online platforms such as SkillShare, Lynda, Udemy, Coursera, and top leadership blogs. Consistency is key - aim to spend 15-30 minutes each day reading about and developing yourself in this area.
2. Cross Cultures
Managers are increasingly called upon to work across borders, languages, and cultures.
From overseeing outsourced specialists in lower-cost countries to keeping your employer off the long list of cross-cultural brand fails during market expansions, a keen awareness of how different norms and expectations affect a business is critical to getting the job done abroad.
Graduates today should take a proactive approach to developing cross-cultural skills, taking advantage of international transfers or teaming up with people from a different cultural background. Learn not only how to be cross-culturally competent within your organization and in the context of your team, but also with how your team interacts with international external customers, audiences, or partners.
3. Be an Innovator
One of the great Stephen Covey quotes is also an apt mantra for graduates wondering what they’ll need to be effective managers: “strength lies in differences, not in similarities.”
In 2015, disruptors and innovators dominate the market, and we won't see that changing anytime soon. Five years ago, very few of us had a tablet, caught an Uber ride, paid to stay at a complete stranger’s apartment, or binged on Netflix - products and services created from nothing through a combination of imagination, insight, and an unapologetic willingness to be different.
Today and into the future, managers that can drive innovation while also managing the day-to-day demands of a business will always be in demand. Don't be afraid of suggesting new ways of doing things and new products and services to offer. It will become more critical over time for companies to recognize the innovators within their organizations, lest they be eaten by innovating competitor newcomers.
4. Perfect The Side Hustle
Beyond the practicality of having a side income not dependent on your 9 to 5, commercial strategy and business experience are considered a baseline for successful managers. Having a side project, either within your organization or completely unrelated, can give you the type of experience your peers will never get on the "normal" track.
As you begin your career, don’t be afraid to leapfrog the hierarchy and bureaucracy of a large corporate environment, side hustling your way to new skills and experience. In the wise words of rapper Rick Ross, “everyday I’m hustlin’, hustlin’.”
5. Up Your EQ
It’s official: likeable people do better at work, are seen as more credible leaders, and receive more job offers and promotions than their less likeable peers.
While you may argue likeability is a trait, not a skill, many researchers disagree, suggesting active listening, good question asking, and transparency are what set the most liked among us apart.
Starting your career with a blank slate is a great time to develop a reputation for being likable and build the proven interpersonal skills and habits you’ll need as a manager to motivate, lead tough conversations, and collaborate with your team.
6. Optimize Resources
Businesses are places of limited resources, and as budgets, profit margins, and staff numbers continue to shrink across segments and industries, doing more with less is a critical skill for managers across every function.
As the pressures of university rise, new grads should work to nip any perfectionist tendencies in the bud, shifting their mentality to one where scarce resources must be optimised, and where done well is better than done perfectly, if it comes with cost, speed, and productivity gains.
7. Cut Through The Noise
While looking busy probably cut it in your university retail job, valuing busyness over productivity is likely to sink you as you move into managerial roles, where personal and professional demands on your time skyrocket.
Learn to quickly cut through the huge amount of noise and figure out what matters, critically evaluating priorities and leveraging collaboration, teamwork, and delegation to deliver the best outcomes for the business.
The idea that the best managers are the first in the door and the last to leave is incredibly out-dated: learn to be strategic with your time, and you’ll add far more value, not to mention be much happier.