JUNE 19, 2006

By Jack and Suzy Welch

Dear Graduate... To stand out among your peers, you have to overdeliver. But be careful to avoid obvious career lust

As an ambitious 22-year-old readying to enter the corporate world, how can I quickly distinguish myself as a winner? -- Dain Zaitz, Corvallis, Ore.

First of all, forget some of the most basic habits you learned in school. Once you are in the real world -- and it doesn't make any difference if you are 22 or 62, starting your first job or your fifth -- the way to look great and get ahead is to over-deliver. For years you've been taught the virtue of meeting specific expectations. And you've been trained to believe that an A-plus performance means fully answering every question the teacher asks. Those days are over.

To get an A-plus in business, you have to expand the organization's expectations of you and then exceed them, and you have to fully answer every question the "teachers" ask, plus a slew they didn't think of.

Your goal, in other words, should be to make your bosses smarter, your team more effective, and the whole company more competitive because of your energy, creativity, and insights. And you thought school was hard!

Don't panic. Just get in there and start thinking big. If your boss asks you for a report on the outlook for one of your company's products for the next year, you can be sure she already has a solid sense of the answer. So go beyond being the grunt assigned to confirm her hunch. Do the extra legwork and data-crunching to give her something that really expands her thinking -- an analysis, for instance, of how the entire industry might play out over the next three years. What new companies and products might emerge? What technologies could change the game? Could someone, perhaps your own company, move production to China?

In other words, give your boss shock and awe -- something compelling that she can report to her bosses. In time, those kinds of ideas will move the company forward, and move you upward.

But be careful. People who strive to overdeliver can swiftly self-destruct if their exciting suggestions are seen by others as unfettered braggadocio, not-so-subtle ladder scaling, or both. That's right. Personal ambition can backfire.

Now, we're not saying curb your enthusiasm. But the minute you wear career lust on your sleeve, you run the risk of alienating people, in particular your peers. They will soon come to doubt the motives of your hard work. They will see any comments you make about, say, how the team could operate better, as political jockeying. And they will eventually peg you as an unrestrained striver, and, in the long run, that's a label that all the A-plus performing in the world can't overcome. So by all means, overdeliver -- but keep your desire to distinguish yourself as a winner to yourself. You'll become one faster.

Revenue growth is at the top of my to-do list. What should I look for in hiring great sales professionals? -- John Cioffi, Westfield, N.J.

Good news. You're halfway there, because you realize that great salespeople are different from you, us, and most everyone. Which is not to say that salespeople shouldn't have the qualities you look for in every hire: integrity, intelligence, positive energy, decisiveness, and the ability to execute. It's just that they need other qualities, too. Four to be exact.

The first is enormous empathy. Great salespeople feel for their customers. They understand their needs and pressures; they get the challenges of their business. They see every deal through the customer's eyes. Yes, they represent the company, and yes, they want to make it profitable. But they are geniuses at balancing the interests of the company and the interests of the customer so that, even at the end of difficult negotiations, both sides would describe the process as more than fair.

Not surprisingly, then, the second quality of great salespeople is trustworthiness. Their handshake means something. They see every sale as part of a long-term relationship, and customers usually respond in kind.

Third, great salespeople have a powerful mixture of drive, courage, and self-confidence. No one likes cold calls. But the best salespeople are so eager for business that they make them relentlessly and have the inner strength not to take inevitable rejections personally.

Finally, the best salespeople hate the "postman model." No offense to letter carriers, but the best salespeople love to get off their set route in search of product and customer opportunities. In that way, then, they are just like you. Revenue growth is at the top of their to-do list. But unlike you, or any other boss for that matter, it's also at the middle and bottom. That's what makes great salespeople so special.