The Unwritten Rules of Career Success

Career Path

Last week I taught a half a dozen workshops for one of my clients on how to succeed at work.

In doing research for the workshop, I came across a survey entitled Unwritten Rules: What You Don’t Know Can Hurt Your Career.

According to the authors, Laura Sabattini and Sarah Dinolfo, some very interesting and compelling components make up real success when it comes to one’s potential career path.

The authors say:

“Building professional relationships, whether through networks and affinity groups or with mentors, supervisors, and other individuals who can share knowledge emerged as particularly important.

Effective communication and defining career goals were also deemed important to success.

Respondents sometimes learned about important career rules by trial and error or simple observations, but many were proactive in asking colleagues and supervisors for information to understand how things work in their organization.

Respondents also said that they wished they had known that ‘just’ working hard is not enough to succeed or that they had been more aware of organizational politics and about the advantages of self-promotion.”

Technical Shmechnical…

In my experience as an executive coach, I often find that the people I coach are highly competent in their technical skills but need help with the kinds of skills that Sabattini and Dinolfo found are important to career success.

These are skills like:

  • Building professional relationships
  • Defining career goals
  • Asking others for feedback
  • Understanding organizational politics
  • Mastering self-promotion


L2L Spotlight on Excellence Specials

Defining Success

I asked the people in my workshops to brainstorm who in their organization they thought are highly successful and to give examples of what these stars do and the skills they have. Not surprisingly, the skills they came up with were in line with what the survey said.

According to participants in my workshops, successful people at their organization do the following:

  • Network with others
  • Plan to exceed expectations
  • Do what they say they will do
  • Take initiative

Self Awareness and Self Assessment

Checklist of SkillsIn collaboration with the leaders of the organization that I was serving, I designed a checklist of skills that were labeled as keys to success and grouped the skills under four categories.

Two categories were technical skills unique to this organization and the other two categories,”professional development” and “professionalism,” were more generic.

I had participants complete a self-assessment on the checklist.

The Results

Two skills came up in every group as areas on which the participants should work to improve. Both skills came under the category of professional development.

The results showed the following specific areas for improvement:

  1. Seek feedback from a variety of sources
  2. Accept constructive criticism in a constructive manner.

In seeking a solution to help the participants improve future performance, we brainstormed on how to seek, on how to be open to feedback, and how to prioritize and effectively use feedback for their own benefit.

Universal Career Success Needs

These two professional development skills are not unique to my client.

According to Michael M. Lombardo and Robert W. Eichinger, authors of For Your Improvement, career stallers and stoppers include Blocked Personal Learner (doesn’t seek input and uses few learning tactics) and Defensiveness (is not open to criticism).

I am curious. What are the top professional development skills you need to work on? What is stopping you from taking these on? What is driving you to do so? And, what cool things are you doing to develop these skills in yourself? I would love to hear your thoughts!


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Judith Lindenberger
is the President of The Lindenberger Group

She helps clients with Human Resources Consulting, Training and Coaching
Email | LinkedIn | Twitter | Web | Blog | 609.730.1049

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