The worst time to look for a job is when you must have a new one immediately. Job searching under duress often results in nervous interviewing, surface-level research and decision making from relatively few options -- none of which may be ideal long-term career matches. Don't leave your future to chance. If you are one of the millions who is professionally employed and not in need of an immediate career change, here are ways you can improve your long-term career prospects today:
1. Identify at least two different roles that seem compelling to you. You do not have to be qualified for these positions today, nor do they have to exist in your company. However, these roles should be remotely related to your current skill set. They are career options that look interesting. Once you have a couple targets, think about why and what interests you. Is it that the role involves travel or allows you to train and mentor others? Maybe it pays more or offers some flexibility for working from home? Perhaps it is in an industry that fascinates you or involves challenging projects.
There is no right or wrong answer, but pay close attention to what appeals to you, and write it down. This will give insight into your motivations and targets. With this knowledge, you can examine your current role to see if there are ways to incorporate more of your motivators today. Also, you can make future decisions to aid in moving to a more desired path. With long-term goals, even if they are lofty, you can add additional purpose to your daily tasks and make ongoing decisions that are more in line with your career "big picture."
2. Subscribe to an industry or career-specific magazine or news source. Knowledge is power in the workplace. All businesses must stay relevant to their customers in order to beat competition and increase revenue. Reading about industry trends, advancements and success stories keeps you in touch with market conditions. This information gives you plenty to talk about with peers, managers and clients, but it also allows you to see which companies and professionals are leading the pack. You can follow their examples in your own workplace and look for opportunities to interact with the best in your field through industry events, presentations and associations.
You are often judged by the company you keep. If you associate with and learn from those that stand out from the rest, you are likely to find yourself with better opportunities both inside and outside your firm.
3. Do exceptional work. In any role, there is a way to perform at your best. Look for ways to deliver a top performance. Show up early, be flexible to new assignments, have a positive attitude, collaborate with other departments, pay attention to the little details and figure out how your role impacts the company's big picture. Employees who value their work perform better than those who don't understand how they fit into the business.
Also, be honest with yourself about why others are in roles more senior than yours. Most often, promotion results from top performance in your current role and showing the professional skills and demeanor relevant for the next role. People who get promoted exhibit the skills necessary for a higher-level position before you are offered the position. Make your work count.
4. Be professionally curious. Talk to people about their careers. Learn more about how success is measured in other roles, departments and companies. Ask people their thoughts on different industries. Take a class on a professionally relevant subject. Attend an industry conference or association group. In short, challenge yourself to expand your business knowledge through interactions with people every week. This is called networking, but it can be as simple as sharing a coffee break with Jim in accounting to hear about the impact of the new online expense reporting policy.
People hire people. You never know what connections may be relevant when you start your next job search, so make a habit of making good connections everywhere you go. Be interested, responsive and polite, and you will be amazed at how many people will become part of your "network." In general, most people like to be helpful. Take the time to learn about others, and be helpful when you can. It is no secret that those who excel socially have a much easier time with the job search and interview process.
As in all things in life, getting in front of a daunting task early is always easier and less stressful than reacting to a career surprise. Changing jobs is to be expected. No matter how secure you feel today, the time will come when either you or your employer will decide it is time to change. Take these small steps now to prepare for a smooth career transition on your terms. After all, isn't luck where opportunity meets preparation?
Robin Reshwan is the founder of Collegial Services, a consulting/staffing firm that connects college students, recent graduates and the organizations that hire them and a certified Women's Business Enterprise (WBE). She has interviewed, placed and hired thousands of people across a broad spectrum of companies and industries. Her career tips and advice are used by universities, national clubs/associations and businesses. A Certified Professional Résumé Writer, Robin has been honored as a Professional Business Woman of the Year by the American Business Women's Association. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa and as a Regents Scholar from University of California, Davis.
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