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Forget the Fairy Tales
Gold watches and pensions can be filed under “career fairy tales” these days. In fact, just surviving a round or two of layoffs is considered a happy ending. In a tough economy and an increasingly competitive job market, it may feel like you should always be planning your next move. And you should. But that doesn’t mean that you need to be consumed by a perpetual job search—or even that you need to leave the company. Here’s how to plan your next step without compromising your current situation.
Manage Your Online Presence
“You always need to be on the market,” says Alexandra Levit, author of New Job, New You: A Guide to Reinventing Yourself in a Bright New Career (and DailyWorth Career Coach). So even if you’re happily employed, Levit recommends devoting 10 minutes per day to developing your online reputation. This includes setting up a basic, but well-done website with contact information, links to your work and professional accomplishments. “It’s not as hard as it sounds,” Levit says. “It doesn’t need a lot of bells and whistles.” (There are several companies that offer website-building tools and templates, ranging from services like Wix, which offer basic, easy-to-use templates, to SquareSpace and others that offer more creative, customized designs.)
Your social media presence is also key. In addition to establishing yourself on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest, stay active on industry blogs and related groups on Google+. “Do a Google search of your name once a month to see if you’re happy with what is there,” Levit says. For example, if you switched careers 10 years ago and the old information is still coming up, work on changing that.
It pays to start building an online reputation before you start actively looking for a new job. “I’ve had several clients who didn’t even know about utilizing social media until they were downsized,” says Emily Westerman, career coach and founder of Whole Life Fit Coaching. “Always consider that you could end up in transition.”
Nurture Your Network
You don’t need to overwhelm your schedule with drinks and dinners with former colleagues and professional contacts, but you also shouldn’t only reach out to them when you need something.
“It’s important to not just let your network go,” Westerman says. “Keep it fresh. It doesn’t always have to be coffee, but send out notes periodically.”
“Find out when peoples birthday are and give them a phone call,” Levit says. “That makes such an impression.” She also suggests sending holiday cards to people in your network and letting them know what you’re up to. And, hey, catching up over the occasional glass of wine isn’t a bad idea, either.
Put Yourself Out There
Maintaining an active online presence is key, but don’t underestimate the importance of good old fashioned face-to-face interaction. “The best thing someone can do to always be marketable is to be visible,” Westerman says. She suggests not just becoming a member of professional groups and attending industry events, but also going a step beyond and volunteering at the events and joining special committees. “Seek out opportunities where you can share your expertise with others.”
It also helps to become more visible within your current organization. “You have to do your day job; that’s the most important way to prove your value,” Judith Gerberg, director of Gerberg & Co. Career Counseling. But once you have a handle on your daily responsibilities, you can show initiative and establish your value to the company by volunteering with a company-wide initiative or a philanthropic event, like organizing a team to participate in a charity race.
Know Your Worth
Part of knowing what you’re qualified for is knowing your professional worth. “Younger women sometimes feel their work speaks for itself, but you have to know what you’re doing and contributing,” Gerberg says. She suggests compiling a list of your professional accomplishments and establishing your market value with a site like salary.com.
Always have your resume and LinkedIn profile updated, regardless of whether you’re applying for new jobs yet. “If you’re feeling antsy, spend some more time on LinkedIn participating in some discussion groups,” says Westerman. “Put more energy into getting noticed.” Following industry leaders on LinkedIn and Twitter can also help you keep up with industry trends.
Plan Far Ahead
Preparing for your next move should start long before you start sending out resumes. “I’m a big proponent of having a target list of companies that you’d be interested in working for someday,” Westerman says. She suggests checking the companies’ web sites periodically to see what types of opportunities they have available and setting up job alerts.
When a job does open at one of your dream companies, make sure that you’re professionally prepared to move up. “Take a look at descriptions of next-level jobs,” Levit says. If you don’t have the education requirements or background with the skills and tasks involved, figure out what you need to do to get them. If you don’t have the opportunity to acquire those skills at your current job, sign up for classes, conferences, and training events. Levit also suggests working with a volunteer organization where you can get experience in areas like event planning or project management. That way you’re not only boosting your resume, but you’re also doing some good.
Don’t Stay Too Long, But Don’t Leave Too Soon
Changing jobs and companies every few years used to raise eyebrows, but now it’s de rigueur. “There is almost a taboo to staying at the same company for too long,” Westerman says.
Still, you need to give yourself time to settle into a job and establish yourself. “People are jumping the gun way too quickly,” Levit says. She says you should stay at a new job for at least a year before you even consider leaving. Given the state of the economy, she suggests staying at least five years before moving on if you can’t move up internally in that time. The idea of getting promoted every year is “old thinking,” she says. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ask about opportunities to advance when you are interviewing for new jobs. “It’s a totally legit question,” she says, and one you should ask early on. But tone is important. You don’t want a potential employer to think that you’re going to expect to advance from the position too quickly, so Levit suggests asking about the career trajectory for that position. “Don’t just go in with your own timeline.”
Limit Your Search
Yes, you should always have your next move in mind, but that doesn’t mean you should obsess over it—especially if you’re happy with the job you have. “It’s hard to be completely invested in what you’re doing and also be looking for a new job,” Westerman says.
If you’re not unemployed or miserable with your current position, don’t let the job search consume you. “You can structure it so that you’re not searching constantly,” Gerberg says. “Maybe check a job site once a day. Discipline yourself.”
“The job search is more about quality than quantity of time,” Westerman says. “Looking for a job shouldn’t be a full-time job.” It also shouldn’t be the only thing you’re doing in your time outside the office. “It’s important to not have a life that’s too insulated,” Westerman says. “Have a life outside what you do in your profession.”