If you're feeling the need to find a new career role, you're not alone. And the holiday down time is a perfect opportunity to assess your options and prepare for possible change.
Employee surveys this year have found job satisfaction levels near all-time lows, and job creation numbers have lagged below forecasts by economists. But there's rising optimism that the new year will bring renewed opportunity to dust off the career ladder and start climbing.
The employment outlook for 2011 is brighter, with 75 per cent of employers planning to maintain their current staffing levels and 16 per cent planning to take on more workers, according to the latest survey by Manpower.
And 84 per cent of employees, in another survey, said they are considering the possibility of moving to a new job in 2011, up from 60 per cent in a similar survey by staffing service Right Management at the end of last year.
Against this brighter backdrop, we asked a number of career experts for some direction on this question: What is the smartest thing you can do now to take advantage of trends that can advance your career in the new year?
Shake off your old role: Get moving
Too many people have hunkered down and simply done their job, thinking they had no options because of the tough economy. Make this your time to stop wasting time and finally get back on your career track, suggests John Beeson, author of The Unwritten Rules: The 6 Skills You Need to Get Promoted to the Executive Level.
Sit down now and review your goals. Does your current job allow you to demonstrate the skills and capabilities you need to move up to a bigger role? If it does, decide what steps you have to take to demonstrate your potential to more senior managers. If it doesn't, make a plan to move to another job that does, Mr. Beeson says.
Look for activities in your current job, or in another position within the company, that allow you to stretch your skills and increase your visibility in the organization. For example, take advantage of opportunities to lead a cross-functional team to demonstrate your ability to work with others, and to get things done across organizational lines. Let your interests be known to your boss and others who can help make your desired job move happen.
Clarify and focus your goals
As the economy continues to improve, employers will increasingly want to know what you can offer to help the recovery effort. Managers will have little patience for indecisiveness and generalities. As obvious as that sounds, it is often overlooked, says Calgary-based career coach Eileen Dooley.
"When I ask people what kind of new job they are looking for, their answers typically come out along the lines of, 'I want a senior professional role,' " she says, stressing that the answer is much too vague. "You need to focus on what kind of role. Corporate or non-profit? Developer or implementer? Manager or specialist? Contract or full-time? Don't make employers ask the questions: Tell them as completely as possible."
Employers want a clear, defined answer that speaks of knowledge, confidence and success. They want specifics, so get specific. Know what you are going after. Define it, research it, communicate it and stay true to what you want. The clearer you are, the easier it will be to achieve your goal.
Get serious about social media
The age of experimentation is over and it's time to get serious about your use of social media sites, advises Toronto-based career coach Randall Craig, co-author of Social Media for Business.
Many recruiters and hiring managers now use sites such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter strategically to check out candidates, so you should consider them career-building tools. Now is the perfect time to cleanse your profiles of unprofessional comments, over-the-top photos and dodgy comments. And "de-friend" those connections who fill your profile with fluff. As you clean up your act, add keyword-rich content that shows your professional side and makes your name more likely to come up in online searches.
Remember to keep your profiles on each social media site up to date and synchronized with the same message of your professional brand and expertise. Doing so will give you maximum exposure and avoid sending conflicting messages that could be seen as red flags when others are considering you for a new role. Remember to use the sites' privacy settings, which let you decide who can and cannot look at your profile.
Become the go-to person
With more competition for fewer positions, advancement depends, more than ever, on being a go-to person in the organization. Get as much professional development as you possibly can, says career adviser and speaker Colleen Clarke, of Colleen Clarke and Associates in Toronto.
Whether you take courses, or work toward certificates, diplomas or another degree, staying on top of your profession will keep you top of mind with management when they plan new projects and fill new positions. It's important that management knows about your expertise, so find ways to share insights about what you are learning with your colleagues and your superiors in meetings and on project teams.
Sharpening your communication skills is also be important because the increasing speed at which people expect to get and give information makes it important to be succinct.
Check your EQ
Emotional quotient (EQ for short) is a growing priority for employers concerned about developing a smooth-running, supportive culture in leaner organizations, says Eileen Chadnick, a principal of Big Cheese Coaching in Toronto.
Even if employers are not doing testing in hiring, they are evaluating candidates and doing performance appraisals based on factors considered essential for emotionally intelligent leadership. This advice applies not only to managers, but also those with line responsibilities across companies.
Make it a priority to reflect upon, and honestly assess, these factors: your self awareness, self regard, adaptability, interpersonal relationships, resilience, optimism, assertiveness, problem solving abilities, and sense of reality. When you understand your strengths and weaknesses, you will know the areas where you can focus on self-improvement. You could take a performance oriented leadership course, for example, or work with a coach who can customize a plan to fill any potentially limiting gaps.
Thank your supporting cast
People love to help, and they also love to hear how much their help is appreciated. This simple gesture will not only add to your credibility, it will also earn credits with people you can depend on to give you leads and recommendations in the future, says Linda Allan, president of management consultancy Linda Allan Inc. in Toronto
Give thanks now to those people - colleagues, supervisors, clients - who took the time to help you succeed at work this year with their advice, support and guidance, and made you look smarter and more professional along the way.
"Just take the time to thank someone personally - not by e-mail. … Walk over to someone and tell them sincerely, and in private, how much their support has meant to you," she says. If the person isn't in your office, call them to deliver your heartfelt message of gratitude.
Editor's Note: An earlier online version of this story and the original newspaper version of this story incorrectly gave the title of the book The Unwritten Rules: The 6 Skills You Need to Get Promoted to the Executive Level. This online version has been corrected.