Whether you started your supervisory position last year or yesterday, it’s never too early to work toward your long-term career goals. If your immediate reaction is to put planning on the back burner because you’re “too young” to start thinking about executive leadership, think again. Twenty percent of organizations have executives who are younger than 30, according to a recent CareerBuilder survey of over 2,000 hiring managers and HR professionals.
If you want to continue climbing the ladder in your organization or field, you need to do more than know the right people and be in the right place at the right time. Here are some of the most important qualities hiring managers look for in executive-level candidates—followed by ways you can work on them now:
- Proven ability in addressing problems with effective solutions. Keep a journal of all the problems you encounter, how you respond to them and what you learned from each situation. Be sure to include a wide range of difficulties, from tightened budgets to personnel problems. If you keep and review this record, when the time comes to prove yourself as a problem solver in an interview, you’ll be prepared. If you feel like you need guidance in being a better problem solver, seek out a mentor you respect and trust.
- Adept at motivating others. Pay attention to the extrinsic and intrinsic rewards that motivate your employees. Think beyond bonuses and raises. Oftentimes expressing sincere appreciation is a huge motivator. Granting employees more freedom and autonomy also can be very effective. Another option: Take a public speaking class to learn techniques for inspiring your team.
- Can act with speed and agility in a changing market. Commit to staying on top of current trends in your field. Subscribe to trade publications to keep abreast of market changes and current best practices. This is another area in which journaling can be helpful. What feels like a big deal now could escape your memory in a few years at an interview, so it’s always best to jot down notes about your successes.
- Is creative. Become more creative by exposing yourself to new ideas, working with different people, looking outside your field for inspiration and mind mapping. The more you can get yourself outside of your comfort zone, the better.
- Has emotional intelligence. Improve your self-awareness by reflecting on your own emotions and emotional triggers. Expand your understanding of others’ emotions by listening to them and not jumping to conclusions. Practice positive body language—such as eye contact, good posture, and happy or relaxed facial expressions—to make your staff feel emotionally supported. Keep tact and etiquette high among your workplace priorities.
- Experience in different areas. Where can you go beyond your job description? Perhaps your organization doesn’t have much of a social media presence. Volunteer to maintain a Twitter account. Maybe you’re an expert in Excel but rarely need to use it anymore. Offer to give a one-day training workshop to interested employees. Keep in mind that your outside experience need not be at—or even related to—work. Become involved in your community by coaching a sports team, volunteering with a local nonprofit or joining a neighborhood association. All of those kinds of activities can provide insight you might not get from a typical work environment.
If you make developing those qualities a priority now, you’ll likely get a desirable promotion down the road. And even if you don’t get the first executive-level position you apply for, rest assured that your commitment to self-improvement will pay off in your current position too.
What other skills and qualities do you think are important to develop for executive leadership?
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