The Undercover Skills that Can Turn You into a Ninja Employee – Part 2

Donkey’s years ago, when I worked as an advertising account manager I particularly enjoyed the people aspect of my job. This led me to do stuff that wasn’t even directly part of my job, like helping out my colleagues with their own accounts and even with personal issues. I noticed people and their needs. I also noticed people’s skills, what they were good at and not.

I didn’t know it then, but I was using my undercover skills and attributes – those skills that lie behind our top-level skills, such as communication, being organised and building relationships. Today, I use them to help graduates get good jobs. It took a while – but I got there in the end!

That’s what I want to talk about in this, part 2 of my blog on ‘The undercover skills that can turn you into a ninja employee’. What are some of the undercover skills that can help you carve out the extraordinary career you dream of? Let’s take a look.

Six sets of undercover skills that could make you a ninja employee 

1. Courage and honesty – with these you will not be afraid to say what you think. We may not always like people who give us their honest opinion and don’t simply go along with what everyone else is saying, but we will always respect them. When you say what everyone else is thinking but not saying work colleagues will look at you like a great sounding board or a gauge for what’s really happening. Employers will know they can trust you.

2. Candidness and diplomacy – yes, it’s great to say what’s on your mind but one must also have the wisdom to know how and when to voice it. You need to be forthright in what you want to say but also employ tact and discretion so that you don’t destroy precious relationships. Otherwise you’re just an elephant in a china shop.

3. Intuition – is the skill of being perceptive. It comes from being aware, noticing things. People who listen more than they speak, who think before they act and who have a good sense of their own emotional state are usually good at feeling things out and following that inkling. We sometimes balk at this skill because it seems a little airy-fairy to say, “I have a hunch”, but it nevertheless is a skill that the business world is increasingly growing to notice and respect.

4. Insightfulness – similar to intuition, you notice things before they become a problem. The insightful employee with anticipate the needs of customers, clients and colleagues and help them to avoid unnecessary issues and challenges. David Calabrese, vice president and chief pharmacy officer at the Illinois-based pharmaceutical benefit management company Catamaran, is said to have named his executive assistant ‘Radar’, from the character in the popular 1970’s TV series MASH, because, he said, “she was always one step ahead of me”.

5. Spirit and confidence – if you get tongue-tied and starry-eyed in the face of higher ranking managers, executives or even the rich and famous, then you won’t hold down a job for long working for high profile individuals, whether they’re in the public eye or not. You need confidence and spirit to remain authentic and level headed, or to ask questions others think are dumb, so ditch the shaky knees if you’re heading for extraordinary.

6. Approachability – the quickest way to shut down the spirit and confidence of other people is to be unapproachable. It really is a skill of great worth. People will open up to you, seek you out and even buy products and services from you when you’re obliging, respectful and open. This is a skill that every public-facing employee – that wants to do well – must have.

Bringing your undercover skills to the fore

This list is not exhaustive – there are a myriad of other skills and attributes, like vision, courage, wisdom, authenticity, compassion, composure, humility and joy, that could equally fit in here. Some of them may mean the same thing. Identify those you have. Get used to seeing them in yourself, to using them and talking about them. And, most of all, start using them to mark out an above normal and extraordinary graduate career for yourself.

The Undercover Skills that Can Turn You into a Ninja Employee – Part 1

There is a type of employee that is unlike other employees. I am sure you recognise them. This is the type of employee that performs above average, stays ahead of the game and has ‘well on the way to the top’ stamped across their foreheads. This is the ninja employee.

While the average employee knows he or she needs top-level skills such as project management, communication and customer care to do well at work, the ninja employee also recognises a second set of attributes that make them truly stand out.

These are the attributes that not only make the top-level skills possible, but they make them distinctive between the ninja employer and everyone else. They are what make the way you communicate or manage a project different – and, hopefully, better – than the way someone else does it. And because of this, the wise employee will seek out these skills and use them to build an extraordinary career.

Your undercover skills

We might call these skills latent skills and attributes, as they are often concealed behind our top-level counterparts. However, employee who recognises these undercover skills and begins to develop them is indeed a smart cookie.

Of course, what you don’t notice you pay little attention to, so you may have overlooked skills and attributes like courage, honesty, intuition and insightfulness as having ninja-like powers. Yes, you might know about them – but have you ever considered them as skills that could work for you on a CV, in a job interview or at work? Few do and so fully wield them to their advantage.

How did Harry Kane – a footballer who so very nearly never made it – get to a place where he is considered the finest English player since Sir Bobby Charlton?

Rejected by Arsenal after just one season, failing his first trial at Spurs, spurned by Watford, ‘outmuscled’, ‘outsprinted’ and overlooked on the playing field in favour of teammates with the height, speed and physical maturity he didn’t have, this 24-year-old found his break by focusing his energies on latent skills his fellow players hadn’t even considered. He developed in technique and guile, navigated obstacles, and built muscles in places where other players were weak.

There you go. Undercover skills.

Tools for an extraordinary career

It was Steve Jobs who said that technology is nothing but if you give people tools “they’ll do wonderful things with them”. Think of your skills like tools that enable you to complete specific tasks well, or quickly. It’s nigh on impossible to open a tin of beans with a nail file or to disassemble a scaffold structure with a butter knife but if you had a tin opener or a claw hammer, well, now you’re getting somewhere. And if you had an electric tin opener or super weight claw hammer, then you’ll be even more effective. So, if you want a career beyond the norm then surely you must carve it out with beyond normal skills. 

What ninja-like skills and attributes do you have?

So, what about your undercover skills? What are they, and what could they really do for your career if you were to whip them out of your shoe like a secret agent in a Bond movie and use them to your advantage?

Scott Adams is attributed to the saying: “Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.” And that’s the first step to unearthing your undercover skills. You must get to know yourself better and to do that you must step out, be willing to make mistakes and to try things you’ve never considered before. And then, you must analyse it all.

Do the work

Start now. Draw a blank sheet of paper and ask yourself the following questions:

  • What are my major work accomplishments?
  • What do I do well?
  • What makes me good at it?
  • What do I tend to notice that others miss (what fascinates me)?
  • What parts of my job do I enjoy most, and why?
  • What would I do if I could do any job I wanted?

Be honest. Go wild. No-one’s looking. Then look out for part two of this blog where I will unpack some of the undercover ninja skills that I think can truly make an average employee extraordinary.

Find out more in part 2 of this article, here.

The Secret Power of Enthusiasm and How to Make it Work for You

 Ralph Waldo Emerson called it the Mother of Effort. Dale Carnegie likened it to a flame. And the wise will discover the power of enthusiasm and how to make it work for them.

Enthusiasm paves the way for a lot more in your working life than you might think. People who think they’ve done enough just because they turn up and do their job will miss out on the secret power of enthusiasm and how to make it work for them.

Enthusiasm makes you attractive to employers

Think about it: who would you employ – the candidate who turns up at the interview and asks insightful questions backed up by careful research, or the one who struggles to ask any questions at all?

Who would you promote – the employee who does just the basics to cover his back or the one who puts the extra mile into his work?

When it comes down to it we all know who we would choose – the one who demonstrates passion, interest and energy.

As you probably know, enthusiasm is one of the soft skills employers look for in graduates, and there’s very good reasons for this. Enthusiasm shows you are interested in and committed to the job, and this makes you a better and safer bet than someone who isn’t.

Enthusiasm drives you to make a difference

But enthusiasm doesn’t only earn you favours with recruiters and employers. It can also benefit you in lots of personal ways. Two years ago, out of the 24 biomedical equipment technicians working at St Anthony’s Central hospital in Denver, only two were certified. The other 22 had the experience they needed to do the job and saw no need to go through the process of studying to sit an examination for certification. Why should they? Why put yourself through all that unnecessary effort considering you already have the job?

But Tim Keenan, team manager, wasn’t satisfied. He wanted to see more of his colleagues go for certification so as to increase commitment and dedication to the profession. So, what did he do to increase enthusiasm among staff?

“We created a study group and made it available to all team members,” he said. Tim and the one other qualified technician garnered support from other professionals in the field and got them to teach on their areas of expertise. The result was “incredible interest and enthusiasm around the momentum created”. One study group turned to three and after two years, all but one of the 24 biomedical equipment technicians were certified. The remaining one had taken the exam three times and so it was only a matter of time before the team would be at 100 per cent.

Enthusiasm empowers you to do a better job

What this did is it also changed the topic of discussions during lunch and tea breaks. Whereas previously these focused on the usual politics, local events and casual conversation, now, with all the studying taking place and newfound interest in their work, conversation now focused on test questions and biomed theory – from cardia output zeroing to integrating amplifiers. What’s that all mean? Who cares? The point is that this newfound enthusiasm around their work led to a team of technicians who were better qualified and informed about their field and, therefore, able both to do a better job and to enjoy it more. They had a greater sense of personal pride and achievement. And, ironically, it was Tim’s own enthusiasm that made it all happen.

How to become more enthusiastic

Well, you may say, I just don’t feel enthusiastic. How does one find enthusiasm and show it? Good question.

Enthusiasm is infectious. Surrounding yourself with enthusiastic people rubs off on you and will help you feel enthusiastic too. This is partly because when a person is enthusiastic about something they will talk about it passionately. They will see connections the rest of us miss. They will have a grasp and perspective that helps other people see things differently.

The same is true with action. When we see other people act enthusiastic this can make us feel more inspired. This explains in part why an employer or recruiter feels more drawn to a person who acts enthusiastic at an interview or at work. Their enthusiasm is received as energy that makes the employer feel energised. The opposite is also true: people who lack enthusiasm can make us feel drained and we will naturally do all we can, whether consciously or not, to avoid them.

Enthusiasm grows when we make our minds up to do our best. Setting a goal to work towards can also help. Another great energiser is to learn more about your job area, company, field or industry. Many a time the reason for lack of enthusiasm is lack of knowledge or understanding. To overcome this, research the company’s background. Find out more about the achievements of the CEO, team members, or others who have previously held the role you are going for or are currently doing. Dig up information on the company’s competitors. Take an interest in what the most pressing issues are that face your industry. Or start (or join) a professional study group, just as the Denver biomedical technicians did.

Without enthusiasm the disease of apathy will set in and working life for yourself and others around you will become a drag. If you’re unemployed, you will find it very hard to get a worthwhile job.

Of course, it is difficult to generate enthusiasm for something you genuinely aren’t interested in but, if that’s the case, then at least you will now know what you don’t want.