Over the last 15 years as a career and professional development consultant, I have worked with countless employers seeking ideal candidates to fill critical roles in their organizations.
Regardless of the career field, recruiters and hiring managers agree that after the basic criteria of skills and experiences are met, candidates are accepted or eliminated based upon how they fit into the culture of an organization.
Savvy workplaces consider potential just as much as the skill set of a candidate but nobody wants to hire a jerk, even if they are brilliant. Working with people on internal teams and dealing with external customers requires self-actualization and a keen awareness about how you fit into the dynamic of a workplace.
One bad apple can disrupt a work environment and wreak havoc on communication, trust, and collegial relationships -- not to mention productivity. Protecting your team with a "No Jerks" hiring policy is smart and goes a long way to cultivating and preserving a harmonious and high functioning workplace.
So what qualities define a good colleague? Whether you are the candidate or the hiring manager, consider these attributes that distinguish you as a sought after career mensch.
Organizations are like families when you consider how much time you spend together at work. There is a roller coaster of emotions that happen when any group of humans interact to tackle challenges and provide solutions. Effective communication is essential to keep the work family as functional as possible.
• Active listening is a way to validate your colleagues and honor their thoughts and ideas with your full attention. Listen with your body language and your ears.
• Recognizing colleagues for a job well done can create and sustain a culture of advocacy. Be specific when sharing kudos since the proverbial "good job" does not resonate as much as specific feedback that highlights exactly how the individual earned your praise.
• Less can be more when speaking. Consider the value you bring to the table when speaking and focus on what's most important to the conversation. Succinct, clear, and germane communication is always well received.
• Levity in the workplace can ease tensions and build rapport but keep it clean and appropriate for your audience. A sense of humor can also foster a fun and positive workplace where people enjoy each other and the tasks at hand.
Agree to Disagree
High functioning teams are made up of professionals with diverse ideas, different work styles, and varied personalities. Cast your team with people not like you and know that it's OK to disagree. Diverse perspectives make for engaging conversations that can lead to progressive change and innovation. Strong teams must learn how to communicate in solidarity as well as disagreement and learn the art of compromise and negotiation to reach the best end result.
Additionally, having the humility to admit when you are wrong or have made a mistake goes a long way in creating a sense of trust and accountability on a team.
Have the Backs of Your Colleagues
Building trust in the workplace goes a long way and is often the most difficult to achieve. Start with transparency and being true to your word. Do what you say you will do and be accountable for your actions. The most revered leaders have the backs of their colleagues and exhibit loyalty to the team both in-house and with external constituents.
Be willing to step in to help others in need. Behave like a leader even if your job description does not reflect this status. Good colleagues help each other and lending a hand to someone in need will create a culture that brings others to help you when you need it most.
Let It Go
Stress is inevitable in the workplace and how you behave under stress is something you should be aware of. I often ask candidates in an interview "How does your behavior at work change when you are under stress?" Stress happens and each person handles it differently. Mindfulness practitioner, Diane Sieg encourages us to approach career stress with a beginners mind and let it go as children do after a playground kerfuffle so emotions don't fester and linger.
The Art of Failure and Recovery
Failure is a hot topic in the workplace and innovative companies are encouraging the fail forward, fast and often concept to learn from mistakes and take new risks. The recovery process is just as important at the act of failing. Your recovery behavior represents your core professionalism. Your ability to admit mistakes, synthesize what you learned, and gracefully move forward. Be a role model for failure and recovery and consider discussing this process with your colleagues to share your experiences and help each other.
Be an Ambassador for Your Company
I believe you are always a representative of your organization whether you are at work or enjoying time away. Consider how you are seen and heard beyond the walls of your organization and always take the high road to speak professionally about your colleagues and clients at all times. Even if you left a company because of the boss from hell - speak respectfully about this person when asked in the new job interview. Dissing your old boss is never appropriate.
How Can I Help You?
Smart professionals ask for help. You need not be so ambitious that you shun help or the opportunity to ask for something when you need it at work. This is especially true for young professionals and emerging leaders. Asking for help or clarification is not a weakness but a sign of self-confidence and humility.
The best leaders also make themselves available to others regularly. Be aware of how you can help a colleague and consider carving out 30 minutes each day to assist someone else in your workplace. This generous offer to help another will distinguish you as a leader and a great professional.
Do Your Best Work
When considering a new opportunity, always ask yourself - "Is this a place where I can do my best work?" When you can answer that question affirmatively, give your all - at all times.
"There may be people who have more talent than you, but there's no excuse for anyone to work harder than you do - and I believe that." Derek Jeter
Bringing your personal best gratifies you and creates an infectious enthusiasm on a team. Perfection is unrealistic - so enjoy your personal best.
Eccentric But Civil
I'm the first to admit there are some eccentric professionals out there whose behavior is not the norm and yet they are high functioning in a work environment. Bring on the quirky, eccentric, and odd - I celebrate different personas in the workplace as long as each person honors the common denominator of treating colleagues with dignity and respect. Lack of civility in the workplace is a deal breaker. The talent pool is deep with competitive candidates and everyone is replaceable. Earning a job opportunity is a privilege and unless you are a solo entrepreneur working in a vacuum, the "No Jerk" policy applies to everyone.
For those currently working with jerks, rest assured some are salvageable. In the best case scenario, a career coach can solicit stakeholder centered feedback to illustrate how said Jerk is perceived in the workplace and help to develop a plan to change the destructive behaviors.
While you can't put new ideas into an old mindset or achieve new results with old behaviors, a willing participant can adjust if they are willing to grow.
As 12 year NFL veteran Warrick Dunn says, "You always have two choices, be bitter or be better." I wish you great success in your "No Jerks" allowed work environments!
Caroline Dowd-Higgins authored the book "This Is Not the Career I Ordered" now in the 2nd edition, and maintains the career reinvention blog of the same name. She is Executive Director of Career & Professional Development at the Indiana University Alumni Association and contributes to Huffington Post, AOL Jobs, Ellevate Network, and The Chronicle newspaper in Indiana. She hosts and produces an online show called: Thrive! about career & life empowerment for women on YouTube. Caroline also hosts the international podcast series Your Working Life - on iTunes. Follow her on Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, and Twitter.