By Dinorah Nieves and Dawid Wiacek
With tax season upon us, many are wondering how to get the biggest bang for each buck of our refund. Save it for a rainy day? Take that trip your family's been talking about? The list goes on. It's one of the few times each year that we find ourselves check-in-hand and uncertain of how it would be best spent. Sound familiar? If so, consider investing that refund back into your career! Studies show a strong correlation between job satisfaction and overall happiness, so every dollar invested in furthering your career is a dollar well spent all-around.
Here are eight ways to get that refund working for you:
1. Take an online course for a specific skill.
This doesn’t mean you have to shell out thousands of dollars or return to school full-time. These days, there are tons of online courses available, many of which are free or low in cost. If there’s a particular skill set that is well-regarded in your line of work but absent from your resume, now is the time to add it. Whether it’s a technical skill (e.g. software, statistics) or a soft skill (e.g. management, leadership), learning a new skill can boost your confidence, impress prospective employers and command a higher salary. Don’t forget to add it to your resume.
2. Attend an industry training or trade conference.
Whether you work in a common industry (e.g. healthcare, finance), or one that is a bit more obscure (say, underwater hospitality), nearly all industries have trade conferences, expos, trainings, and other events where you can network, pitch, sell and brush up on your field-specific knowledge. For just the cost of registration (and maybe associated travel), you’ll meet prospective clients, business partners and mentors. Plus, you’ll learn what’s brand spankin’ new in the industry, which you can leverage in the name of a promotion.
3. Buy a modern, well-fitting suit.
We don’t advocate blowing through your entire refund check on all the latest fashions, but there is one item of clothing that is a must in every professional’s closet: a modern, industry-appropriate, well-fitting and comfortable suit. Even if you don't believe that style matters in your particular line of work, a sharp suit can make a strong impression and boost your self-confidence at the next interview, business meeting or networking event. Have at least one neutral-colored, clean and pressed suit, ready to roll at all times. You never know when the next opportunity will arise.
4. Hire a career coach.
Consider the benefits of hiring a professional coach. If you feel stagnated, confused about next steps, or exhausted by the job search, an experienced coach can help breathe new life into your work ambitions. A good coach can beef up your resume and LinkedIn profile, boost your networking presence, prep you for challenging interviews, and teach you critical negotiation techniques. Securing a successful job transition can be difficult (whether we're talking a promotion, a new job or a whole new field). The money you invest in a career coach is likely to come back to you tenfold in the form of higher pay and greater fulfillment.
5. Upgrade your professional tool belt.
Sharpen your competitive edge by ensuring that your professional tools are top-notch. Whether you're an accountant who depends on complex software or an artist ready to try a different canvas, the advice is the same. New products and materials are constantly hitting the market, increasing efficiency and pushing the limits of creativity. Do your research and purchase the best equipment your trade has to offer. Armed with the right hardware, software and supplies… you’ll be unstoppable.
6. Download good "apps".
Your time, money and connections are your three most valuable career-related resources. Yet, with so much going on in your life, it probably seems hard to keep track of any of them, doesn't it? Lucky for us, there are apps out there to help you do just that. Use your computer, tablet and/or smartphone to access "applications" that mange your money, schedule your time and organize your networks. You can find "To-Do" lists for your tasks and deadlines, sophisticated calendars that help structure your schedule, expenditure trackers for your finances and phone books that re-arrange your contacts by job title and other helpful networking categories. Flip through the demos, read the reviews and then buy one or two to get you started.
7. Take your colleagues to lunch.
Part of what makes a job satisfying, is the feeling of community that one gets from their team. So, whether you currently have a group of co-workers that you feel grateful for, or want to make a friend or two to "talk shop" with, treating a few folks to lunch is a great way to foster some business bonding. Take them to that little bistro you like so much, or just have a few pizza pies delivered to the office during lunchtime. It can help to offset the daily stresses of hard work and foster communication between you and your comrades.
8. Decorate your work space.
Statistics show that employees who decorate their work space are more productive than their counterparts. So, think about what gets you motivated and make sure your space reflects those stimulating sounds, sights and scents that keep your spirits at their highest. Paint your home office a warm color, spruce up your cubicle with colorful flowers or keep soothing oils in the car for your days "out in the field."
Too often people spend their refund check on impulsive purchases, only to find that the clothes quickly go out of style or the gadget is obsolete a few months later. Your refund check can be so much more useful for your career and general life satisfaction. Take a moment to assess your professional trajectory—everything from your office desk to your industry skill set, from your business suit to your networking opportunities—and find the best way to invest the money in yourself. You’ll reap those career benefits for a lifetime.
David is an experienced career coach and copywriter. His clients range from recent college grads to C-level executives. He helps professionals navigate the complex modern-day job search to find more fulfilling, better-paying jobs. For more information, visit: davidthefixer.com
Dr. Dinorah Nieves is a life coach, writer and motivational speaker known for her unique brand of edgy enlightenment designed to help you to get focused and grow hard. For more information, visit: http://www.DinorahNieves.com