Christmas is a time for reflection. As well as being a valuable period in which we can spend time with family and friends, the holidays present an opportunity to think about what we want from our lives. So it’s no great surprise that for many, this period is also a time to reflect on our career.
In my last blog, I wrote about the qualities, traits and actions that successful people tend to have in common. So, staying broadly with the general theme of improving your prospects, I thought I’d share some thoughts about things you can do over the Christmas period to boost your career. This isn’t exclusively about climbing the career ladder, but also about working out whether your job (and the part it plays in your life) is right for you. Hopefully, there should be something useful here whether you’re seeking a new job or want to make the most of your current one.
If this is likely to be your last time on our website before the holidays, I wish you a restful Christmas and a peaceful, happy and successful 2017 - and without further ado, here are my top tips for actions you can take to supercharge your career prospects for 2017.
1. Review your CV
To start with the most obvious point, review and edit your CV until you’re proud of it. Many CVs I see either have basic, avoidable errors in them or are unfocused. I believe most people can prevent this by approaching their CV as a small project and applying the same thought to it that they would a job interview. Try these actions:
- Get a friend, family member, trusted colleague or recruitment consultant to review your CV (consider paying a CV writer to produce you a really good one if in doubt).
- Ensure your job start and finish dates match up and that any gaps in your career are accounted for.
- Make sure your CV is focused. If you’re going to apply for various roles that each require different elements of your skill set, it’s worth putting in the effort to produce different versions of your CV. Choose which part of your experience you present and ensure it is relevant to the job you’re applying for. You’ve done more than you realise in your career, so all good CVS are an exercise in shaping and refining until they are a coherent, relevant document.
- Don’t focus on your responsibilities, focus on your achievements. By all means bullet-point or briefly mention your key responsibilities, but balance these out with even more achievements. Achievements should constitute the bulk of your CV.
- Don’t panic: achievements don’t have to be numerical, margin or profit-based. Think about the context of your role and what you were hired to do, and go from there.
- Work on a watertight profile section that summarises what you can bring to a role. As I mentioned in my last blog, this is effectively your “elevator pitch” and should briefly mention your soft skills as well as some of your more technical ones. If you’re skilled at driving performance, this is the place to say so.
- However, if you do make sweeping claims, it’s a very good idea to back them up (briefly in a profile section and in more depth within the body of your CV). I’m not interested that you’re a “problem-solver” unless you can show me facts or figures that evidence this.
CVs are a big subject, and we’ll write more in the future about actions you can take to build a great CV.
2. Identify your areas for improvement and make a plan to address them
Reflect on any negative appraisal feedback you’ve had and ask a trusted colleague to discuss it with you. But do it right – give them advance warning, and “frame” the conversation so it is productive. You might say to a colleague, “Sarah, I’ve been told several times that I’m too impatient with new starters who are still learning the ropes, and I really want to address this. Can I speak to you about this next week? I’d really appreciate your thoughts, as I know this is a challenge for me and I want to improve”. Show your manager that you’re taking the initiative with your personal development plan.
3. Make a list about what you want from life
If you’re really not happy in your job, have you considered making a list about what you want from life? Where and how does your job sit within that list? Is it giving you what you want? Have you been really honest with yourself about what you want from a career?
It may be that you want to work less. It may be that you’ve discovered you’re more ambitious than you previously thought, and are feeling blunted by the lack of opportunities where you are. Be honest with yourself about what you want from a job and you may discover a few surprising home truths.
One useful tool to help you make sense of what motivates you and what does not is another list! Make a note of where you’ve worked before and the things you liked and didn’t like about the jobs and cultures in those environments. This will at least give you a starting point and a sense of the general environment that is right (or wrong) for you.
4. Think about different sectors and transferable skills
If you’re not happy in your current role, and were unhappy in any other, similar jobs you’ve held before, perhaps it’s time to review whether you’re in the right sector at all.
It’s worth doing some online research to review your options for a change in career. Identify some companies you’d like to work for and review their vacancies. What skills do they require? What qualities are they looking for? Then remind yourself of your core skills by reviewing your CV, project work, portfolio or experiences, and think about how those skills can fit into a new role. Which do you need to work on? Do you lack any key skills for the role you really want?
There are a great many online resources to help you gain those skills, such as Lynda.com, as well as further education classes local to almost everybody, where you can gain the skills you need, not to mention the option to volunteer in exchange for an opportunity to improve your skills in key areas. Are their opportunities to volunteer or shadow someone at a target company in your own time to gain crucial work experience? It’s surprising what you can learn and accomplish by simply asking, and being proactive. This is the one quality that tends to separate people who successfully change careers and those who simply wish they had.
5. Love your job? Great! Make a list about what could make your job or company better!
Finding ways to make a positive contribution to your employer’s culture can gain you recognition, some great credentials to add to your CV and a reputation as a good person to have around – as well as potentially making you more hireable or promotable.
In my last blog, I wrote about how taking on tasks beyond your immediate remit can have a positive impact on your career (provided this is done sensibly). In a similar vein, why not think about your company culture – perhaps have a chat with your colleagues – and offer to take on or implement something that will benefit everyone.
One candidate I know implemented a voluntary skills-share workshop which took place on regular lunchtimes, so employees from different functions could share useful skills, reducing the dependency of one department on another. Clearly, you need to be careful how you frame ideas like this when discussing them with senior staff and your peers, and ensure they are done in a way that gains buy-in, but if done in the right way, they can be well received.
6. Make a list of people who could help you (network)
If there’s one great resource that many jobseekers overlook, it’s people. In the course of your working life, hobbies, volunteering and other experiences, you have met more people than you can remember. You have also made an impression on more people than you realise. It’s time to hit LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, your CV and your private email account to remind yourself of just how many people you know. Make a list of anyone who works somewhere you’d like to work, or who knows someone who does. Don’t be frightened to approach people and ask for an introduction; provided you do it in the right way (i.e. respectfully and with grateful acknowledgement of their time and effort) most people will be prepared to help if you explain why you’re asking.
7. Consider broadening your search
We all know that times are tough, but remember that there are still about three-quarters of a million advertised job vacancies in the UK, not to mention innumerable start-up and new business opportunities. Many people are significantly influenced by their parents’ and/or peers’ career choices and don’t consider broadening their search – either when it comes to the jobs they seek or the places they consider working in.
1-1 Recruitment has close ties with Basingstoke so we’re well aware of the more than 6,000 businesses in the town, from start-ups to global names, many of which offer graduate (and other) opportunities. There are many job opportunities outside of London and the bigger population centres, and many towns and smaller cities are now home to a new generation of start-ups.
8. Try reading a self-help book
Life coaching is a bit of a hobby for me, so perhaps it’s inevitable that when it comes to career-planning, I’m a fan of self-help literature. Here are a few books I’d recommend:
- What colour is your parachute? by Richard N. Bolles is a hugely popular job-hunting guide that provides advice for job-hunters and career-changers alike. It also helps you to identify your ideal job. Read more about it here
- Be your own life coach by Fiona Harrold shows you how to set goals and put yourself on the path to achieving your dreams. Read more about it here
- Take yourself to the top by Laura Berman Fortgang is a useful guide to the difference between “getting by” and taking charge of your life. Read more about it here
9. Make a plan to talk about mentoring in the New Year
Everyone should have a mentor, but not all companies have mentor programmes. It tends to be a characteristic of large-but-progressive organisations, and with good reason. Large firms theoretically face a significant challenge keeping their people engaged, supported and inspired, yet many do a great job of it. For these firms, it makes great sense to pair up junior or mid-ranking professionals with more senior counterparts who can support them independently without being part of a formal chain of command. Mentors can teach so much about company culture, dealing with conflict, and so on, and can act as trusted, independent advisors. Many of the most successful professionals had mentors. Even if your company doesn’t have a formal mentor programme, it doesn’t prevent you from asking someone to be a mentor.
A word of advice: always discuss this with your manager first. A manager unused to a mentoring culture could take offence that you don’t consider them a mentor. You may have to explain why you want a mentor, and the different qualities they could provide that are distinct from a manager’s role and responsibilities.
10. Talk to 1-1 Recruitment!
The team at 1-1Recruitment is only ever a call or an email away – do get in touch - and our job search pages are a great place to start if you’re looking for a new role.