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All I Want for Christmas is a New Career

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With unemployment rates the highest in decades and job dissatisfaction peaking for many at work, Santa will be hard pressed to fulfill countless wish lists this Christmas. The stress of the holidays can be difficult enough without having to worry about finding a job or reinventing your career.

This season consider tapping into the wisdom and expertise of your friends and family. Turn the holiday conversation into a professional development coaching session and ask your circle of trust to help out by spreading good career cheer in your direction.

Sometimes the best ideas are right under your nose so don't discount the collective insight of family members that gather for holiday celebrations. Be sure to target relatives who will give you sincere and constructive feedback since there is nothing worse than a family member who imposes their career insight without really considering what you want. Here are some ideas to put into practice at your holiday gatherings this season.

• Over hot chocolate, turn the fireside chat towards you and ask your friends and family what they believe you do really well. Have them each write down five things and give examples of why they believe these are your strengths. Compare your list of self identified strengths with theirs and you may be surprised to see what others think you are really good at.

• When mealtime conversation lulls or when you want to change the subject to something positive, ask your guests what they envision for you career wise. Tell them to dream big and not be restricted by money, location, or education but most importantly, ask them why they believe you would excel in this particular career.

• If rarely seen relatives surface for the celebration, and if they are working in a field you find fascinating, be sure to ask them for some career counseling. Perhaps they would consider an informational interview or even a job shadow so you can see what they do up close and in person to ascertain if this might be a professional fit for you. They might be very willing to help you jump start your career research and having a family member in the industry is brilliant networking.

• Take advantage of some quiet down time to really reflect about what you want in your new career life. A serious self assessment is the first step to discovering what you value in a work environment. Then you should consider how you can play to your strengths and monetize your passions in the workplace. Journal your ideas so you can keep a written record and refer to it as you move forward in your career development plan.

• While board games and puzzles are a great way to spend time with loved ones during lazy afternoons over the holidays, start a new tradition by playing "What's Your Career Passion?" Each player will develop their own unique story with full license to dream big and describe a career that really fits their passion. Other players chime in to suggest ways in which to make this dream a reality. You may be surprised about the terrific ideas generated that are worth pursuing.

• If you write a holiday newsletter or plan to see a lot of people at festive gatherings this season, be sure to tell people that you have a plan and are working towards a new job or a specific career goal. The holidays are a natural time to network so continue to build your community and have your customized pitch polished and ready to go for all occasions and audiences. People can't help you if they don't know what you need and you can't get what you want if you don't know what that is. Have goals and be ready to talk about them!

• Holiday cards are a perfect opportunity to rekindle those in your professional network. Go through your contacts and reach out to people you want to cultivate as well as new relationships you want to develop. Include a personal business card that has your name, phone, and email so follow-up is effortless. This is especially important if you are looking for work.

Instead of waiting for the New Year to start your resolutions, go into the holidays with an open mind and be ready to share your career ideas with loved ones. If you are down and frustrated this is a perfect time to capitalize on the family pick-me-up and let them help you by illustrating what you do well.

Instead of focusing on what's wrong at the holiday table - turn the conversation into a positive and gratifying experience. If you are happily employed, think about those who are struggling and lend your wisdom to others as they navigate the career maze. Your words of encouragement and direction might be the most thoughtful gift of all this season and it does not take shopping in crowded stores to give this free advice.

Being a good listener, and sharing your candid advice and authentic encouragement can be the most thoughtful gift of all for career seekers. So whether you are looking for work, or if you are in a position to offer career counsel, go into this holiday season with an intention to help others and pay-it-forward. For many, the greatest gift of all is career peace of mind and that is truly priceless.

If you still need an actual present to leave under the tree, a gift certificate for a career coaching session or two may also help those in need get back on track towards realizing their professional goals.

Caroline Dowd-Higgins authored the book "This Is Not the Career I Ordered" and maintains the career reinvention blog of the same name (www.carolinedowdhiggins.com) She is also the Director of Career & Professional Development at Indiana University Maurer School of Law.

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