Love the question, Rusty. Here’s my take: You are either moving forward or you are losing ground. You are either making a positive impression or you are not. Even a neutral impression doesn’t serve you well. Your career is not something to take for granted. I also believe that working hard to be remarkable in your current job is the most important factor. So, first of all be very good at what you do.
Your next area of focus should be on process skills. Typically, people talk about how presentations can make or break careers. Presentations are important, so when you get a chance, prepare enough so that you can be spontaneous.
Still, presentations are occasional events. Far more important are the meetings you call or attend every week.
Consider the following statement made by a senior executive to a group of MBA hires interning at an organization:
“Each of you wants to advance in your career. Know that everyone working here is very bright and talented and knowledgeable. Those are not the qualities that will help you advance in your career because we assume you possess them. What will advance your career is the ability to convene people, to ensure productive communication, and to provide leadership for effective meetings.”
After mastering your core competency—whether it is engineering, IT, marketing, accounting—you must master the conversational skills needed to work effectively with others, particularly in meetings. This will immediately make you distinctive because, while the ability to run effective meetings should be a core competency for anyone in management, it’s often a missing piece. You must also be reliable, responsive, and respected for how you work and interact with others.
Thanks for the question!