The one critical skill for career success

Feb 6, 2017


Did you know that there is one critical skill you need for career success?
This is the skill you need to excel at in order to find a job, hold that job, get noticed, get promoted, get a pay rise or bonus and have all manner of amazing things come your way.

Knowing this, would you be willing to perfect it?

You bet you would.

Every event I speak at, I always start by explaining to the audience if they only take away one thing from my talk it is this:

Learn how to read and understand instructions.

That’s it! Read and understand instructions.

You are thinking that is SO simple. Yet if it is so simple why do so many people fail to do this?

How many times do you skim through a job advertisement? How many times have you submitted your CV and covering letter without having read the detail of the advertisement?
If you are working, how many times have you glanced at advance notes for a meeting, without taking in all of the information?
If you are still studying, when was the last time your read an email from your Lecturer or Course Director all the way through?

Often I expect, and you are not alone in doing this. Particularly in the case of job hunters, it is the number one complaints from HR & Recruiters – ‘why didn’t they read the advertisement?’.
I’m not talking about you skimming over parts because of your lack of experience (e.g. have worked in a busy publicity department, and you’ve worked in publicity but it wasn’t that busy).  I’m talking about where it says ‘Must be fluent in German’ or ‘Based in our John O’Groats office’. These are requirements of the job which are key, yet you can’t speak German at all, and you don’t want to relocate.
Not only do you waste the time of the recruiter, but it sometimes can count against you if you apply for another role with the same company.

The people who tend to get jobs are often the people who have read and understood the job advertisement; they read the words ‘this is a deadline driven environment’ and understood that this meant they should give an example in their covering letter and at their interview, of how they were motivated by deadlines and how they were experienced in meeting deadlines.

Missed opportunities
When you eventually get a job, you miss so many opportunities to succeed.  You fail to read and understand your job description, you skim read the email about an event, glance at the notes before a meeting, miss an instruction from your boss, fail to meet a deadline, find yourself in a disciplinary meeting, all because you failed to read and understand instructions. When the alternative, of reading and understanding instructions, is so much easier.

If you are preparing for a meeting with an author or client, how many times do you skim through the outline of the email, without reading the detail? How often have you missed an opportunity because you did not read and understand the instructions? ‘I don’t have the time’ is often a comment. But do you think the person emailing you had the time either? Why did they take the trouble to email you? Probably, because there was a critical instruction involved.

How many times have you wondered why your colleague on the other side of the room got promoted over you? Could it be that they read and understood instructions, they read and understood what the company was aiming for, or attended a meeting fully briefed, instead of you who still skim reads over everything. Call them a goody-two shoes, accuse them of sucking up to the boss, but the fact is they got the promotion and pay rise that you thought was yours, all because they read and understood instructions.

It applies to authors too
It applies to prospective authors too. The late great Carole Blake used to be very sharp with people who used Twitter to pitch their unpublished work, or who emailed without first reading the submission guidelines on the Blake Friedmann website.  Yet, if as a prospective author you had read and understood the submission guidelines you would have known what format to submit and not sent genres they aren’t interested in.

So if you want to perform better in everything you do, start by reading and understand instructions.  Reading and understanding instructions underpins every single thing that all of us do everyday, whether we work in publishing or not.