Some people are natural extroverts, born with big, assertive personalities that give them an advantage in their every interaction. Whether in work or life, those who know what they want and are open about saying so generally reap the greatest rewards. When it comes to professional development, we could all use a little extroversion—the importance of putting yourself out there and forging a clear, direct path toward your goals is becoming more critical than ever before.
These days, good jobs are hard to come by. Young people are facing a critical labour problem, something that’s been steadily on the rise during the past few years of economic turmoil. Competition is high, and employers have the luxury of choosing the best and brightest. Skills and talent are important, of course; your education and experience are the bedrock qualifications that get your foot in the door. The real challenge is wrestling the door the rest of the way open. Your personality and how you position yourself are huge factors. It’s not enough to wait for things to come to you anymore; you need to know what you want and be willing to say so. As simple as it seems, asserting yourself is a powerful tool on the road to success in both your professional and personal endeavors.
Let’s start with interviews. Your first impression with a prospective employer is absolutely critical to whether or not you get the job. The single greatest thing you can do is come prepared: employers love that you’ve done your homework, and you come off as interested, competent and knowledgeable. Preparing by researching the position you’re applying for, the company or institution, and the sorts of things you’ll be expected to do helps to buffer you against difficult or unexpected questions. In fact, such “surprise” inquiries are usually tests to see exactly how prepared you are.
At the same time, be willing to ask your own pointed or strategic questions. It’s great to engage and ask about where you rank or stack up to other potential candidates. Does the employer have any unique expectations that a similar position elsewhere may not? Do they have any concerns with you or your candidacy, or perhaps they’d like you to clarify any answers you gave previously? Such interrogative questions display your focus and willingness to elicit feedback. A collaborative interaction gives them a clearer idea of the kind of employee you’ll be and whether you’re the best fit for the job.
After you’ve secured the position, assertion and extroversion can be helpful your new role as well. A good example would be when a new or unusual project is put forward. Being willing to step up and volunteer, particularly when the work may be difficult or unglamorous, demonstrates initiative. Being a team player, or stepping forward and showing leadership—both are desired traits.
Perhaps more critically, assertion can put you on the radar of the decision makers. When a promotion or new position opens up, making sure you’re known is the first step to being considered. If you can demonstrate the skills and traits they’re looking for, it will seem like a natural fit. Indeed, when your boss is looking to promote internally, your application should be expected. Of course you are applying for the position—you always take the lead for this kind of thing!
Even in your personal life, being more assertive can lead to some big changes. When you’re tackling problems with friends or family, being direct usually helps a problem move toward resolution. We all value honesty, and as such we should all be willing to be honest and direct. For example, several studies have shown that couples who talk openly about why they feel a certain way about a certain problem, rather than sticking to rigid positions, are happier and actually end up with less conflict. By opening the lines of communication, each partner is more likely to feel satisfied and understand what the other wants and needs. As in workplace situations, clarity and directness lead to a more prosperous dynamic for all.
While it may not come naturally, or be easy at first, over time you can adapt to more assertive behaviours. Once you start stepping up and begin to see the benefits of your behavioral changes, they can build up and become habits. Over time, as more people start to recognize your increased self-confidence, more opportunities will arise. Recognizing what you want, stating your goals, and working hard and proactively towards achieving them becomes second nature—keep it up and before you know it, the old barriers you felt unable to overcome will crumble down. In terms of self-improvement, great things can come if you’re willing to become the new, assertive you.