I recently read an article by a career expert I respect greatly. The person basically asked why some employers hiring people for entry-level jobs (many right out of college) make leadership skills one of their top criteria.
The person went on the explain that the odds are very slim that the newly-hired person, still green behind the ears, would be asked to do things that actually need leadership skills. Well, I can see why people might think that, but here’s what an employer might be thinking.
What employers really want when looking for leadership skills
It’s true that a young person right out of college, taking their first step into a company, may be asked to do anything but take a leader role. There’s likely to be lots of “get me this” and “go do that” and usually not much “Here’s a major project. You’re in charge.”
But the likelihood of entrusting the person with a major leadership role is not why employers look for leadership skills. The components of being a leader type can be very useful, even at a “lower” level. So here’s what they might really be thinking:
- People who have already displayed leadership skills are more likely to be able to work autonomously (manage themselves).
- People with good leadership skills can be put in charge of parts of projects.
- People who can lead at this stage of their careers are people I want to provide with growth opportunities within my company.
- People with leadership skills may also show the same thinking that motivates them to find and solve problems.
- People with good leadership skills (not just bully leaders) know how to work effectively with others.
- People with good leadership skills also have good emotional intelligence, a quality you want in your organization regardless of level.
- Whether you’re a waitress, mail clerk, secretary, manager, house painter, or whatever the position, a person who feels personal responsibility, shows initiative, and takes the extra step to make things happen (with respect to the appropriate organizational structure) is a valuable employee at any level.
I don’t think I’ve ever had a job where I didn’t apply some part of my leadership skills, even at a young age. That doesn’t mean I had to take charge of all (not that I wasn’t eager to do so at times), but I was very good at taking charge of parts of the whole, while working with others who often had their own leadership skills.
NOTE: Most people do have leadership skills, btw, even those folks sitting in the corner who seem shy and retiring.
So what are some transferable entry-level leadership skills?
- Persuasive when getting others to do what they want
- Moves forward with a positive attitude
- Is assertive without being pushy
- Takes the initiative
- Plans and makes sure plan is enacted
- Determination to see something through
- Ability to thrive even in stressful times
- Resilience no matter how difficult things may seem
- Good energy
- Good communicator
- Strong networker / relationship builder
- Good at getting others to work with him/her
- Seen as trustworthy by others and in turn trusts others to handle their responsibilities
- Good strategic planner
- Thinks of end user’s needs within the bigger picture
- Has a vision and can communicate it.
- Knows how to follow and to be followed (understanding and appreciating what it takes to be led can also help you to be a stronger leader)
- Seeks out new information and ideas
- Quick to learn and can apply new knowledge as needed
- Willingness to work hard (without feeling imposed upon)
- Inner knowledge that they will somehow find a way to make things happen /turn out well
- Learns from mistakes and applies that knowledge moving forward
- Sees opportunity in problems
- Recognizes problems clearly and finding solutions
- Excitement at taking on new challenges
- Takes responsibility (without blaming others) for making things happen
- Ability to work and communicate with others successfully
- Sees the strengths in others and recognizes how to engage that within the scope of a project / task
- Emotional intelligence (ability to work well with their own feelings and feelings of others)
- Listens well
- Works collaboratively
- Solid understanding of organizational needs, personal needs, and how they intersect
- Works intelligently and methodically toward goals
- Has a clear vision of what success means
When employers might not want leadership skills
- The employer is a bully / dictator and wants people to follow not lead.
- The employer doesn’t want employees to take any initiative — just shut up and do.
- The employer wants people to just sit and do and not ask for more responsibility.
- The employer doesn’t understand the high value of the leadership components, even if the person is clear that they don’t get to be in charge at this time.
- The employer is someone who doesn’t know how to get the most out of people.
- The employer has no interest in providing growth opportunities, so they look to hire people without “ambition”. [Ironically, even people without apparent ambition can have leadership qualities. Again, having some of the same highly-valued skills doesn’t mean you must be THE leader.]
- The employer is going to stick you in a job that is so boring you’ll want to scream.
A few more thoughts
Ok. I admit I may have stacked the deck a bit in the way I listed those last items. But I was just trying to make the point that even the most basic starting job can be enhanced by someone with leadership skills. When I was a temp, one of my jobs was straight filing — not one of my preferred areas of expertise, I must add.
But, if only to keep myself interested, I suggested I redo the filing cabinet with different colors, tabs, and categories. The person I was temping for said “ok” and I took it on as a personal project, in effect leading myself in a project I took the initiative to create and propose. You may be laughing, but it turned out great. And he offered me a full-time job as his secretary.
Now that wasn’t what I wanted at the time, so I thanked him and turned it down. But that offer came within one week of a “boring” temp job. And all because of a skill / personality trait (or two) that are part of the many skills a good leader might also have.
Leadership skills come in all types and sizes — and a smart employer knows that … and makes it work for them!
=> MORE: The Mark of a Great Leader
Help for your job search
♦ Getting My Job Search Started Right! (with Examples)
♦ Tips for Writing Resumes and Cover Letters (with Examples)