Congratulations -- your job search was successful and you’ve landed a career opportunity. That is great news. You have a job. You are happy now, and that’s great. I don’t want to burst your bubble, but it is very likely that you will change jobs multiple times during your career. Don’t wait until you’re burned out or unemployed to ensure you are in a good position to make a change.
Working on your career is a lifelong pursuit. It is your responsibility take advantage of the opportunities that occur and achieve your goals. No one else is going to manage your career for you. Where do you begin if you have just started your career? Here are some guidelines to get you on the right track.
Create SMART goals. What do you want to be doing in five years, and where do you want to be doing it? Goals are the foundation of your career plan. If you don’t have goals set already, start with a few major goals and then turn them into SMART goals, which stands for specific, measurable, attainable, recorded and time bound. For example, let’s say you just received your Ph.D. and your career goal is science writing. You’ve accepted a part-time job writing science press releases for a pharmaceutical company. Your major career goals may be: (1) a full-time paid science writing job, (2) a science editor position and then (3) managing editor of a peer-reviewed science journal.
Your three major goals meet all the criteria for a SMART goal except being time bound. If you add a target date to each of these goals, you will have created three SMART goals. Once all your major goals meet the SMART criteria, add any subgoals that can help you achieve that major goal.
Keep networking. You should never stop networking. It must become a lifelong activity for you to successfully manage your career. Keep the business cards of people you meet. Connect with them on LinkedIn and on other professional networking sites. Be sure to remember that networking is a two-way street. You must also provide value to your connections. Share articles and industry information with them. Provide informational interviews when asked about your career. Support the activities of people in your network, and they will help support you.
Assess strengths and weaknesses. Everyone has both strengths and weaknesses that they bring to any job. Your strengths may be designing detailed research projects and analyzing data to identify core trends. Where are your weaknesses? What do you want to learn more about? What new skills could improve your career options? Investigate options to build your skills in those areas.
Focus on soft skills. Soft skills such as teamwork and communication skills are crucial to your success. Take advantage of every opportunity to build those skills. Volunteer for a team project if you typically do independent work. Ask to present on a topic of interest to groups both small and large.
Invest in yourself. Today’s organizations operate on tight budgets. Resources may not be available to send you to that course or conference that could help boost your career. That is not a valid excuse to stop learning and growing. Seriously consider investing in yourself instead of saying no if your organization won’t support you financially.
Be visible. Create a strong LinkedIn profile if you don’t have one already. Then maintain that profile. Have any emails you receive forwarded directly to a personal email account so you can respond quickly. Join groups that mesh with your career interests. Become active in those groups and network with group members. Identify other professional networking sites that might fit your needs, such as ResearchGate. You will probably find a large list of niche sites once you start looking for them. Be selective when joining, because the more networks you join, the more networks you have to maintain.
Stay tech savvy. Technology is changing at a breakneck pace. How can you keep up with these changes without making it a part-time job? Check out websites like Mashable and Wired for the latest in tech industry news, gadgets and apps. Make friends with co-workers who immediately get the latest technology. Walk around a tech store, ask questions of the salespeople and play with the latest gadgets they have on display.
Identify and follow trends. Life moves quickly, and trends can have a large impact on our lives. What trends are shaping our futures now, and what are projected to be the trends of the future? You can find many ways to stay abreast of changes in trends that could influence your career. Subscribe to journals in your field. Follow trend settings on LinkedIn. Read news articles, blogs and websites that track trends across the world. Read what leading futurist websites like the World Future Society, the RAND Corporation and Future by Design have to say about where we are heading.
Automate it. If you’ve worked on the steps listed above, you now have a list of tasks to achieve. Put those tasks in your calendar, but don’t try to do everything at once. List your goals in logical order and spread them out across the year. Set up electronic reminders that help you stay on track with your tasks. Try using an app like Coach.Me, GoalsonTrack or Nozbe to keep you on organized and on track.
Remember that career management is a lifelong activity. It’s not a sprint to the finish -- it’s a marathon. Give yourself the space and time to work on these activities. Start now with setting goals, and keep working on each task in your plan. One step at a time will lead you toward a fulfilling career.
Saundra Loffredo is director of student and alumni affairs in the educational affairs department at Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, N.Y.
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