To get ahead in your career, you have to know where you want to go. "Find a goal. When [you're] gainfully employed, it's easy to put career moves on the back burner. After all, [you're] comfortable, so why try for more?" says Anthony Morrison, vice president of Cachinko, which focuses on giving jobseekers the tools they need to find their ideal jobs. Being "comfortable" doesn't mean you're fulfilled, though. Figure out which area of your career is lacking and start thinking about how it could improve. "Just like your New Year's resolutions, make a career goal for 2012 and figure out how you can get there," Morrison says. With a goal in the forefront of your mind, you'll be ready to take steps to make it happen.
Once your goal is clear in your mind, you need to make a plan. "Identify specific steps you can take this year that will help you move in that direction, and put dates on those steps to increase the likelihood that you will hit them. Failure to plan is among women's biggest career issues. When you know where you're headed, your personal dynamic shifts," says Dorothy Tanahill Moran, C.P.C.C., A.C.C. and founder of NextChapterNewLife.
Whether your goal is to change careers or simply get a raise, you need to stretch yourself to see results. Think for a second: What can you do, what can you offer, that will show those around you that you're a force to be reckoned with? Roy Cohen, career coach and author of The Wall Street Professional's Survival Guide, says that "stretch goals" should expand knowledge and raise your professional visibility. You can do this in a number of ways, but Cohen suggests taking classes, getting a certification or writing an article for an industry publication. The more knowledge and visibility you gain, the more prepared you will be to leverage for your promotion or raise.
Changing your situation is hard if your only interactions are with those you already know. Just as you should "stretch yourself" mentally, you should stretch your relationships. "Establish relationships with 'influencers,'" says Cohen. "These people are in the loop with respect to industry trends, opportunities and career insights. Don't approach them for a job. If you approached me with that request, I'd say 'no,' and so would they. Instead, view them as mentors or advisors to whom you reach out for direction, perspective and ideas. Make sure they're busy people... They're more likely to have dynamic careers and have their hands in a range of initiatives."
If you're not sure how to establish this kind of relationship, start by attending chamber of commerce meetings, or join a service group such as Rotary or Kiwanis. Also, don't underestimate the importance of online social networking; follow and start conversations with those who are in the upper echelons of your desired field.
The last thing you want is to show up at a job interview or networking event to discover that someone with whom you've had friction in the past is sitting at the table. Whatever reasons you had for your differences, now is the time to put them behind you. "If you left a job on bad terms or you've been out of touch with key people from your old company, you need to catch up with them," says Cohen. "At the very least, determine what they'll say if called for a reference. Time is a great neutralizer of frayed edges and unresolved issues." So go ahead: Pick up the phone and let bygones be bygones. The people from your past may even be willing to provide a reference or a contact for future positions.
Finally, recognize that traditional corporate careers are no longer as safe as they once were. While you should make career decisions with great consideration and care, understand that now may be the time to take a risk. "Find your passion and translate it into a leveraged, online business. Knowledge is power, and people are searching for knowledge. Share yours," says Vidette Vanderweide, business mentor and founder of VidetteV.com.
If you have knowledge or experience from which others could benefit, put yourself out there and see how it goes. You may not want to leave your day job immediately, but there's nothing wrong with exploring entrepreneurship with care.
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