Ability. Application. Attitude. Three ‘A’s for a successful career.

Good luck to students who receive their A Level results today. If you have achieved your aims, good on you. If not, please do not despair. The longer you live, the less important they will be.

Take it from me, the exam results you achieve at school are no criteria for a successful career.

When I achieved a level of management where people began to ask me for careers advice or – far harder – to review or appraise my colleagues’ performance, I wanted to recommend books to help them improve themselves and their prospects. After all, what is the point of criticising anyone without offering guidance on how to progress? And what better guidance than a book?

This was when I became aware of how little my A Levels, had prepared me for management or, for that matter, a life in business at all. In particular I recognised with guilt, and no little horror, that I had read pathetically few textbooks on career success or business management – subjects in which I was now supposed to be an expert. Indeed, so little had I read that I could never catch up. The more I found out, the less I knew.

So, modest as ever, I developed Hugh Salmon’s Three ‘A’s for A Successful Career by which I could impart my words of wisdom while covering up my own ignorance.

Here they are:

1. Ability Never in your career should you be challenged to understand anything you are not capable of understanding. If you are, you are in the wrong business. With all honesty, I can say that never in my career have I been asked to do this (having said that, I have just read Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan and did struggle a bit with The Monty Hall Problem).

Choose a career which fits your Ability. Only you know what that is.

And, as you well know, your Ability is not defined by your A Levels. They are no indicator of your character, creativity, charisma, charm or even your cooking or your cricket – all of which lie within your natural Ability and can be far more important than academic achievement.

By the way, you can be too clever: The affliction of intellectuals who see all sides of an argument. And be careful. However smart you think you are there is always someone smarter than you.

2. Application Application is not just a test of hard work, although all successful people do work hard. The most important test of your intelligence is how intelligently you Apply it to your Ability. Your success in doing this is likely to define how successful you will be.

It is vital that you make career choices that fit your character. The more you enjoy your work, the more you will Apply yourself to it.

By the way, there’s another key point under Application. You will face set-backs. We all do. When this happens, don’t go off track. Apply yourself. KBO. Keep Buggering On.

3. Attitude When I managed Ogilvy Thailand, we had 400 people in the office. But, frankly, when it came to the big presentations, particularly to our multinational clients, it was down to me. It was what I was paid to do. I had the A levels.

Yet the Thais were great people to work with. Nothing was too much trouble. They didn’t push back. They bounced back. And they always came back smiling. This is Attitude.

By the way, when I returned to London to work with the biggest A* brains in the business – first class degrees from Oxbridge the lot – I heard about lovers who were hated, spouses who had left home, children in prison (oh yes), drink and drug addictions. What negativity. What hard work!

Please don’t sink this low. Just remember:

Ability.

Application.

Attitude.

The only ‘A’s anyone will ever need.  

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