Cultivating a healthy addiction for career success

Going beyond the typical interview answers and resume claims will help you demonstrate why you stand apart from the pack

In the Career Compass program, the initial exercise focuses on identifying and distilling five key elements that differentiate the participant from others. The purpose is to move beyond standard statements to unearth what really sets each of us apart. It is preparation to successfully respond to a general question of "Why should I hire you?"

The key to success is to move beyond cliche, marketing speak and traditional resume fodder. Even for the practiced, this can be a challenge. Over the years of guiding people through this process, a common assertion (one of the five) is generally stated as "I have a passion for learning and self development."

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Taken at face value, this is the sort of vague claim anyone can (and probably does) make when attempting to impress and interviewer. While the wording of the claim is forgettable, the trend itself is important: most successful people have a lifelong addiction to learning.

As a lifelong learner--I freely admit I am interested with childlike amazement at everything--this is something that I cherish in myself and in others. Learning and the passion for learning can be personal without intent to demonstrate or prove the value to anyone except the individual.

However, if the addiction to learning is a basis for creating differentiation, it is important to describe, measure and demonstrate the claim.

Cultivating the Addiction to Learning

The desire and ability to learn is important to a successful career. Actions speak louder than words, and more important than the desire is the discipline to practice learning on a regular basis.

On my first job out of college, at 22 years of age, I was assigned to a technical team and ended up sitting next to a guy in his 50s who had been a helicopter pilot in Vietnam. Bill was (and probably still is) an amazing guy; he was cool in nearly any situation, spoke ill of no one and always either had an answer or was willing to find one.

We'd often eat lunch together sitting at our desks, and I still recall a key piece of advice he shared with me one day, "Michael, the key to success in life is to keep learning. You never know it all, and the technology is always going to change. If you keep learning, you can do anything. You'll always have a job."

While I was already a passionate seeker of knowledge and experience before I met Bill, his words resonated with me then and carry with me today.

While everyone learns in their own unique way, there are three dominant styles of learning:

* Visual

* Auditory

* Kinesthetic

Most people have a dominant style, but we all learn across all three. Understanding how people learn is important for learners to maximize their investment, and important for people assessing the claim to understand the depth of the claim.

While rare, my dominant learning style is kinesthetic. Not only do I tend to learn better when I work through the material, but if the material is presented to me in other forms, I literally create the dimensional experience in my mind. I literally need to experience the information, if only in my head.

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Over the years of learning about learning, I continue to find new pathways, insights and ways to learn. Lately I find the act of writing has improved my speaking, which allows me to share what I have learned blended with my experience. I always find that when I share what I have learned, I discover new elements and come away from the experience richer.

Since learning tends to be highly personal--especially for adults--being able to cultivate a habit that works among the pressures of life is essential. There are no right or wrong ways to learn, share and grow.

The time spent considering the commitment to learning improves the results and provides the ability to more clearly explain the claim, if needed.

Demonstrating The Claim

After asserting the claim of "lifelong learner" as a differentiating quality, most interviewers will probe deeper. To help prepare to explain the personal commitment to learning, consider the perspective of a hiring manager or a potential client.

There are three key elements to demonstrating this claim:

* Explaining the passion and process for learning

* Quantifying the approach

* Sharing the results

When it comes to explaining the passion, in my experience the best approach is a brief statement about the quest for learning and an example. If asked, I would explain that my passion for learning has yet to meet limits; I am intrigued by all that is around me. I will literally sit and listen to anyone who wants to share knowledge and experience with me.

For example, before traveling in the RV, I used to fly. A lot. A perk, of course, was the opportunity to upgrade to business class. In business class, people are more eager to talk--and after the quick introductions, I would routinely ask people to share their craft with me. When we had just purchased the RV--a diesel pusher with air brakes--I managed to sit next to a guy who sold a highly specialized component for air brakes. During that short flight, I became a pseudo expert not only on air brake operation, but their maintenance and how the different components played a role in stopping my rolling house on wheels.

As a result, I have learned how to maintain our brakes and extend their operation while ensuring the safety of our family. As my kids would ask, "How cool is that?"

From that story, I can share additional details about reading, writing, courses, and conversations. Hiring managers are sometimes interested in quantifying. If this matters, it might be useful to be able to answer questions like:

* How many and what kind of training courses do you take?

* How many books have you read?

* Do you attend local professional groups and take advantage of free training?

* Do you participate in online webinars?

* Do you share what you have learned with others--and how?

The last element to consider is the "so what?" As a learner, what is the impact on you and the results others experience? As a result of the addiction to learning, will costs be lower, productivity be higher or some other tangible benefit be realized?

So how do you invest in your career success by learning? What habits have you developed? How do you share your success and demonstrate the results? Leave a comment or send me an email about your efforts.

The author of Into the Breach: Protect Your Business by Managing People, Information, and Risk Michael Santarcangelo is a catalyst that helps organizations make smart investments in human capital by harnessing the power of people to rapidly develop efficient and effective solutions with immediate and far-reaching returns. He delivers Awareness that Works", a program so effective it pays for itself. Guaranteed. Learn more at www.securitycatalyst.com or engage with him on twitter.com/catalyst.

This story, "Cultivating a healthy addiction for career success" was originally published by CSO.

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