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12 Things Every Business Professional Should Know

Meghan Casserly, 01.13.10, 06:50 PM EST
Business know-how to help you manage professional situations with confidence and poise.

There's no denying the business world can be tricky to navigate. Career coaches, managerial strategists and even layoff consultants are experiencing a boom in business as more and more professionals, employed or not, try every trick in the book to achieve success.

At ForbesWoman, we know that no person enters the workforce with her skill set fully developed. For most of us this education is trial-by-fire. We're thrown into interviews, conference calls and business events eager but ill-equipped. Mistake by mistake, new lessons are learned--quitting a job unceremoniously and having to return, tail between your legs, to ask for a letter of recommendation will fast teach you a lesson in grace and professionalism. Likewise, a missed opportunity with a potential client due to insecurity and hesitation can lead you to realize the importance of defining your role and your company--and being able to share it.

With that in mind, we reached out to our vast network of authors and experts to collaborate on a top 12 list of skills that are all must haves in your professional toolkit.

Some of the items mentioned in our list are soft skills, social graces like knowing when to pay the check at a business dinner or how many pumps make a perfect handshake. Others require a high level of guts--knowing when to say no is one thing, saying it aloud to a supervisor is another thing altogether. Still others guarantee your professionalism and polish, like introducing yourself and your job or business with a well thought out elevator speech. It can be daunting, but we believe it can be a make-or-break moment in your professional career.

Some of our experts offered tips that, beyond traditional business advice, addressed the emotions that tend to spring up in the workplace. Separating personal feelings from business decisions is something we all struggle with over the course of our careers--numerous experts tell us that women are, believe it or not, hardwired for more emotional responses than their male colleagues. But as “taking things personally” in the workplace can often lead to unnecessary tension, we've included The Male Factor author Shaunti Feldhahn's personal tips for heading off dramatic reactions before they take place.

Will every lesson apply to your current job? Certainly not. But one thing is for sure--with women on the verge of outnumbering men in the workforce, your career path is opening up. And having these skills at the ready certainly can't hur

Give a Killer Presentation

Write out a summary, says Dr. Lois Frankel, career coach and author of Nice Girls Don't Get the Corner Office. This will keep your mind focused and get you started with the right opening statement. Take cues from pre-presentation chatter--your audience may inadvertently offer talking points you hadn't considered. Limit your presentation to three main points; long lists will blunt the impact of your message. Visual aids are a plus and leave a longer-lasting impression than words. Every summary should include a call to action.

Ask For A Raise

Salary negotiations are about how you add value to the company. Nicole Williams, a career coach specializing in young women and author of Girl On Top suggests spelling out in numbers and accomplishments everything you've done over the past year that had a positive impact on the company's bottom line and reputation. Your tone and body language should be confident but not accusatory. Keep your personal concerns out of it. Even if the answer is no, ask about other forms of compensation (more vacation, flex time, profit sharing) and what you can do to see a raise in the future.

Give Your Elevator Speech

"The elevator pitch is your brand statement," says Donna Johnson, an Austin, Texas, career coach who uses the handle The Unemployed Entrepreneur in professional speaking gigs. It's your first chance to make a lasting impression. Don't just recite your bio; state what problem you solve and mention your target audience. Be creative, but don't paint a less than accurate picture of yourself. The clearer you define what you do, the better your chances of attracting the right prospects and referrals. Practice your pitch in the mirror and in front of people who'll give you constructive feedback.

Quit with Grace

Author Karen Burns has held over 59 jobs and turned her experiences into a career giving advice. "Learning to quit with class is an essential life skill," she says. Her three-step process: 1. Before giving notice make sure all of your ducks are in a row, check company guidelines and look into benefits. 2. Make sure your boss is the first to know, offer to train a replacement and ask for a letter of recommendation. 3. Follow up with a formal letter--and never brag to co-workers that you are leaving.

Lay Someone Off

"I don't believe layoffs should be a surprise," says Marjorie Brody, executive coach and president/CEO of BRODY Professional Development, who stresses that all layoffs be done face-to-face. If you lay off someone off earlier in the day, it gives them time to say goodbye and get everything in order. Other tips from Brody: "Thank them for their contributions, be willing to write letters of recommendation, and help them in any way. Remember, it can demoralizing and scary for them." Be empathetic and prepared for any reaction--including anger and tears.

Don't Take it Personally

Or at least don't show it. Author Shaunti Feldhahn, who spent eight years researching mens' perceptions of women in the workplace, tells us men see outward emotions as a loss of control. At work, she says, best to keep your feelings under wraps. If that seems next to impossible, try this tip from Feldhahn: Prepare a script or plan for when you start to feel emotional about a conflict at work. At the first sign of flaring emotions, say: "Let me make sure that I understand your concern," and then rephrase the troubling statement. This buys you time to calm down before reacting, but also can shed new light on the problem.

Know When to Stop Talking

In negotiations, meetings, even interviews, says Nicole Williams, best-selling author of Girl On Top, "tell [the other party] only what they need to know." Short sound bites and can be more powerful than talking for extended periods of time. Once you start rambling or start offering up personal anecdotes, you'll notice your colleagues and supervisors shuffling for their BlackBerrys--never a good sign. "To make a lasting impression," says Williams, "Always leave them wanting more."

Say No

Author Roxanne Rivera, of the forthcoming book There's No Crying In Business, thinks women are naturally "yes" people. But since we can't take on every single project offered to us, it's important to be able to say no without seeming rude or overwhelmed. "Before answering," she says, "tell the person, whether it's a colleague or boss that you will get back to them. Take some time to think about it." Then go back to the person with a list of what is on your plate. "Nine times out of 10," she says, "they will reassign the task."

Know Your Handshake Etiquette

"As you approach someone, extend your hand with the thumb up and your arm slightly across your chest, then shake thumb joint to thumb joint," says Marjorie Brody. Clasp the other person's hand in a firm, but not bone-crushing, manner. After two to three pumps, let go. Letitia Baldridge, author of the Complete Guide to Executive Manners offers, notes: "If you enter a group, shake hands first with your host, and then with the other senior people in the room. Protocol decrees that you shake hands with your host when you leave." Clammy hands? Stick your right hand in your jacket when approaching a handshaking situation.

Get Out of the Office Without Stressing

Dr. Katheleen Hall, of The Stress Institute, says to set an alarm on your computer or BlackBerry two hours prior to your intended go-time. With a two-hour window, you can make an assessment about the rest of the day. "Look at your goals," she says, "What have you accomplished/not accomplished?" Have you returned all mandatory calls and e-mails? Check in with your team on tasks and priorities. Make tomorrow's to-do list as detailed as possible. Hall says, "The more control a person experiences, the less [she] experiences stress."

Refresh your Makeup in Three Minutes

Janis Marino, professional makeup artist for Make Up For Ever shares her tips for freshening up in no time at all: 1. Dab concealer (one shade lighter than your skin) under your eyes to conceal any bags that have developed. 2. Swipe pressed powder in the T-zone. 3. Sweep blush or bronzer across the cheekbones to add color you've lost. 4. Run a brown or black eyeliner pencil along the upper lash-line to turn day make-up into night. 5. Use gloss or lipstick to add a pop of color as your finishing touch.

Pick up the Check (or not!)

For business meals, says etiquette expert Jacqueline Whitmore, "The person who does the inviting does the paying, regardless of age, status, or gender. A hospitable host also takes care of all incidentals, including valet charges and the coat check. It's best to handle the bill just before dessert, eliminating any issue over who pays. Simply excuse yourself to go to the restroom and pay the bill on the way back.

From Forbes published on 01.13.10, 06:50 PM EST