The pressure for a New Year's resolution is palpable this month, and the media is bombarding us with ads for weight loss and smoking cessation. But what about New Year career advice? A record number of Americans are still unemployed and many others are dissatisfied with their current work. Now is a great time to ramp up your career development efforts but I urge you to be thoughtful in the process and invest the time you need to make empowered plans.
Since most New Year's resolutions are abandoned by Valentine's Day here are some strategies to keep you on track with your new long term career diet. The Latin and Greek roots of the word diet mean "way of life" or "manner of living" and the same follows suit with career happiness. Quick fixes and fads may get you there fast but they are not sustainable or healthy in the long run.
Here are some New Year tips for approaching your career goals since meaningful planning will land you greater success and satisfaction along the way.
Be Self Aware. Take some quiet time to reflect upon what you value, what interests you, how your personality plays a role in your career, and inventory your skills and strengths. With a new career beginning, you owe it to yourself to really consider what makes you tick and what motivates you. Identifying your career passion starts with baby steps since you need to know what you really want before you go looking for it.
Write it Down. As you begin to self assess, take notes and carry a journal with you at all times since inspiration can strike when you least expect it. Write down your vision and consider adding images or photos that further illustrate your goals. Research shows that we are more likely to act on our goals if we write them down. You can always change the plan but the journal or vision board process is a creative way to explore the possibilities of your career journey.
Develop Your Story. Once you have clarity about what you want you need to act as your own best self advocate. Develop a story that you can share with others about what you do well and what kinds of opportunities appeal to you. Try not to focus on job titles but think about skill sets and experiences that distinguish you. Others in your network may have unique ideas about how to put your skills to work and your career development story will empower them to help you more effectively.
Connect With People. Even in 2011, the hidden job market represents over 80% of opportunities that will never be posted. Get out from behind your computer and meet people. Have a personal business card with your contact information at-the-ready and be willing to talk to people you already know and expand your network to reach beyond your comfort zone. You may be discovered unexpectedly so always be at your professional best.
Don't Put the Resume Cart before the Self Assessment Horse. Many job seekers spend most of their time polishing and peddling their resume and not enough time building professional relationships. The resume is a very important tool and you should have one that reflects your strengths and employability but if you spend all of your time applying for jobs you are missing out on a lot. Pursue job shadows and informational interviews (no matter what your experience level) since this gets you in front of people in the know in your industry. Most jobs posted online get thousands of hits for every position. You can distinguish yourself from the competition by being seen in person and not just via your resume.
Tap Your Resource Team. Assemble your own personal Board of Directors for support, accountability, and career wisdom & expertise. If you empower others to help you they will - and if you are a selfless networker willing to pay-it-forward this will take you far. Good career karma goes a long way so consider how you can help others as you seek their counsel. And remember to steward and thank the people on your Board and in your network. A hand written thank you note still goes a very long way!
Reward Yourself for Small Accomplishments. The career journey is long and arduous so reward yourself for the small steps you take to move forward. Pat yourself on the back and be proud of every little move towards the end goal. You deserve it!
Polish Your Online Profiles. In this age of technology and social media you can't ignore the valuable professional networking sites like LinkedIn, Jobster, and Plaxo, to name a few. Make sure your online profile is up to date and reflects your potential as a job candidate. Have someone else take a look at it and ask what they can say about you as a candidate. Be sure this is the message you want to convey. Make sure that your profile photo is professional looking. The cropped photo at your best friend's wedding is not an option.
Be Healthy and Resilient. One of the top transferable skills employers seek is resilience. In this economy lay-offs have been rampant but showing your future boss that you are unsinkable and ready for a new challenge is a marketable quality and an inspiration to others. The job market is stressful enough so be good to your body and eat well and get the amount of sleep you need to be at your best. Exercise never hurts either and can help relieve stress and promote the relaxation your mind needs to function well.
Reality Check. The truth is that student loans and mortgage payments won't wait for you to land your dream job so often a stop-gap position to earn money is necessary. There is no shame in honest work and don't let a transition job deter you from your long term career goals. Do what you need to in order to support yourself but keep your eye on the prize for the ultimate career goal. Take practical action steps to move yourself forward incrementally and give yourself permission to work in a job outside your field if it's what you need to make ends meet.
It's still a jungle out there but armed with practical action steps you can and will succeed in achieving your career goals. Take one step at a time and lean on others for support and encouragement. Remember, it's not a New Year's resolution but a way of life and honoring yourself in the process is half the battle. Take a deep breath and get ready for the journey. I'll be cheering you on all the way!
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.