Welcome to our first podcast guests who are a father-son duo, Bob and Nick Slater, authors of the new book _Look Out Above!_This book is aimed at helping people enter the job market, pivot in their careers, and make the most out of the first few years of their careers. Bob is a professor from UNC & Duke, and his son, Nick, is an entrepreneur.
We ask Bob and Nick about critical workplace skills that they teach; these are actually soft skills, not something that you’re taught in school. The book is aimed at teaching you how to contribute and stand out in the workforce, and Bob and Nick talk about the importance of the soft skills of writing, public speaking, leading, advocating, and presenting; and how these soft skills are the key to professional success.
We talk about contributing as a key to showing and adding value at an organization. You want to produce and do well in any job you do, even the first jobs in your career path. We talk about the importance of listening and learning, but also contributing when you can add value. We debate learning vs contributing right away, and agree that when you can add a unique contribution, you should do so to show your value to the organization. Ask your boss about their preferences to help you understand the unwritten rules around contribution.
If you’re quiet in a meeting, you can always follow up with your manager and tell them what you are learning and ask what their expectations are. Put the burden on yourself to know what is expected of you so that you can meet those expectations. Ask questions, show you were listening, talk about where you could contribute, and reiterate your excitement to be there.
Where can people practice the five key workforce skills? The first place is in summer jobs, internships and non-conventional jobs where you can figure things out. Look for places where you can practice practical business writing; even taking online courses. Join a group like Toastmasters for public speaking, and participate in sports and organizations to acquire leadership skills in addition to taking classes.
But classes are also useful. If you can, take classes in public speaking, communication, and writing. With any major, if you can find classes on personal finance, pitching ideas, and practical business skills, they will help no matter what your major is.
Bob and Nick talk about the ability to pitch ideas, which seems a little “early” for new grads. Young professionals are being asked to do more sooner and junior people are expected to interact with clients and other employees, so being able to comfortably speak to groups and pitch ideas are huge differentiators.
Demonstrating leadership skills are critical if you want to advance. When you’re the CEO of your own career, you find ways to differentiate, and soft leadership skills are the way to do it.
Career change and growth during Covid has changed a bit. Nick says that Covid shows us that work can change in an instant. It’s critical to be ready for any change or to have the transferable skills to get a new job. He recommends using extra time for networking or building skills through online learning.
We talk about the humanness of working from home, and helping to use communication skills in the WFH environment.
Bob gave some really good advice around long term fit and paying attention to make sure you’re at a company where you want to spend time and can add value. He talks about unwritten rules of a company, observing who gets respect and why, and what differentiates people who are succeeding in the environment from those who aren’t. If you aren’t aligned with the attributes that make people at your company successful, it’s time to find a place where you are aligned. When you’re looking at a job, don’t forget that you are interviewing the company as much as they are interviewing you.
After school, pick a job that sounds interesting to you and try it out. If it doesn’t work for you, you can pivot and start over. Don’t get stuck in the first few years of your career; instead, intentionally make a change! Have the courage to explore.
Bob and Nick Slater