What does it take to get to the top of the career ladder? There are millions of resumes in the Workopolis resume database, however, only a small percentage of them are at the very top levels: business owners and presidents of companies. Our team analysed these to see what they had in common.

There are 747 resumes on Workopolis with the job title of ‘President.’ We have over 3,000 resumes from people listed as the owners of companies. (We considered looking at data from the resumes of Vice Presidents as well, because there are many more of these. However, we decided not to because this job title varies in responsibility and attainability so widely across companies.)

The key learning from the top-level resumes seems to be: learn to solve other people’s problems.

The most common first job title listed in resumes of people who advanced the fastest (shortest time period between starting work and running a company) was ‘Executive Assistant.’

It can be difficult to prove causality, but there is logic to this. Executive Assistants are problem solvers. They plan, organize, and arrange many complex aspects of their employer’s work lives from arranging travel, booking meetings, and planning events to documentation, research and reporting.

The most common job titles that President/Owner resumes have in common are Sales, Consulting, and Customer Service.

Consultants also solve other people’s problems. They are hired to bring in their area of expertise to other people or organizations who need them. Consultants often work for large firms, but these are also the roles people use to transition into to work for themselves. It’s frequently the bridge between being a service provider and becoming a business owner.

As well as expertise in your field, being a consultant requires customer relationship and sales skills to build up, maintain, and manage a client base. Of course those are the other two common jobs of business leaders. At some point most have worked in Sales and Customer Service roles.

Learn how to sell

The best sales people empathise with their clients. They don’t push products and services on them; instead they understand and try to solve their problems.

Similarly, the candidate who most understands the business of the company they’re applying to, who demonstrates how they can make the employer more successful, will win the job interview. It’s not about me and my ambitions, it’s about you and how I can help you.

Hone your people skills

Providing excellent customer service can be the key to success no matter what level you are at in your career or who your customers are. If you don’t deal with the public, then your customers are the internal stakeholders who depend on your work.

Here are five core skills you learn in customer service training that will help you get jobs and get ahead:

1. Remembering to smile and keep interactions positive. Act like you’re happy to help out with whatever is asked of you. An up-beat attitude and good work ethic go along way with employers.

2. Maintaining eye-contact and effective non-verbal communications.
Both in job interviews and on the job, being a pleasant and polished communicator are vital for success. (As we noted in an earlier Thinkopolis report, ‘Communications’ is the single most sought-after skill in Canadian job ads.)

3. Practicing active listening and conveying empathy. The ability to really listen to another person is an often overlooked skill in this busy era where everyone is rushing to weigh-in with their opinion. Listen and understand what the other person is saying, rather than thinking up what you’d like to say next while they’re talking.

4. Speaking from a prepared script without sounding robotic or rehearsed. Telling your accomplishments in a job interview, or making your ‘elevator pitch’ in a meeting should all sound friendly and conversational, but you should still practice and prepare them in advance.

5. Being able to think on your feet and problem-solve in unpredictable situations. When your job is dealing with the public, you’re going to meet all sorts of people in a variety of (often-challenging) scenarios. While some of these will be unpleasant at the time, the ability you hone to deal with the unexpected and resolve customer issues on-the-fly will benefit you throughout your career.

People skills, the ability to sell, and solving other people’s problems: these seem to be the three demonstrated abilities that top-level Canadian resumes all have in common at some point in their work history. So perhaps it is unsurprising that along with Communications, Problem Solving, Customer Relations, and Sales all crack the top ten most requested skills in Canadian job postings. These are the keys to getting hired and moving up.

It looks like Zig Ziglar was right when he said, “You can have everything in life you want, if you will just help enough other people get what they want.