You're hunched over in your cubicle, pattering away at the keyboard with another deadline looming. You're focused on the task at hand, guzzling coffee by the thermos, and devoting your energy to getting the job done. But when your work is done, how much energy are you devoting to putting your career on the right track?
In the following pages, we offer a set of five tips for planning your career and controlling its trajectory. How do you find a satisfying career path? How do workers get hired at a company that's never posted any listings for open positions? How do you put yourself in the running for a promotion? And what are some warning signs that it's time to move on with your career? Read on for the answers to these questions.
Finding a fruitful and rewarding career path requires looking beyond salary figures. Give an honest appraisal of your strengths and weaknesses. Do you have good communication skills? Can you quickly master new software programs? Think about where you'd like to work -- do you want to work in a major metropolis, a home office or a foreign country? Consider your qualifications and work history -- maybe you have a degree, an internship or previous work experience in a given field. Account for your personal values -- do you want more time to spend with friends and family? Do you value job security above all else?
Whether you're just beginning your working life or changing careers, do some reconnaissance first. Resources like the Occupational Outlook Handbook, a publication from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, provide overviews of the responsibilities, required skills, salaries and other information for hundreds of occupations. Consult a career services department at your college or through your state's labor department. Contact companies that interest you and schedule an informational interview (a meeting intended to gather industry and career information).
Be Creative and Persistent in Your Job Searches
Once you've decided on a career path, don't limit yourself to responding to postings on job boards. Instead, directly contact companies you'd like to work for, inquiring whether or not they have posted job vacancies. Subscribe to the company's social media accounts, which are an increasingly popular avenue for announcing job openings [source: Dickler]. We'll talk more about networking on the next page, but speaking with your colleagues is a great way to find out about new job opportunities.
Be persistent -- set a weekly quota of resumes you intend to send out. Tailor your resume to each employer. Highlight your past accomplishments, their benefit to your employer, and why they make you the right candidate for the job. Keep your resume to one page and diligently proofread the document.
Once an employer approaches you for a job interview, prepare. Research the history and the particulars of the company, anticipate your interviewer's questions, rehearse your answers and prepare thought-provoking questions of your own. Arrive no more than 10 minutes early (and not a minute late), dress appropriately and give clear, thoughtful answers throughout the interview. Send a message of thanks after the interview. Even if you are passed over for the job, maintain a relationship with your contacts at the company and periodically inquire about new openings.
Build Your Network
Networking -- forming professional relationships with other groups and institutions -- is vital to mapping out your career. A wide and diverse network can open doors you never knew existed, and survey after survey shows that significant percentages of new hires are made through employee referrals.
You can make new contacts by attending industry functions, joining professional organizations relevant to your field, and creating a profile on a social network like LinkedIn or Facebook. At face-to-face events, introduce yourself and strike up conversations with as many people as you can. If you're shy, think of a few icebreakers and rehearse a few talking points to ease into the conversation, and try to connect on a subject outside of work. Foster these relationships by periodically checking in with your contacts -- send an e-mail on birthdays, forward an interesting article or meet for lunch. When your contacts approach you with favors or requests for information, help them as much as you can. In general, do not ask favors of someone you've just met. But when it comes time to plot your next career move, ask your contacts about new job opportunities in their company, contact information for a hiring manager, a reference or other information that will give you a leg up during your job hunt.
Further Your Education
Higher education can make you more attractive to employers -- and it can make a huge difference in your salary. According to a 2011 report from the Georgetown University Center for Education and the Workforce, over the span of a lifetime, workers with a bachelor's degree earned an average of a million dollars more than workers with only a high school diploma. Workers with master's degrees earn about $400,000 more than those holding only bachelor's degrees [source: The College Payoff].
Look into programs at different universities and institutions to find the best value. If you have a job, your employer might offer a tuition assistance program to defray some of the costs of your coursework. If you're out of a job, many states offer education and training incentives for the unemployed. There are a range of federal and state grant programs as well as tax credits and deductions that can lessen the cost of furthering your education.
For more targeted skills, consider enrolling in a certification program. Certification programs usually are less costly and less time-consuming than pursuing a degree, yet still provide workers with salary-boosting skills or qualifications to transition into a new career. Certification programs are particularly popular with employees in the healthcare, education and information technology industries [source: Kern].
Know When to Hold (and When to Fold)
An integral part of your working life requires knowing whether to keep climbing the ladder -- or take your talents elsewhere.
Keeping your job or earning a promotion means becoming an indispensable employee. Volunteer to take on new responsibilities without overextending yourself. Show up earlier, leave later and make sure your boss notices the hard work you accomplish in the hours in between. Keep a running record of all your accomplishments, add to it every time you've solved a problem or met a goal at work, and call upon your achievements when you talk with your boss about a promotion.
You should also heed the signs that it's time to move on. Are you spinning your wheels on the same mundane projects while the best assignments consistently go to your coworkers? Is the company in poor financial shape with rumors of looming layoffs? Do you feel you are underpaid? Is the office culture rife with unethical behavior? Do you feel physically ill as a result of your job? Is it simply time for a change to rekindle your enthusiasm? If so, it's time to start a job search.
Need more career advice? Get on the right track with the links on the next page.
You've finally graduated, so what's next? First order of business: Where should you live? Check out our Where to Live After Graduation pictures.
- Burnsed, Brian. "How Higher Education Affects Lifetime Salary." US News and World Report. Aug. 5, 2011. (Feb. 5, 2012) http://www.usnews.com/education/best-colleges/articles/2011/08/05/how-higher-education-affects-lifetime-salary
- Carnevale, Anthony; Rose, Stephen; Cheah, Ban. "The College Payoff: Education, Occupations, Lifetime Earnings." Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. August 2011. (Feb. 5, 2012) http://www9.georgetown.edu/grad/gppi/hpi/cew/pdfs/collegepayoff-complete.pdf
- Clarke, Wayne. "Take Charge of Your Career Progress." The Telegraph. Mar. 18, 2009. (Jan. 30, 2012) http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/jobs/5012800/Take-charge-of-your-career-progress.html
- Dickler, Jessica. "The Hidden Job Market." CNNMoney.com. June 10, 2009. (Jan. 30, 2012) http://money.cnn.com/2009/06/09/news/economy/hidden_jobs/
- Goltz, Jay. "10 Things Job Applicants Should Know." NYTimes.com. Dec. 21, 2011. (Feb. 3, 2012) http://boss.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/12/21/10-things-job-applicants-should-know
- Goudreau, Jenna. "Take This Job and..." Forbes/MSNBC.com. Apr. 12, 2011. (Feb. 3, 2012) http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/42341821/ns/business-careers/t/take-job/#.TyuBfCMRa9R
- Hannon, Kerry. "Know a New College Graduate? Great Career Tips to Pass On." Forbes. April 28, 2011. (Jan. 30, 2012) http://www.forbes.com/sites/kerryhannon/2011/04/28/know-a-new-college-graduate-great-career-tips-to-pass-on/
- Jansen, Julie. "I Don't Know What I Want, But I Know It's Not This: A Step-By-Step Guide To Finding Gratifying Work." Penguin Books. 2010.
- Kern, Rebecca. "Online Certificate Programs Offer a Fast Track to a New Career." US News and World Report. March 26, 2010. (Feb. 4, 2012) http://www.usnews.com/education/online-education/articles/2010/03/26/online-certificate-programs-offer-a-fast-track-to-a-new-career
- Kiviat, Barbara. "Using Twitter and Facebook to Find a Job." Time. June 8, 2009. (Jan. 30, 2012) http://www.time.com/time/business/article/0,8599,1903083,00.html
- Levinson, Meridith. "How to Network: 12 Tips for Shy People." CIO.com. Dec. 11, 2007. (Feb. 4, 2012) http://www.cio.com/article/164300/How_to_Network_12_Tips_for_Shy_People?page=2&taxonomyId=3127
- Male, Bianca. "How to Network Like a Pro." Business Insider. Apr. 29, 2010. (Feb. 4, 2012) http://www.businessinsider.com/how-to-network-like-a-pro-2010-4?op=1
- Perman, Cindy. "How to Get the Job You Want." CNBC. Feb. 2, 2011. (Feb. 3, 2012) http://www.cnbc.com/id/41391658/How_to_Get_the_Job_You_Want
- Post, Peter. "For Interview, Don't Arrive Too Early." Boston.com. March 26, 2009. (Feb. 3, 2012) http://www.boston.com/jobs/news/jobdoc/2009/03/not_too_early_not_too_late.html
- Rich, Motoko. "The Newest College Credential." The New York Times. Jan. 7, 2011. (Feb. 5, 2012) http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/09/education/edlife/09certificate-t.html?pagewanted=all
- Right Management. "Survey Finds Wide Employee Discontent." Nov. 29, 2011. (Jan. 30,, 2012) http://www.right.com/news-and-events/press-releases/2011-press-releases/item22035.aspx
- Siegel Bernard, Tara. "Making Career Development Pay." The New York Times. Aug. 25, 2010. (Feb. 5, 2012) http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/26/education/26TUITION.html?pagewanted=all
- Taylor, Lynn. "10 Signs It's Time to Quit Your Job." Psychology Today. May 17, 2011. (Jan. 30, 2012) http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/tame-your-terrible-office-tyrant/201105/10-signs-its-time-quit-your-job
- Tyrell-Smith, Tim. "How to Choose a Career That's Best for You." USNews.com. Dec. 6, 2010. (Jan. 30, 2012) http://money.usnews.com/money/blogs/outside-voices-careers/2010/12/06/how-to-choose-a-career-thats-best-for-you
- Zappe, John. "Survey: Employee Referrals Are Really More Effective Than We Think." TNLT.com. Feb. 1, 2012. (Feb. 3, 2012) http://www.tlnt.com/2012/02/01/survey-employee-referrals-are-actually-more-effective-than-we-think/