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Develop Career Staying Power

Growing up, many people think that once they have chosen a career they like, they only have to seek proper training for that profession. That's why those who want to be doctors go to medical school while those who want to be trapeze artists go to circus school. But a degree does not always guarantee a secure and steady job.

Recent surveys show that half of all medium to large businesses frequently downsize. That partly explains why most people change jobs seven to 10 times during the span of their career.

If you don't want to be another statistic, experts agree there are some basic skills you need to learn to survive and advance in any career. For example, good communication skills, the ability to manage time effectively and being a team player are among the more popular skills employers want their workers to possess.

That's because such basic tools enable people to work faster and perform better than others, says Danielle Mandell. She is the director of customer and employee relations at an internship placement program that helps young graduates become more employable.

Mandell stresses that strong communication skills will make graduates more marketable. That's true even though the Internet has reduced the need for verbal interaction.

"If you're writing e-mails asking people to do projects and you don't know how to write one properly to get the desired results, you're not going to be effective," she says. "So if candidates have the ability to communicate well verbally and in the written form, that will definitely give them an edge."

The basics of effective communication are usually taught in school. But Mandell offers students a few more tips they can use in face-to-face conversations, over the phone or even in e-mails and letters.

"You can say anything you want to say, as long as you say it politely, professionally and positively. Speak to people the way you would like to be spoken to," she says.

This sort of consideration for others also makes it easier to work as part of a team, a skill Mandell says is also essential.

"You need to be able to look at the needs of your department or group. So it can't always be about me, me, me, me, me. Look at the overall [picture]."

Larry Routh is the director of career services at a university. He agrees. He adds that being a team player also involves accepting people who differ from you. Routh says this will make it easier to understand and satisfy the demands and wants of your boss, fellow workers and even clients.

"Many of your colleagues and customers will be from other states or countries, will be from homes with different parenting and income levels, will be dealing with different health and wellness issues, will have different educational experiences and therefore may have a different view of you and your products or services."

Mandell says many graduates who seek placement through her organization already have time management skills down cold. However, most career survival skills usually require years to perfect. That's a good thing, since today's bustling and complex workplace often requires employees to balance several projects and tasks.

But Mandell warns that excelling at just one basic career survival skill is not enough to get those coveted promotions. She agrees there are many other skills -- like sound judgment, resourcefulness and leadership -- that can add to your success at work, too.

"You need to mix [the skills] up," Mandell explains. "To just have good communication skills, well, that may get you a foot in the door. But is it going to carry you through in your job? No. In order to be successful, these are all skills you need to learn."

Mandell says discovering which skills you need to hone is the first step in the learning process. There are dozens of tests that can assess your strongest and weakest career survival skills.

"It's really important to sit down and take a look at yourself. Try to have an honest examination of yourself and your skills," she advises.

Most students are already familiar with the popular skills like good communication, time management and team spirit because they use them in school every day.

Human resource specialist Christina Miranda says childhood role models like parents or coaches also reinforce such skills. But she points out that these skills do not stop developing during puberty. They continue to improve at work and take a lifetime to sharpen. In other words, practice makes perfect.

Miranda, who is also writing a book about employment hunting for first-time job seekers, insists that flaunting basic career skills is just as important as perfecting them when trying to land a job.

"The best thing a candidate can do [during a job interview] is have a collection of stories ready from their own experience that exhibits their skills," says Miranda. "Example is the best way."

Miranda believes individuals who follow this advice have a better chance of being hired. What's more, people who continue to use their survival skills once hired are more likely to be promoted. This means greater job security.

"The people who have these skills are less likely to be let go. In the downsizing age, they are the A-list people that [employers] want to keep. If you can develop even some of those skills, you're going to be in a position to drive the kind of career you want."