by Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D.
March and April bring all the signs of the return of spring — the brown grass begins to green, the weather gets warmer, and once dormant trees begin to produce buds and new growth. Spring is a time of renewal, not just for nature, but for people as well. It’s the time of year that we clean the garage and the attic, a time to shake off the dark and dreary of winter and clean and polish everything in sight.
So, while you’re busy getting your home in order in our annual ritual of spring cleaning, don’t you think it might also be a good time to do the same for your career? Now is a good time to take a hard look at your current job situation, your job-search progress, and your career management skills. Use the change of seasons to spend some time evaluating your situation, updating job-search techniques and skills, and making some career plans for the rest of this year — and beyond.
Finally, remember that you can do this exercise at any time of the year — not just in the spring!
Where to begin your career tune-up? Here is 10-step career tune-up plan — with expert tips and advice in each step.
While the steps are in this particular order for a reason, feel free to jump around to whatever steps most concern you at the moment. Take your time with each step.
- Examine Life/Career. Ask yourself these questions: Are you where you want to be in your career? Have you been making steady upward progress — or are you stuck in a job that is going nowhere? How well does your current job and career path fit into your life goals? Do you feel as though your life and career are out of balance?
It’s critical that you are brutally honest with yourself in this first step. If you are truly happy with where you are – and the progress you’ve been making — then completing the rest of this exercise, while still a useful experience, will be of limited value to you. If you find you are unhappy with your current situation, you should make a firm commitment to yourself that you will make some changes — and then use the advice in the remainder of these steps to do so.
Consider taking our Quintessential Careers Quiz: Is Your Life in Balance? Work/Life Balance Quiz.
Finally, consider reading, Developing a Strategic Vision for Your Career Plan.
- Set Career/Job-Search Goals. Some people succeed in life without ever setting goals, but most career experts agree that having goals — having a vision of your career — will not only help you achieve more in your career, but you’ll tend to have greater satisfaction whenever you achieve one of your goals.
Take the time now to conduct some self-analysis and assessment. Do you know who you are and what you want to do with your career? If not, consider taking the time for self-reflection. You might also consider taking one or more these self-assessment tests to help you with the process.
Do you know the values you most cherish in an employer? If not, consider taking our Workplace Values Assessment.
Explore career options. Familiarizing yourself with various career fields and what specific jobs within that career actually entail is critical to developing career goals. Go to our Career Exploration resources.
Finally, set some realistic goals for your next job or a switch to a new career. See Your Career Planning and Job-Search Calendar.
- Reconnect With/Expand Your Network. Regardless of where you stand with your current job or your job-search, your network of personal contacts is the most powerful job-search tool under your control; yet most job-seekers never fully take advantage of the power of their network.
Make a commitment to reconnect with the people in your current network — your family, friends, classmates, neighbors, colleagues, peers, mentors, old teachers, etc.
But don’t stop there. Because the odds are extremely high that your next job opportunity will result from networking, now is the time — even if you are not currently seeking a new job or career — to expand, build, and strengthen your network. Join a new professional organization or local club; find an online discussion group about one of your passions and join it; reconnect with old classmates and bring them into your network.
Read more about networking and networking techniques in the Networking Resources section of Quintessential Careers.
- Upgrade Your Knowledge/Skills. Okay, it’s sort of a cliche, but in today’s economy and today’s workplace, if your skills are not strong and current, you can quickly become obsolete. Don’t fall behind the times.
The most valued soft skills that employers seek from their employees include communications (both verbal and written), interpersonal, teamwork, problem-solving, time-management, analytical, and adaptability.
You’ll also want to identify the key hard skills specific to your job and career field.
Once you’ve identified the skills that you need to sharpen, enhance, or learn, the next step is to get the additional training or education you need.
- Consider Additional Training/Education. One of the best ways to improve your employability is to gain additional knowledge, training, or certification. In fact, many employers are now expanding training budgets — not only to improve worker efficiency and productivity, but as a (less expensive) perk offered to employees.
But don’t necessarily take classes for the sake of classes. Reflect on your career goals and immerse yourself in the educational and training experiences that will help you achieve your goals.
Take the time to examine these educational resources:
- Update/Polish Resume. When was the last time you spent any time really updating and improving your resume? Many job-seekers don’t even take the time to regularly update their resumes, but even if you are one of those few who do so, use this article as an excuse to take a long, hard look at your resume.
How familiar are you with current resume trends? How many versions and types of resumes do you have?
Resumes should be tailored to specific jobs and employers. The days of having one mass-produced resume are long over. Having both a paper version and an electronic version is an absolute must these days. You might also want to consider having a text version, a PDF version, and a Web version.
You can find some great articles and tutorials to help you in your quest to tweak and polish your resume in the Resume Resources of Quintessential Careers.
- Learn/Refresh Job-Search Techniques. Do you know how to generate and take advantage of job leads? Do you think newspaper want ads, job postings, or Internet job boards are the best places to find job openings? Have you ever had to conduct a comprehensive job-search? Would you be ready for a job-search if you were downsized tomorrow?
Job-hunting practices are continually changing, evolving — and if you want to have as many options open to you as possible, you’ll want to get — or stay — current.
Use one or more of our tutorials to learn more about job-search methods.
Read our article, 10 Ways to Develop Job Leads.
To learn more about the strengths and weaknesses of job-hunting online, read our latest Quintessential Careers Reports on the State of Internet Job-Hunting.
- Practice Interviewing. Your skill at interviewing will have a major influence on the success of your job-search — and your ability to generate job offers. If you haven’t been on that side of the desk for a long time, now is the time to review and polish those skills.
One of the most overlooked areas of job-hunting is preparing and practicing for job interviews. Taking the time to do the necessary research, to anticipate questions and develop strong answers, and to develop a personal selling strategy will have a positive impact on your interviewing success.
Employers continue to use multiple interviewing strategies and techniques. Learn about the latest techniques, review the common types of interviewing questions, study methods of approaching interviews, and practice answering interview questions. How? By going to the Interviewing Resources section of Quintessential Careers.
- Test Your Marketability. How confident are you about your value in the employment marketplace? If you have been following the steps in this article, then by this step you should be in pretty good shape.
Remember that job-hunting is all about marketing. You have to prove your value — above all the other job-seekers — and you do so by using key marketing techniques, such as identifying your unique selling proposition and utilizing key sales tools.
- Consider Advancing Internally. It’s certainly been a trend over the last decade or so that both employers and employees are less loyal to each other. Many companies have gone through one — or several — downsizings, rightsizings, restructurings that have seen thousands of employees let go at one time. On the other hand, job-seekers have been quick to look outside their employers for career advancement and job opportunities.
But don’t be so quick at dismissing your current employer. If the typical career track is blocked for you, but you really respect and value your employer, consider alternative career tracks and job opportunities.
Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker’s Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.
Maximize your career and job-search knowledge and skills! Take advantage of The Quintessential Careers Content Index, which enables site visitors to locate articles, tutorials, quizzes, and worksheets in 35 career, college, job-search topic areas.