Being a professional means being able to identify and seize opportunities for career advancement whenever and however they present themselves. But being a professional also means being busy. When you are juggling multiple team responsibilities, staying on task (and deadline), and otherwise putting in 40-plus hours every week, how is it possible to develop and follow through on plans for improving your professional outlook? Luckily, furthering your success can be a matter of making a few relatively simple commitments; just don’t think of them as quick fixes. Think of them instead as the necessary first steps on the career trail you will be blazing.
1. Enhance Your Networks
Nothing is more valuable in business than making connections. Think about the various ways you might connect with fellow professionals in your field. Despite the prevalence of social media, face-to-face interactions are still the gold standard in forging viable, sustained professional relationships. The business community overwhelmingly prefers face-to-face meetings for generating quality ideas, negotiating, establishing credibility and sincerity, and discovering new employment opportunities. Take the time to research informal meet-ups and “happy hours” in your area or register for at least one work-related conference or seminar. At the same time, leverage your social media presence by making your profile professional. For example, LinkedIn recommends adding a photo to your profile. Doing so boosts the chances of profile views by 14 percent.
2. Read Up
To facilitate conversations with your newly engaged peers and potential colleagues, you’ll want to be well-informed. Subscribe to news publications offering business insights that align with your interests and expertise. Read books by thought leaders and top executives in your industry. Make it a goal to become as conversant as possible with the latest terminology and trends in your profession.
3. Make a Career-Related Bucket List
It may feel more like daydreaming than work, but before you can achieve your aspirations, you need to confirm them. Consider including the following items on your career bucket list:
- Companies you’d like to work for.
- Titles you’d like to list on your resume.
- Salaries you’d like to earn.
- Skills you’d like to acquire.
- Programs, applications, and/or technologies you’d like to master.
- Projects you’d like to manage and/or successfully complete.
- Life goals you’d like to achieve that are dependent upon work satisfaction and financial security (e.g., places you’d like to travel to)
Putting those aspirations down on paper doesn’t just make them more real; documenting your desires and ambitions is a good exercise in self-awareness.
4. Make Your Resume Quantitative
Your resume is always going to be a work in progress. You are always acquiring new experience, and your professional story is always being retold. More to the point, you’re competing with others through your resume. According to career consultant Maxie McCoy, one of the best ways to make your resume stand out is to revise it so that it includes more data. In a recent conversation with Business Insider, McCoy notes, “It’s one thing to tell recruiters and hiring managers what you’ve done. It’s another to prove it to them with specifics. Providing hard numbers, growth percentages and scale will go a long way.”
Your resume is also more than the sum of your duties, responsibilities, accomplishments and years in the workforce. Your resume demonstrates that your work is informed by professional and personal values. One of the best ways to build your resume is to make sure it includes volunteer experience. According to Fortune magazine, hiring managers want to see evidence of job applicants’ “strong character,” and look for mention of service on applicants’ resumes. Volunteering can also help you learn new skills that are not available to you in your current job. Volunteering provides opportunities for you to take the following career-enhancing steps:
- Demonstrate initiative.
- Acquire experience working collaboratively in a team environment.
- Rise to the challenges of leadership. (In many instances, volunteer responsibilities come with titles and other credentials that signify leadership.)
- Increase the diversity of your network.
Supplement your job performance evaluations with feedback from the organizations and community members you’ve volunteered with.
6. Learn How to Say Yes
One of the worst habits busy professionals pick up is saying “no” to things that aren’t explicitly job-related. Each time you say “no,” you might be missing an opportunity. You can train yourself to say “yes” more often by being more proactive about managing your time. When something worth saying “yes” to presents itself, put yourself in a position to determine if (and how) you can make the most of it. Create a master calendar and budget half an hour every day to reviewing it, updating it with new items, and taking advantage of its organizing tools (e.g., color-coding appointments and events based on categories specific to your schedule). Make it a goal to clean out your inbox at the end of every week. Open and respond to messages in a timely fashion, and maximize your email’s sorting, filtering and auto-reply features.
7. Invest in Your Education
Earning a certification or a full-fledged degree such as an MBA is a great way to take all of the preceding steps at once. Your classmates (and soon-to-be fellow alumni) will help expand your network. Your professors will introduce you to important business concepts and encourage you not just to read but to participate in conversations about what you’ve read. Your school’s career center can help you research prospective employers and job opportunities you may never have known existed. They can also help you create a highly effective resume. Your program may also offer additional hands-on (or experiential) learning in the form of internships and volunteer partnerships with area companies. These programs encourage you to remain open-minded and teach you the importance of viewing subjects from a variety of perspectives. And your decision to continue your studies will require you to make productive use of time.
Boise State is AACSB-accredited, and its online MBA is a great option for working professionals ready to fast-track a new career direction. Students can complete Boise State’s top-ranked program in as few as 12 months. Boise State offers the convenience and affordability of digital content while providing students with the same rigorous, relevant and stimulating curriculum as a traditional, two-year MBA. The Economist noted that “Cheaper, shorter MBAs around the world offer better returns.”
Learn more about the Boise State online MBA program.