The unemployment rate in South Africa is at its highest level in 11 years, with even 8.2% of graduates struggling to find jobs. Experts say the job market is changing with employers seeking very specific skills sets in new hires.
Microsoft is the top technology company and most valuable company in the world, and its CEO Satya Nadella was recently named as Fortune’s Businessperson of the Year 2019. Yet when Nadella took over in 2014, his appointment raised eyebrows as he didn’t have the traditional background in finance or entrepreneurship. The trained computer scientist has quietly silenced his critics since.
Much of the company’s current success can be ascribed to his leadership style, which is summed up by his much quoted words: “Don’t be a know-it-all, be a learn-it-all.”
Nadella has prioritised learning and growing at Microsoft and this has clearly paid off. The company in 2019 was also named Top Employer in South Africa for the opportunities it offers staff to grow, innovate and excel at the organisation.
Whether you want to work at Microsoft or not, there are some key take-outs from Nadella’s story that illustrate the kind of skills and approaches you need to hone to make yourself more employable in the world today.
1. Get ready to adapt
Adaptability is probably one of the most important characteristics that industry leaders look for in new employees. Being able to respond to the changing landscape and to accept that job responsibilities and roles will change, is vital. The skills you have in your bag on graduation day are almost certainly going to be outdated – and rather quickly at that. Graduates today need to prepare not for a traditional career path as much as a portfolio career, which means that they will hold a multitude of jobs in different contexts and will be expected to evolve and develop while on the job.
In addition to IQ (intelligence) and EQ (emotional intelligence), you also need AQ, which stands for adaptability quotient. AQ defines how people respond to stress and obstacles in their life and in the workplace. According to BBC Worklife 101, more companies are now trying to test future employees for their ability to adapt easily to changes and challenges at work, if they are capable of taking on more responsibility and roles that they are unfamiliar with.
Hand-in-hand with this, graduates will need to cultivate learning agility both in themselves and in their teams, which is defined as a willingness to learn from whatever situation they find themselves in. Benjamin Buckingham, Managing Director at HFMtalentindex in South Africa, breaks this down into several components including change agility - following your curiosity and being willing to experiment – and mental agility, or thinking outside of the box. It also involves being willing to unlearn certain mindsets and approaches. They will need to be open and comfortable with not knowing everything and having all the answers and possess a certain resilience and ability to bounce back in the face of setbacks.
2. Don’t be held back by what you think
Microsoft has adopted the so-called “growth mindset”, which is based on the work of Stanford University researcher, Carol Dweck. To have a growth mindset, people need to be able to see setbacks and failures as part of the process and an opportunity to improve, rather than become discouraged by them. It steers away from a fixed mindset, such as a belief that your intelligence, was determined at birth and cannot be changed.
According to Dweck, it is not easy to develop a growth mindset, however, because everyone has their own fixed-mindset triggers. “When we face challenges, receive criticism, or fare poorly compared with others, we can easily fall into insecurity or defensiveness, a response that inhibits growth. Our work environments, too, can be full of fixed-mindset triggers. A company that plays the talent game makes it harder for people to practise growth-mindset thinking and behaviour, such as sharing information, collaborating, innovating, seeking feedback, or admitting errors,” she says.
To remain in a growth zone, she advocates that you need to identify and work with your triggers. And a key part of that is self-awareness.
3. Become more self-aware
It may be one of the most under-rated qualities of leadership, yet according to the MIT Sloan Management Review, self-awareness is the most important capability a graduate can develop. Knowing your strengths and weaknesses can help you adjust to tasks and roles in the workplace. Part of Nadella’s strength as head of Microsoft has been his ability to delegate, i.e. to recognise which parts of his job could better be done by other people – he could not have achieved this without a level of insight and sensitivity to his own limitations.
Buckingham says people with high self-awareness are able to constructively reflect on their own strengths and weaknesses and are thus primed to be effective. “People that are more self-aware can be critical of their performance and their actions and as a result, are more prone to think about how they can do things better. So their overall willingness to learn is higher.”
Conversely, low self-awareness limits growth. He continues: “The wonderful thing is that self-awareness can be developed, and as it develops everything develops along with it.”
Author and psychologist Daniel Goleman says people who are highly self-aware have at least 10 to 12 other competencies while those who are not very self-aware have only one or two. This affects a person’s effectiveness and productivity.
Goleman explains why this is so important: “Leaders are far more likely to face a disruptive technology or competitor as the speed of change has quickened so much. What we used to think of as crises are now more routine, which means that it’s more important for leaders to manage themselves as well as other people. It’s about taking charge of a situation and not panicking.”
• Azvir Rampursad is the corporate partnerships manager, specialist in talent strategy and leadership development at the UCT Graduate School of Business in the alumni and careers services team.