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The secrets to career success

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Hard graft, charm and persistence are the secrets to career success, a poll of business high-flyers has revealed.

A study of 500 CEOs, managers and prominent business people earning over £70k suggested that ‘warmth’, ‘intelligence’ and ‘sense of humour’ were attributes that helped promote them to the top of the business world, while intriguingly, only 2% described themselves as ‘ruthless’.

One in three boasted their ‘good looks’ had helped, whilst ‘luck’, ‘fate’ and ‘good timing’ were also noted as vital ingredients. Encouragingly, ‘inspiring confidence’ and ‘modesty’ were seen as useful attributes.

The research, conducted by children’s literacy charity Volunteer Reading Help to explore the secrets to success and the role played by literacy, found that 60 per cent of achievers were regular readers.

Volunteer Reading Help CEO Sue Porto said:

”Of course everyone needs a bit of luck and good timing, but it’s pleasing to see people who rely on the value of warmth and intelligence see that as integral to their success.

”It’s the old adage of people wanting to work with people they like and proves that hard work, persistence and being decent pays dividends in the long run.

”The study shows that the skill of improving yourself and striving to learn more is something that never goes away and when combined with hard work, will massively increase the chances of success.

”It’s no secret that hard work is pivotal to getting on in life. The key thing for us is that many people take being able to read for granted.

”We’ve seen first-hand the impact that illiteracy has on young people and their chances in life, which is why providing volunteers to help children who wouldn’t otherwise have these support networks, is so vital.”

Some of the main pieces of advice offered out by those polled included;

  • Take risks, and always have an answer (or know how to find one);
  • Make sacrifices- 20% of our top earners had to sacrifice a lot to get to where they are today;
  • 25% suggest a better education would have helped them on their way.

Everything doesn’t always run smoothly, however; 30% regret a specific meeting or deal that went wrong, one in eight said they owe apologies to past acquaintances and 10% regret a relationship that was lost by the wayside.

Becoming well-read featured in the top ten pieces of advice; when asked who encouraged them to read as a child, 36 per cent said their parents, 21 per cent teachers, while a third stated it was their own thirst for knowledge.

Reading was a key feature throughout:

  • 25% saw acknowledging the link between reading and the ability to digest new information as key in helping them become successful;
  • This led to 25%  admitting they were ‘constantly driven’ to find the answers they need;
  • The ability to pick up a book and the skill of asking questions was rated by respondents as crucial to self-improvement;
  • 60% have read self-help or motivational tool books to inspire them, showing that books are still valuable resources for successful people;
  • 56% said they still read regularly, with more than one in ten revealing that they don’t read as much as they would like to.

Sue Porto continued:

”Each week we support over 5,500 children in England with their reading through our network of over 2,000 dedicated reading helpers, to make sure we give them the opportunity for success later in life.

”Yet there are 88,000 children who leave primary school each year without reaching the required literacy level, so there is still so much more we can do.

”We want to double the number of children we support by 2016. To achieve this we need more volunteers and critically, the funding to support them.”


1.            Hard graft

2.            Charm

3.            Persistence

4.            Luck

5.            Fate

6.            Good timing

7.            Intelligence

8.            Sense of humour

9.            Warmth

10.          Ambition


1.            Take risks

2.            Always have an answer

3.            Know when to keep going

4.            Know how to find the answer

5.            Build your intelligence

6.            Be open-minded

7.            Be humble and modest

8.            Inspire confidence in others

9.            Become well-read

10.          Be able to think on your feet

Each week we support over 5,500 children in England with their reading through our network of over 2,000 dedicated reading helpers, to make sure we give them the opportunity for success later in life.

Volunteer Reading Help CEO Sue Porto

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