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If you’re looking to advance in your career or even if you want to build a successful business, you’re going to need more than just passion. To truly become your own boss, you need to build a strong foundation of skills. I always tell young women to not underestimate the value of “boring” skill building. Even if you’re not 2000% excited about your current job, mastering the tangible skills most entry-level positions teach you is highly valuable and could propel you into a position you are excited about.
That being said, here are five skills I encourage all my mentees to master to help them reach their goals.
1. Know Your Numbers
Even if you’re pursuing a career in the arts, it will greatly benefit you to get comfortable with numbers. Looking back on my first couple of years out of school at a top accounting firm, I worked insane hours performing tedious tasks – it was all spreadsheets, number crunching, and analyzing costs. While I dreaded it at the time, I realize now that those years were incredibly important because I’ve utilized many of them while running ENTITY.
I’m not saying you need to get an advanced degree in mathematics, but you do need to be willing to take the time to examine numbers honestly and understand the stories they tell about a business and its priorities. It will also be helpful to learn how to create budgets, read financial statements, and manage cash flow, no matter how much you may hate it.
2. Become a Better Writer
Being able to communicate effectively is crucial to being successful. And in a professional environment, communicating effectively typically means being able to write well. You don’t need to be the next Shakespeare or Hemingway, but you need to understand that good writing skills, especially via email, communicate intelligence, professionalism, and competency. And whether or not you like it, the only way to get better at writing is by practicing. While you definitely want to make sure your emails are error-free, you also need to work on focus, readability, tone, and clarity.
As a starting point, I always tell my mentees to practice writing emails that are respectful and get to the point quickly; longer isn’t always better, especially when you’re talking to a busy executive.
3. Become a Clever Negotiator
We are constantly negotiating. Whether you’re negotiating a raise with your boss or a new project with your team, being able to argue your point in a compelling way will come in handy as you move up in your career. Not only that, but learning how to be a convincing negotiator will help you become more confident and gain a competitive advantage.
A good start for young women is to always reflect on their power and know their core competencies. Some of the best advice I’ve heard comes from Julie Schoenfeld, a veteran entrepreneur who spoke at our 2017 Entity Academy Speaker Series. She told our students to always “live in their strengths.” I found this very compelling advice both for young women and for myself because it reminded us that “using the hand I’m dealt” can actually be a very positive thing.
4. Master Your Brand
Always be cognizant that employers, investors, and people who could impact your future look to social media to find out who you are — use these networks wisely if your profiles are public. Eventually, people aren’t even going to interview candidates, they’re just going to look at their social media accounts. So, if you can become adept at creating original content that attracts an engaged and active audience, you’ll be successful.
It’s definitely a lot of work to grow a dedicated following and curate social accounts, but doing the necessary research on the Facebook and Instagram algorithms will be well worth the effort.
5. Make Researching Your Hobby
Speaking of research, how effective of a researcher are you? When you’re looking to advance in your career, settling for base-level information isn’t going to cut it. Don’t stop at a simple Google search; make sure to take deep dives and be as thorough as possible, especially before making big decisions. One nugget of wisdom I like to pass on to young women is to familiarize themselves with the Google algorithm and how to use keywords to their advantage. Also, learn to use Google’s advanced search functions to perform more targeted searches.
At the end of the day, one of the most powerful weapons you can have in your arsenal is self-awareness. Don’t become overconfident in your abilities or think you’re better than these foundational skills. Once you take the time to master them, you’re that much closer to becoming your own boss.
Jennifer Schwab is an outspoken entrepreneur, visionary and disrupter with one goal in mind: to inspire, support and empower all women, not through words, but ACTION. As a woman of color she knows what it’s like for women who have to work twice as hard to get half as much. Which is why in 2016 she founded ENTITY, a media company dedicated entirely to equipping young women with the skills, knowledge, and resilience they need to succeed in today’s rapidly-changing career climate.