Who’s new? It’s you!
Whether you’re in the office with colleagues or working from home, being the new person in the office can be daunting. But while it is important to be yourself, there are certain traits that you can cultivate and develop to help you thrive in your career.
Larissa Delazari is from Brazil and holds a bachelor’s degree in forest engineering from the Federal University of Pananá (Brazil) and a masters in European forestry from the University of Eastern Finland and the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences. In 2019, she joined the graduate programme in Coillte, Ireland’s commercial forestry semi-state company.
“The programme is really comprehensive, [with] a two-year placement in different areas of the organisation,” Delazari says. “It provided great opportunities for graduates to apply their technical knowledge and to further develop their skills and competencies.”
Delazari went on to participate in the Irish Management Institute’s Graduate Development Programme, which brings together graduates from different organisations and sectors.
The programme is designed to give graduates the commercial acumen, leadership and people skills needed in the workplace, with particular emphasis on problem solving, critical thinking, communications, and working in teams.
IMI develops hundreds of graduates each year across sectors like retail, technology, food, financial services, construction, telecommunications, and in the public sector, making it one of the biggest providers of graduate development in Ireland. In recent years, the programme has included international graduates from India, USA, Europe and Africa.
“The programme helped me to develop and improve myself on both personal and professional levels,” says Delazari. “Critical thinking and self-confidence were the most valuable [traits that I developed], while learning how to communicate more effectively was also a plus. Professional qualities are based on skills, and skills can always be developed once we understand our personal style and professional objectives, and incorporate new behaviours in our work life.”
At UCD, Dr Linda Yang is the programme director for intercultural development at the Smurfit School of Business. She is also an associate partner at Hofstede Insights, which provides an intercultural consistency to businesses and the corporate world. Over her years of experience, she has helped students to develop the traits and skills that help get them ahead in their career.
So, what are these traits?
Survey after survey shows that employers rate communication – both verbal and written – as the most important trait they want graduates to have.
“Effective communicators can share and receive information from different audiences, being able to easily collaborate with others and provide thoughtful solutions to issues,” says Delazari.
“No matter how intelligent you are, there will be problems if you cannot communicate,” says Yang. “You need to be able to communicate your ideas to others. But it is not enough to be able to just communicate with people from your own country or background; you need to be able to work with people from other backgrounds. Intercultural competency is important here because for instance, an East Asian person wouldn’t call their CEO or manager by their first name, whereas an Irish person would – and being aware of these differences can be helpful.”
Curiosity means having an open mind and not being bored by new challenges or situations and, most of all, being willing to learn.
“A lot of the time, conflicts happen on teams because we have unintentionally imposed our cultural values on others without realising that there are differences there,” says Yang. “If you are open, you will see this as an opportunity, not a problem.”
What sort of cultural differences may occur?
Yang points to the example of when McDonald’s first entered Russia – the company has now left Russia in response to the country’s invasion of Ukraine – and tried to impose its American model of service on that local market.
“They trained them all to smile at customers, as that was the American way, but you don’t smile at strangers in Russia, so they had to change. Being open and curious meant that McDonald’s had to suspend their beliefs and look at what worked best for the Russian market.”
Delazari agrees and suggests it may be the most important trait of successful people.
“Success requires curiosity and by having a willingness to learn and dedication to improve your skills, you can aggregate value to the business and produce more valuable contributions at work,” she says
3. Self-awareness and empathy
These are, perhaps, two sides of the same coin; you can’t have empathy for others without an awareness of your own emotions, what annoys or upsets you and what makes you feel happy and valued at work.
“Self-awareness is so important,” says Yang. “Sometimes we live in our own bubble and comfort zone. In the Anglo-Saxon business world, successful leaders can appear on the surface to be less empathetic, and more driven by an alpha male culture. But research shows that people who do well in the long-run have empathy and a willingness to understand other people’s emotions. This is particularly important with diverse teams, where not everyone will share the same views or approaches. Diverse teams drive innovation, but only if managed effectively.”
Or, as Yang calls it, grit.
“Focus on what you want to achieve and have the drive to keep going,” she says. “The leaders that I see around me, in both business and higher education, are entrepreneurs who started with an idea and, despite obstacles, did not give up. They kept going.”
“Being confident and believing in your potential is fundamental to adverse situations,” says Delazari. “Keep yourself motivated and productive, and take advantage of career opportunities.”
5. Intercultural competence
A crucial skill to develop in any workplace, but particularly if you might work abroad or in diverse teams.
“Speaking very generally, and conscious of the limits of cultural stereotypes, different cultures or countries will take different approaches,” says Yang.
“So in a typically ‘masculine’ country, like India, being assertive is valued in leadership style. On the other hand, Sweden is a more ‘feminine’ country, so they might view assertive behaviour as arrogant or overconfident. A Swede, then, might place more value on consensus and hearing everyone’s opinion at a meeting, but their Indian colleague may wonder why they’re not interested in moving things forward. Having this awareness of these differences – allied with the other traits like communication, empathy, self-awareness and curiosity – leads to better understanding of each other and better decisions, too.”