The smartest move you can make to improve your career in 2012 isn’t to set lofty goals or draw up personal mission statements, experts say, but to focus on something you can act on right now.
So what sorts of things can you begin doing today that will pay dividends all through the months ahead?
Here are six ideas – resolutions, if you will – to get you started:
Find the spotlight
With the economy and job market still shaky, this isn’t the time to stay in the shadows, said Richard Wajs, president of Toronto-based TWC International Executive Search Ltd.
“Companies facing slow growth are likely to reorganize,” he noted, “creating opportunities for people who demonstrate their passion and interest in their business and make it clear they can be a key element of the organization’s future success.”
The need for visibility is even more critical for those in the job hunt. “But it’s not just visibility – it’s focused visibility,” Mr. Wajs said. “Otherwise, you can spend a lot of time talking to people who can’t help you.”
For example, determine the key people you would likely report to at a potential employer and be where those target people are, such as at conferences or in webinars.
Hone your coaching skills
Organizations are increasingly developing leadership from within, and effective leaders need skills in coaching and development of talent, said Eileen Chadnick, leadership coach with Big Cheese Coaching in Toronto. “Unfortunately, this is something that people aspiring to top management can lose sight of in the fast-changing business environments we’re facing during this recovery,” she said.
So seek out people you think are effective at coaching employees, then observe and learn from them. Take advantage of training offered either by your company or through your professional association. And vow to be accessible and willing to help develop others by deliberately finding ways to do some coaching on the job, Ms. Chadnick advised.
Be a social media butterfly
People who use social media sites just for networking and job searches are missing opportunities to develop not only their expertise but also their professional reputation, said Randall Craig, Toronto-based author of Social Media for Business.
Several social media sites, for example, have robust professional discussion groups, question-and-answer comment trails, and blogs you can participate in on a regular basis. Get involved by posting links, videos or posing questions to open a new discussion, he said.
“In addition to the immediate benefit you get from the insights of others, the support and leadership you demonstrate in these communities is a long-term investment in your network and professional reputation,” Mr. Craig said.
Take the lead, even without the title
Organizations are relying less on hierarchy, so employees at every level need to think of themselves as leaders.
“More people need to learn how to lead and influence others even when they don’t report to you, and even if you don’t have any [staff who report to you]” said Katie Bennett, principal of Double Black Diamond Coaching in Vancouver.
Sit down and assess how good you are at influencing decisions and building collaboration. Make it your responsibility to hold others accountable, rather than relying on the boss or the team leader to call the shots.
Whether you lead others or not, people will develop a greater appreciation for your ability to get things accomplished.
Another way to expand your brand is to highlight skills or knowledge you possess beyond what your position requires, said Toronto-based corporate trainer Colleen Clarke. Volunteer for committees that are outside your area, for example, to demonstrate your range and potential. Or offer to teach an informal class on a topic you know well or are certified in. “To be known as someone with more than one dimension will be increasingly important in the coming year,” Ms. Clarke said.
Dress up for success
Casual Fridays have made informal dress increasingly common in the workplace and a backlash is developing, said Toronto business image consultant Linda Allan, president of Linda Allan Inc.
“A number of clients have contacted me recently to present workshops on appropriate business attire. They’re realizing that employees who are lax in their dress aren’t good representatives of their company’s brand,” she said. “The rest of the world is still much more formal than North America, so laxity in dress or grooming could stall or derail a deal with their global partners.”
It’s wise to put a little more thought into your wardrobe and come dressed for a work day – not a weekend – even on Fridays, she said. Your credibility could be at stake.
Celebrate silver linings
While the coming year may be brighter than the past one, “the good times are not going to roll for a long time. This is not a time to add one more burden on the leadership and bring down morale with complaining and negativity,” said John Izzo, Vancouver-based leadership consultant and author of Stepping Up: How Taking Responsibility Changes Everything.
Focus on what is going well, he said, and celebrate success. “Even if they are small successes, staying positive is going to gain you a lot of credibility with managers and peers. When things do pick up again, they are going to remember the people who were trying to find solutions.”
AND A TIP FOR MANAGERS
Here’s a new year’s tip for managers: Give telecommuting workers more slack, said Harold Jarche, chairman of workplace consulting firm Internet Time Alliance in Sackville, N.B.
While information technology has liberated many employees from their offices, many managers have been slow to accept that staff who are out of their sight can still be productive. “For many employers this has created expectations that telecommuting employees check in with the office regularly,” Mr. Jarche noted. “This can require an unnecessary layer of extra work for both workers and their bosses and can stifle individual initiative.”
YOUR REALITY CHECK
Even if you don’t feel your job is at risk, it’s in your best interests to be as valuable as possible in the labour market, said Lou Clements, managing director of career transition consulting firm Clements United Inc. in Toronto.
A simple self-evaluation can be done in a few minutes and can highlight gaps you should be addressing, he said. “Do that today, to assess your situation before you have a change imposed on you.”
Here’s a checklist to evaluate how marketable you are and what flexibility you have:
Personal presentation: No matter what your age, it’s an advantage to be in good physical condition and to dress for success.
Education: What courses or certifications could improve your knowledge and marketability?
Functional experience: What responsibilities could you add to your current role? A variety of experiences and tasks could help you move to a new role.
Professional reputation: What steps could you take to enhance your professional profile, such as getting more active in an industry association or online issue discussion group?
Personal motivation: Are you inspired by what you’re doing? If not, that should be motivation to start to transition into a more rewarding role.
Sector experience: Are you in a growing industry, with an organization at the top of its business? If not, even if you love what you do, you should be creating a safety net now for a move if conditions deteriorate.
Personal network: People can become isolated by their work and its demands. You can never be too well-connected in both your profession and personal life. Don’t let auld acquaintances be forgot.