7 ways to boost your career
For many of us, the first week of January is a time of new beginnings -- and what better place to wipe the slate clean than at work?
Here, we offer seven practical ways to give your career -- and your personal self-confidence -- a healthy boost in 2007.
Be positive (and proactive)
Instead of moaning about a bothersome problem at work, figure out how to solve it. In First-Job Survival Guide: How to Thrive and Advance in Your New Career, workplace consultant Diane Decker addresses "difficult co-workers." A culture of negativity "can become contagious, like a cold or virus." So be the one to help stop it. You're "going to be viewed as a positive contributor, especially by management. What a breath of fresh air, literally, for someone to come forward and say, 'Here's what I've thought of to eliminate [the problem] and here's what some other companies are doing.'" Bonus points if your solution will "benefit the entire organization rather than just yourself."
Do more than you're paid to do
Many of us already feel overloaded at work, but consider putting in "free time" as a way to boost your visibility and demonstrate skills that get overlooked in your "day job." Every workplace has big projects that need to be tackled and committees that need to be chaired, but often few employees willing to take them on. If you're licensed in CPR, consider heading the company's fledgling first aid committee and use your passion about workplace safety to enlist other volunteers. Or if you're an engineer dying to share your love of math with kids, develop a tutoring program for students in your community. You'll display strong organizational skills as well as interest in your profession's future. But be sincere -- if you're only handling the school-supplies-for-needy kids project because you're angling for a promotion, think again. Ask yourself if you'll be glad you took on the task whether or not it comes with a public thank-you.
Expand your knowledge
Los Angeles's museums are places where people from all walks of life find common ground and expand their horizons. Most offer docent training for volunteers. Think of it as free education -- and education never hurt anyone's career. A new area of expertise makes you a more valuable and interesting employee -- and you never know who you'll meet or what opportunities might open up along the way.
Take a leadership class
If your workplace does not invest in professional development, search the Web for conferences, workshops and training events to attend on your own time and dime. You can expect to pay from $200 for a two-day leadership training workshop at a suburban hotel or $1,300 for a one-day mutual fund credit analysis workshop in New York City. A management training course called "Chart Your Course" challenges female executives to do everything from swab the deck to captain a tall ship. Cost? About $3,000. Anticipated return on the investment? Enhanced resume, job performance and contacts. How to let the bosses at work know about your initiative? When you return to your job, offer to present a 15-minute mini-workshop to share what you've learned with colleagues. It may change the bosses' minds about the value of professional development -- and get you noticed as a self-starter and team player.
Expand your circle
Promise yourself that you'll do at least ONE thing each month that will help you expand your professional "circle of friends." "People think of networking as trying to get a job or get a lead as opposed to building up relationships," says Diane Decker, workplace consultant and founder of Mount Prospect-based Quality Transitions. Even if you're thrilled with your job or company, get out there and make networking a priority. "If we're just staying within ourselves, not considering other options, it doesn't help us think about new possibilities."
Decker, author of First-Job Survival Guide: How to Thrive and Advance in Your New Career (JIST Books, $12.95), suggests attending a professional meeting of a group not in your field, but where a subject you care about (perhaps communications skills or integrated marketing) will be discussed. It'll provide you with a new way to learn and think about the topic. Or devise a system of regularly following up with contacts you've already made. Invite one out for coffee or lunch. It'll do wonders for your professional self-confidence.
Commit to creating and maintaining your work and life priorities. And realize, says career and life transition coach Leslie Godwin, that "work-life balance" may be tough to achieve. "I believe we have certain priorities and we need a way to keep those priorities straight," says Godwin, author of From Burned Out to Fired Up: A Woman's Guide to Rekindling the Passion and Meaning in Work and Life (Health Communi-cations Inc., $13.95). Having these "guiding principles" helps "reduce those distractions that make your life a big checklist." So make your gym workouts, your son's basketball game, and dinner with the girls just as sacred as your office's quarterly sales meeting. The business case? "People will stay at their job longer, be more productive, and create a more positive atmosphere in the workplace," says Godwin, as employee turnover is demoralizing -- and expensive. "There's a huge downside to having a workplace that doesn't allow people to have a good quality of life."
Boost your image
Take a good look in the mirror. It sounds harsh, but if you wish to be recognized as a professional, you must be honest about the image you project. Image and wardrobe consultants have helped many a CEO and television anchor. But did you know that Los Angeles's large department stores provide similar services at no charge? (Phone ahead to make sure there is no minimum purchase requirement.) Whether assembling an entire wardrobe or helping you find the perfect power suit, these shopping experts will give advice, pre-select items and have them waiting for you. They'll also keep in touch when new items come in that would compliment your existing wardrobe. Call to inquire about personal shopping services and schedule an appointment. Other fashion experts recommend cleaning your closet to find new ways of using what you already have. Old favorites often find new life when you mix up what's on your shelves or make a trip to the shoeshine or tailor for repairs and alterations.