5 Career Skills to Start Developing Today

Hard skills and soft skills are two sets of competencies that all young professionals must continually develop.

Can you make a bar chart? Can you present a new idea? Can you sell? If you can, great! Yet for some reason, we seem to forget that there are more than just a cliched handful of career skills necessary to succeed in the professional world. While one could debate and rank the relative importance of every skill and competency, the truth is that each is important to develop. The most well-rounded young professional seeks to grow in every area of their career.

After the first rotation in my leadership development program, I had an opportunity to review just which competencies had been most important in my journey of learning and development. In this post, we will explore the five career skills that were most essential to my success. What are they? How do they benefit your career development? How can you actively develop these skills? Let’s find out below!

Career Skill 1: Adaptability

Okay, maybe this isn’t exactly an obscure skill, but I can tell you from experience that in a professional world with a sometimes fanatic adherence to “standard work” and “process mapping”, adaptability is fading continuously from the skill set of today’s workforce. Yes, standard work and established processes are absolutely crucial in order to keep up in this fast paced world. Yet this fast pace also means that when unforeseen circumstances arise, those who cannot bend will surely break. Adaptability is the competency that allows you to recognize impasses that are insurmountable with your current tools at hand, and use problem solving to find a new approach.

How is adaptability useful in the professional world? Let’s explore the following scenario: You are managing the procurement of a key sub component that is used in a larger final assembly, when one day your supervisor gives you the news that the supplier’s only forge has broken. What do you do? The adaptable professional in this scenario recognizes that if the primary supplier is unable to provide the goods, they must loo to other alternatives: Maybe there is excess stock in a warehouse. Maybe there is another supplier who can support production. Maybe it can be produced in-house for a short time. Adaptability is the key to problem solving!

So what steps should a young professional take to develop their adaptability? At its core, the answer is to practice! It requires mindfulness, along with trial and error, but the next time you find that a standard process or procedure is failing to solve your current problem, look outside this rigid framework for solutions. Adapt and overcome!

For more inspiration on how to adapt and overcome, check out our post on books for future leaders and the skills to prepare yourself here:

3 Essential Leadership Books for Future Leaders

Career Skill 2: Focus on Results

A focus on results during times of chaos or crisis sets a young professional ahead of their peers.

It was the Friday of a week-long business trip, and shortly before leaving for the airport I saw an email come through on my phone: Manufacturing had just found a significant issue with a recent batch of supplier parts, and until the issue was identified and resolved no new parts would be accepted. That afternoon, I began to map out what my first steps would be coming into work on Monday to ensure that production would continue without delay. Who were the key players? What was our timeline for resolution? How many days of stock remained at the plant? A plan to achieve short term results mattered!

You will be asked to perform the miracle of achieving results during a time of chaos or crisis time after time in your career. Undoubtedly, there will be times where a short term solution is not feasible, and that is okay. But the astute young professional will have the capacity to pursue this focus on results by understanding the three critical elements of doing so:

  • What are the critical desired results?
  • Who are the key parties involved in achieving these results?
  • What is the anticipated timeline to achieve these results?

There will be time after the crisis to dive into the root causes and implement lasting change, but the ability of a young professional to navigate the immediate need for cresults is both rare and important.

Career Skill 3: Diplomacy

The ability to tactfully handle disagreement with internal and external customers is a valuable skill.

Among the many universal truths of life, here are three that you will certainly come to find in your career: We all have bosses, we all have colleagues, and we all have customers. Now here is a fourth truth: At some point we will have disagreements with everyone we work with. The ability to use diplomacy and tact to achieve results takes time to learn, but young professionals who practice it will find themselves better able to navigate tense waters.

In my short career experience thus far, I have found that there are several surprisingly simple tips for approaching disagreements with suppliers, customers, colleagues, and supervisors:

  • Begin from a position of clarity – Detail your own concerns/questions, and ask the other party to detail the questions and concerns of their own
  • Seek common ground – Chances are, at the end of the day whoever you are butting heads with has the same goals as you (whether it means solving a problem, meeting targets, or satisfying customer needs) Sometimes all it takes is a reminder
  • Always end with a call to action – You may not have an immediate solution, but ending a conversation with an agreement on the next step will ensure that the ball continues to roll

It won’t always be easy to keep your emotions in check, especially when workplace politics or conflicting personalities come into play. Just remember that a cooler head and diplomatic approach will ensure that you retain the professional high ground.

Career Skill 4: Forward Thinking

Anticipate future problems by thinking ahead.

The professional world can be unpredictable, but that does not mean that being able to anticipate future events is not a critical aspect of every successful industry, company, department, and employee. Forward thinking is a career skill that every young professional should actively seek to develop! So where should you start?

When I was in my first role after graduation, I often found myself put on the spot by managers or executives during meetings who had questions (and sometimes concerns) over forecasts for the coming month or quarter. It did not take long before I realized that having an accurate forecast ready was an essential part of my role in supply chain management. My second realization was that this art of forward thinking required both communication and analysis.

Your own methods may differ based on industry, company, and role, but I worked to develop my forward thinking skills by ensuring that I was utilizing meetings with internal departments and suppliers to ask questions and establish monthly metric targets, and followed through by tracking the actual values versus the target values throughout the month. This combination brought the quality of my forecasts up, and in turn allowed managers and executives to place a higher level of trust in my forward thinking skills.

Career Skill 5: Decision Making

Educated but decisive decision making builds confidence through both success and failure.

“Don’t bring your manager problems, bring solutions.” If you haven’t heard this yet, trust me, you will. While there are many cliched sayings that will make you roll your eyes, this one shouldn’t! Sure, you are a young professional, limited in skill and experience and surrounded by peers and managers who know more. There is so much you don’t know, and there is so much more that you don’t even know you don’t know. It took me months before I felt confident in bringing up anything more than a problem in meetings. How could I make a decision on my own with so little experience?

Here is the little known secret that so many young professionals do not see: You know more than you think you know!

The surest way to accelerate your career growth and learning is to make decisions! Due diligence, company policies, and ethics are absolutely important, make no mistake, but failure to act simply because you are worried that it might not work will hardly allow your confidence to increase over time. Educated yet decisive decision making is a fantastic way to demonstrate growth, initiative, and problem solving abilities to your managers, your team, and most importantly yourself.


Career development involves a journey of learning and developing your skills.

In the first weeks and months of treading water in your new role, it may be difficult to focus on developing the critical skills outlined above. That’s okay! The truth is, so many of these career skills are something that you will have to develop over time and through experiences, successes, and failures throughout your career. As a young professional, simply being aware of these career skills early on is going to place you ahead of your peers in the long run.

Do you have thoughts about these career skills above? Do you have career skills of your own that you have found essential in your early career? Share in the comments below!

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