I actually worked for a large corporation in long ago days. While the time there taught me that corporate life wasn’t the career that I ultimately wanted for myself, I also learned a lot from my mentors on ways to get ahead, much of which is good advice no matter what career choice you choose to take.
When it comes to your career, it is usually small things over a long period of time that add up to the success that you achieve. Getting into the habit of making small improvements on a daily basis will reap huge rewards over the long run. If you find yourself at your desk with some free time, here are 25 things you can do to help improve your career.
Find A Mentor: If you do nothing else on this list today, do this. Find someone (or several people) that you respect and ask them to mentor you. Most people will be more than happy to pass along advice that they have learned over the years which can be invaluable in helping your career. They will also be great people to use as a sounding board with ideas you have and help you figure out the best way to obtain the goals you are seeking to accomplish. A mentor can have amazing effects on your career and will make your advancements much easier.
Start Your Own Part-Time Business: I’m a firm believer that if you want to have the perfect job, you’re going to have to go out and create it yourself. While I have had many jobs over the years that I have truly enjoyed, it wasn’t until I started building my own sites and blogs that I realized what true passion for something was. Begin part-time and build slowly when you have free time, but start the process today. Five years from now you will be so thankful that you did and you might even find that it ends being your full time work.
Identify How You Procrastinate: We all do it, but if you can identify how you’re doing it and put in a system to discourage yourself from doing so, you will dramatically increase your productivity. My big vice was watching TV far too much and I’ve had to also ween myself from spending too much time on social networking sites as well. Once you have identified places that you are spending too much time, take steps to reduce the amount the time you spend on them and instead use that time to further your career.
Pinpoint Work Essentials: The big myth in business is that the ones who work the hardest are the ones that get ahead the most. Working hard is important, but working smart is just as important. Working smart means finding the areas within your job that are essential to your group and to the company and focusing most of your resources in those area. This is one of the best pieces of advice I ever received when working for a large company. Take some time to look at your job and what portions of it are most essential to others both inside and outside your group. If you pinpoint those areas that are most essential, you become the person that people come to when things need to get done. Definitely take the time to improve your organizational leadership skills.
Begin Making Lists: I used to think that making lists was useless until I started making them myself in a way that was useful for me. I actually have two lists – one is a list of all the things I want to do and one is my daily must do list. On the daily list, I only place the three most important things I have to do that day and work on those three things until they’re done. Once finished, then I can go to my general list and choose projects from there. This ensures that I get those things that I may not like to do as much that would be constantly delegated to the end of the longer list. How you develop your list to work for you may be very different, but creating a list system will help you be more productive. Once you complete something, don’t throw the list away. Instead, date and file them in a work completed folder. This will allow you to have a documented list of all the tasks you accomplished which you can take out at your next performance review or when asking for a raise.
Learn a Second Language: As someone who was the worst student ever when it came to languages in school, I’m living proof that absolutely anyone can learn a second language. I think all of my high school language teachers would roll over in their graves if they knew I was proficient in Japanese. Being proficient in a second language can open up a lot of career opportunities and is well worth pursuing if you have an interest in one. There are plenty of resources online including those developed by the Foreign Service Institute.
Take Some Classes: Too many people feel that education ends when you receive that college diploma. In fact, it’s a never ending pursuit even if you aren’t taking formal classes. There are almost certainly classes you can take or skills that you can obtain that will make it easier for you to advance in your career. Take a few moments to talk with your boss or a mentor to find out what skills will make your advancement easier. Talk with your personnel department and ask if they will help pay for you to obtain these skills. Many will. It’s easier than ever to take classes while working full time with online education.
Update Your Resume: Take some time to look over your resume to update it and improve it. It’s always a good idea to have an up-to-date resume handy on the off chance that another opportunity arises. Make new copies and place them in your briefcase so that they are always ready to hand out.
Get Linked: Web 2.0 has made it easy to make new contacts with people that have a similar background and career interests. If you haven’t signed up yet, consider joining Linkedin which can greatly expand your networking resources. If you have already joined, take some time to explore and find some other people you may want to contact.
Send Some Emails: I have learned over the years that one of the most important things you can do in any job you have is to stay in contact with people you meet. This can be an easy way to improve your career, keep network lines open and create new network contacts. There are probably more than a few professional contacts that you have made that you haven’t touched based with in awhile. There may be some people that you have never met, but that you would like to make contact with. Spend a few minutes sending out emails to some of these people to reestablish contact or create a new contact.
Make A Few Calls: For the exact same reason that you should send out some emails, you should also make a few phone calls to catch up with peers and others. Calling is a more direct approach that will make sure that your message doesn’t get lost in all the other emails the recipient receives.
Make A Lunch Date: One of the most effective tools I used when I was working for a large company was the lunch break. First because I really didn’t like eating alone, but later because of all the advantages that come from it. Lunch dates give you an opportunity to talk with people about ideas you have in a more informal setting than the office. Making a lunch date is also excellent way to network and catch up with peers and mentors, or to meet someone new you’ve wanted to talk to. If everyone seems to be too busy with their work schedule, this is an excellent time to set up a meeting.
Go To Career Events: Take some time to research what meetings, presentations, talks or events are taking place in your area which are related to your career and sign up to attend. Not only are you likely to gather some good information, these are excellent places to meet new contacts and expand your contact network.
Join and Participate In Associations: If your career has an association, don’t only join it, but make an effort to participate in it. Most local chapters are always looking for people willing to lend a helping hand and doing so can easily put you in the position to meet those higher up in the organization. Again, this will open you up to a wide variety of new contacts and expand your network of contacts. It will also help you keep up with the newest developments in your career which has many advantages.
Show Some Appreciation: It’s amazing what a sincere, hand written “thank you” note can do for the amount of time it takes to create. With email and the paperless office, thank you notes stand out these days and definitely leave an impression on the recipient. Furthermore, they know that the time they spend helping you was appreciated and therefore will likely be more than willing to help out in the future as well. If someone has recently helped you out in some way, take a moment to thank them for their help. This is one thing that it’s hard to do too much of, so if in doubt, always side with sending the note of appreciation.
Reread All Your Documents: It took me a long time to break my bad habit of not rereading my writing before showing it to others, but I learned after a number of embarrassing mistakes which I should have known better. With the ease of spell checking, I got into the habit of assuming my work was fine after it cleared the spell check. It’s a bad assumption to make since a lot of things can go wrong even when words are spelled correctly. Get into the habit of rereading everything that you write whether it be an email, a report or any other work related document, especially after a spell check. You will avoid a lot of embarrassing amateurish writing mistakes and look a lot more professional in all your work.
Improve Your Writing Skills: Along the same lines as rereading your documents, you want to constantly work on improving your writing skills. Being able to put together reports, letters, proposals and other written information in a way that easily draws attention the the important points among all the information is a great skill to have that will get noticed. Take some time to go over basic writing techniques when you have some free time.
Improve Your Business Cards: Spend some time thinking about the impression you want your business cards to make and see if there are some changes that you can make to them to achieve what you want. I’m looking for more professional looking business cards that are still creative and will leave a lasting impression on anyone who receives them. Take a bit of time doing this and it may lead to an opportunity that would have never appeared if your business card was lost in the pile with everyone else’s.
Improve Your First Impression: While one of the big reasons I got out of the corporate world was so I didn’t have to worry about dressing corporate for good for first impressions, there is no doubt that they count. Dressing appropriately and having good hygiene and manners is important. Learn to make eye contact when speaking to people, smile, know how to introduce yourself confidently and always be on time (if not a bit early). Take a few moments to make sure that you are making a good first impression with everyone you meet.
Improve Your Public Speaking Skills: One of the most terrifying things for me is to do public speaking. Over the years, I have gotten a lot better, but when I first started teaching, even going in front of a classroom of high school students would have my stomach churning the entire morning before classes began. Being able to make a quality presentation is an important way to get noticed and improve your career prospects. Listen to the way that your favorite speakers deliver their information and adopt them into your own speaking. Join your local Toastmasters group to help you improve these skills.
Read: Get in the habit of reading at least an hour a day on a wide variety of topics. Some of it should be related to your chosen career and issues that pertain to it so that you keep up on the latest news and trends, but it’s not necessary to focus your reading habits exclusively on this topic. Reading should help spark new ideas, challenge your thinking process and expand your knowledge base – all things that can be helpful in your career advancement.
Clean Your Office Space: If your work area is anything like mine, it needs to have a good cleaning once a week or it will quickly get out of control. I actually have this marked down on my calendar to do every Friday afternoon and it’s amazing what 15 minutes will do to keep your desk organized. It may, however, take a bit of time to get to the point where all you need is 15 minutes to clean everything up. Start today to put things in order and put aside 10 minutes a day until you have your work area in the condition you want. You will be surprised at how much time you save looking for things and an orderly office leaves a good impression on anyone who works in your group or visits.
Set Some Career Goals: This is another one of those things that seems obvious and I thought I could get away with general ones that I had in my head, but now realize the power that comes with taking the time to write them down and make them both clear and specific. Give them a time limit if possible. While you may not always reach them, making them and knowing specifically what you want to achieve will get you a lot closer to them than not doing so. Set them for various time periods: 3 months, 1 year , 5 years, etc. and then begin working toward them.
Create a Blog or Website: Create a blog or website about your chosen career can be a great way to meet new people and share ideas. It can also be a great way to begin that part-time business mentioned earlier and may even end up being your full time job. I have found that creating content has a way of helping to crystallize the things that are truly important to me which goes a long way to helping me know what goals are most important for me to achieve. Starting any type of blog or journal will help you do the same. Just be sure that doing so will not get you in trouble with your company.
Love Your Job: Learn to love what you’re doing or begin looking for something else. Life is far to short to do something that you don’t truly enjoy. There are times when you may have to take a job that you don’t particularly like, but there is no reason that you have to be stuck there. If you don’t thoroughly enjoy what you’re doing, start implementing steps to get a job that you do love. There is nothing better in the world to get up every morning and knowing that even if you weren’t getting pays a dollar to do so, you would still be doing the same thing that you are doing. It’s also much harder not to improve your career opportunities when you love what you do because the energy and enthusiasm you have for what you do tends to be infectious and draw people to you. And if for some reason you don’t know what you love, start experimenting. That’s the only way to find out.
Image courtesy of varshesh