It only stands to reason that my post on soft skills should follow with one on personality types. I will keep this post shorter by highlighting some of the ideal personality traits that can most easily set you up for a successful career in marketing.
Please note that as I write, I’m thinking about larger companies for which marketing is the department that drives the company. In firms where marketing plays purely a support role, the list below would apply to a much lesser degree.
SOCIAL / EXTROVERT
Marketing is an inherently social career. You spend much of your work day in meetings, interacting with your team or dining with your peers. In the more hardcore marketing companies, you will rarely be at your desk between the hours of about 9 and 4. If you’re the type to prefer to sit at your desk and hammer away at your keyboard on your own, you can expect to be disappointed.
Extroverted people gain and share energy as a result of being around other people. That energy transmission is what you can naturally harness to impact and influence a team, and thus makes you more suited to a leadership role.
Sadly, through my mentoring activities, I have received many requests for career guidance from people who fall more on the introvert side of the continuum. This poses a challenge to hiring managers who seek among other things a personal/social connection with candidates to help them envision working together. A quieter personality is a significant barrier here.
UPDATE / AUGUST 2014: After posting this I have come across more articles discussing this topic. Here’s one quoting a b-school study that concluded that sociability is the #1 factor that correlates to future business success. The post-academic leadership seminars I have attended also point in this direction. In one, the facilitator said bluntly that what you know can only get you to the Manager level. Getting past that level is all about your non-technical skill.
Figured I’d add this one in. No point in being extroverted if you’re also irritating. Execs hire and promote people they like although this is rarely a sole criterion. Accept it, it’s the way the world works.
LOVES TO BE CENTER OF ATTENTION
At J&J the execs called it “taking the hill”, which also smacks of taking charge. You LOVE to present to audiences of all size and composition and you are eager to own projects and run teams. You’re also willing to speak up in big meetings. I can’t tell you how many marketers that I have worked with who absolutely hate to present. If that’s you, really, give this career some serious thought.
See my comments on being unflappable. No matter what, don’t freak out…or at least do it privately. You can acquire a label that will be a challenge to shed.
Trust me, when you get to the point of managing people if you haven’t already, you will catch yourself at some point saying “gosh I wish such and such a person would just do what they’re told and shut up about it”. That doesn’t mean as a direct report you should be a doer; you just need to exercise good judgment as to when to question, push back, or recommend a different path to your boss or to teams. It gets to a point where you become exhausting. Be sensitive to that, even if you think you’re always right!
Be attuned to your environment and your teams. Understand (and care!) how you impact and influence people.
Never just fail to meet an obligation, you’ll wreck your personal brand. If you’re in real danger of missing a deliverable, alert your team and take it upon yourself to recommend a plan B. This ties to the very real saying that managers hate surprises.
Probably once a week you’ll have to sell an idea to someone that you’re not completely sure about. Still, you have to make recommendations or decisions and sell them with confidence or your leadership team will see you as someone not willing to commit.
Busy people get the most done. Man, I worked with a lot of over-achievers; worked a 12-hour day then raced home to feed and bathe their kids, train for the upcoming marathon and prepare for volunteer activity on the weekend. Insanity. Energizer bunnies rule the world.
You also have to be able to be stellar on little sleep. There are sales and other presentations to prepare for, agency bonding sessions that run into the night and hectic travel and meeting schedules. The amount of entertaining you do will ebb and flow. You need to be able to flow when needed.
I once gave a 45-minute presentation on plans for the coming quarter at 9:30 am on 3 hours sleep and while still completely intoxicated. About 50 people in the audience of both internal and external stakeholders. Am I proud of that? No. Was I brilliant? Hell, yes. Mind you I had to literally grip the podium for the first half of it….
If you’re tired, achy or otherwise feel crappy, hide it, especially around senior management. When they ask you “howzit going?” they only want to hear “GREAT!!”
…which leads me to the last one. If you can’t always be positive, at least be constructive. Be mindful about shooting plans or ideas down unless you have something to recommend. Ensure, though, you demonstrate a fair-balance ability to support the plans and ideas of others. You want to be seen as moving the business forward, else you risk being seen as a downer.
Positivity also means you do not waste negative energy on the drama that is prevalent in corporations. This includes (seemingly) bad management decisions on programming and people. You cannot stop morons from being promoted. Some make it through. You will persevere. Believe it.
The need for positivity can make a organization almost seem cultish, too, so you might need to train yourself a little. Once, I was passed in the hallway by a VP mere hours after 15 percent of the workforce was let go in a corporate downsize. Naturally, I had a serious look on my face. What did the VP say to me as she passed? “Smile, Larry.” That was strike one for me because I looked at this as a layoff instead of this glorious process by which the company was transforming itself. Silly me. Missed that one.