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Successful Founders Share 4 Must-Have Skills To Bolster Any Career

Every career is different. But some skills cut across all of them. Here are four.

Some skills may be awesome but not in demand: While a sonnet might take your breath away, iambic pentameter doesn't have a high market demand. But some skills by any industry are wanted just as sweetly—and as founders of Pandora, Quora, and White Rabbit suggest, we can start developing them today. Here's where to start:

1) Learn to talk in front of people

Pandora cofounder Tim Westergren, who pitched his idea 348 times before securing crucial funding, reports that public speaking is one of the most universally useful skills. Why?

"Whether you're pitching a group of investors, rallying your employees, selling a customer, recruiting talent, addressing consumers, or doing a press tour, the ability to deliver a great talk is absolutely invaluable," he says.

And if you'd rather eat a microphone than have to speak into one, fret not: Quiet author Susan Cain is here to help cure your oratory woes.

2) Make regular check-ins

Edmond Lau, who was an early engineer at Quora, offers advice that he received by way of a friend's mentor:

Always re-examine and reflect on where you are in your career at least every two years. Even if you're perfectly happy with your job, the exercise forces you to check that you are actually enjoying your work and learning on the job rather than just being comfortable.

Every two years might be a little infrequent, at least if you're as mindful as the Pope. As we've reported before, the more we align the progress of our daily doings with our long-term goals, the more satisfied we'll be.

3) Get inclined to decline

Echoing the time-protecting advice of Warren Buffett and Bill Gates, Fantasy Shopper founder-CEO Chris Prescott wants us to learn how to say no.

This is unintuitive, since the startup (and career) hustle trains us to say yes to every opportunity. But that changes, he notes:

Assuming all goes well, you'll reach a tipping point where people start coming to you instead of you going to them—be that speaking events, trial services, coaching, investment, etc.

Once that threshold is reached, there isn't the time to say yes to everything, he continues. So we need to learn to say no in order to stay focused and expand our working lives.

4) Make your career scalable

White Rabbit Studios founder Hassan Baig takes a line from economist-contrarian-flaneur Nassim Taleb, who says to invest time in a scalable career.

What does that look like? Baig continues:

A 'scalable' career is one where growth is not dependent on the number of hours of work put in. For instance, imagine you're a tax consultant. You probably charge an hourly rate for your consultative services. This of course implies that every marginal hour of work you put in generates value at that very margin. In other words, you're selling your time—which unfortunately you have only 24 hours of per day. Such a career would be naturally tough to scale up.

Instead, Baig says, we'd do best to develop careers where our growth is "dependent on the quality of our decisions." In other words, what's getting monetized is your ability to recognize patterns and wield your intellect, rather than spending your time pushing through rote tasks. How do we hone that intangible skillset? By seeking out as much as of that experience as possible. That's how we can grow our careers.

Hat tip: Inc.

[Image: Flickr user David Woo]

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  • MyOvient

    Many people equate "public speaking" to speaking in front of a large audience, and they think they don't need to improve because they never have to give speeches. It's important to realize that public speaking could mean speaking to one person as you walk down the hallway. It could mean speaking on the phone to someone you can't see. It could mean speaking to your colleagues in a morning meeting. It could even mean having small talk with a barista at a cafe. I teach speaking skills to non-native and native English speakers, and I tell my clients that to get better at speaking, you need to find as many opportunities as possible to practice speaking in front of people. Think about how you can add speaking opportunities throughout your day. Try to add one more conversation than the day before, and so on. Before you know it, you'll feel comfortable speaking to nearly everyone, and you'll gain confidence to get out of your comfort zone and perhaps make that big "speech" someday.

  • Rick Hendricks

     My biggest speech was to an audience of 300. Like Steve Jobs, I rehearsed a great deal. However, I don't think I rehearsed as much as he did. Jobs rehearsed one hour for each one minute he expected to be on stage.

  • MyOvient

    300 people is a large audience! That size is especially difficult because you don't have the benefit of interaction and feedback (which is what helps me in my presentations). Great job!

    Wow, Jobs rehearsed one hour for each minute he was expected to present? That's amazing! I want to share this with my classes. Do you know if this fact has been published anywhere? I'd love to refer to it.

  • Rick Hendricks

    I don't remember specifically because it was several years ago while I prepared a speech for the large crowd, which I never expected to be so big. It may have been in a book called Real Leaders Don't Do Powerpoint. Here's a link to Forbes that delves into his psyche.

  • MyOvient

    Thanks for the link! I'll share this excellent advice with the people I train.

  • Darren Magarro

    #3 is super important within the confines of a growing business.  Understanding time constraints and how they pertains to your sanity (and schedule) should always be top of mind as your business evolves.  I have personally gone through multiple iterations of this process in 6.5 years.  A growing business and family (insert work/life balance) are the keys to a healthy life.  Saying no and choosing your spots with a critical eye is a game changer.

  • Rick Hendricks

    This is a well thought out article. The ability to speak in front of an audience is necessary in today's environment, which might include making videos and podcasts, in addition to speeches in front of an audience.