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On The Job

Give Your Career a Boost in 2012

Advice on how to jump-start your professional life in the
New Year.

The new year is a perfect time to reflect on your professional development over the past 12 months so that you can prioritize your career goals for the next 12 months. Whether that self-assessment leads you to search for a new job or to map out a strategy for advancement with your current employer, take this opportunity to consider how you'll put a plan in motion.

SEE ALSO: Holiday Networking Tips for Every Career Stage

No matter if you're a job-seeker, someone looking to take on more responsibility with your current employer or a professional considering a switch to a new industry, here are the steps to take to help upgrade your career outlook for 2012.

Embarking on a New Job Search

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If you've decided to reboot your career by jumping ship, these three tips will help you kick-off a job search right now:

1. Refresh your resume. A resume isn't something you can write and tuck away for safekeeping anymore. It's your main marketing tool when it comes to job hunting. Read over your resume to be sure that it reflects the career direction you're interested in and that your main bullet points bring out the strengths of your experience. Substitute real stories for a list of tasks and duties. Also, make sure your resume is representative of a living, breathing person a recruiter will want to hire.

2. Research employers. Even if you decide not to officially put your hat in the ring until after January 1, you can still do some background research on potential employers in the coming weeks. A helpful tool is LinkedIn.com's company database, which lets you look up information such as the number of current employees and new hires a business has, as well as who on staff does work similar to your own. Another smart thing to do is sign up for Google Alerts on the companies you’re interested in to help you keep track of big company announcements and industry news.

3. Mobilize your network. If your friends don't know that you're preparing to job hunt, they should. Send an e-mail blast (be sure to blind copy everyone) letting them know what you're up to and what sorts of roles you'd be interested in. In your e-mail, be sure to leave an open invitation for some one-on-one networking via a coffee or lunch. For those who are a bit more social, attend a professional networking event. At this time of year, many industry associations are hosting annual holiday parties, a good opportunity to make new professional contacts.

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Moving Up the Corporate Ladder

Some working people will say to me, "It's easy to know what to do if you’re hunting for a new job. But what can I do for my career without changing jobs?" There are plenty of things that you can put into practice now that'll help you prove you're deserving of a promotion in the coming months:

1. Check your 2011 job objectives. Before you think about a promotion, you must already be a standout in your current role with your company. If you’ve missed making some of your goals, take a realistic look at why that happened and figure out what you can do in 2012 to prevent it from happening again. For example, do you need to be more proactive about taking on additional work assignments?

2. Get a mentor. If you don't already have people in your professional circle who can lend you the benefit of their business and life wisdom, get some. Make a commitment to developing a meaningful professional relationship -- one in which it won't seem as if you're just looking for free advice -- with someone you respect in the industry and who can advise you on making the right career moves. Professional associations are a good place to start looking.

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3. Understand your role from your manager's point of view. Ask yourself, What's my chief value to my boss? Sometimes it’s a function or a role on the team that isn't included in your job description or title. Be aware of what you bring to the table, in a team environment and an individual setting, in formal and informal ways. Next time you have a one-on-one session with your boss, try to gauge whether he or she also sees how much of an asset you are to the company. Oftentimes your success in an organization is tied more to how your boss values you than to the tasks you perform every day (for example, you’re the glue that keeps the department together, or you’re the person who actually gets projects finished while others waste time). This can be a very useful bargaining chip once you’ve decided you’re ready to have a conversation with your manager about taking on more responsibility.

Changing Industries

If you've decided an industry change is what will help you best fulfill your future career goals, know that it's much more difficult than simply finding a new job or working toward a promotion because you're essentially starting over again. Before you decide on a new field, you'll want to consider what you love and hate about your current one, as well as where you’ve thrived or struggled and what impact that will have on where you're headed.

1. Focus on where to start. When you first decide to change industries, you may not be 100% clear as to what your next step should be. An easy way to help narrow your focus is to figure out what you do well, what you love to do and what the market would be willing to pay you.

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In addition, talk to everyone you know and dig deeply into the types of professions, industries and sectors you're especially interested in. If you'll need additional training in order to make your career change, line up the options for that and put your back-to-school financing plan into action. And if you can, talk with a noted professional in your desired field about best practices for how to make the transition.

2. Determine whether your current skill set will translate. Figure out if there's a way to merge the "old you" with the "new you" career-wise. For example, if you've been working as a high-tech project manager for the past ten years and are now shifting gears into natural-food start-ups as a project manager or marketing professional, take a look at your experience to identify skills in one arena that will be useful in the other. Don't assume that title, function and industry are the only relevant factors. Ask yourself: Did you manage groups? Did you help people come to a consensus? Did you dig into problems to find the root causes? All of these translate to a variety of industries.

3. Claim your new career path. Once you've figured out where and how you'd like to move forward, you can start to build your brand with this new direction in mind. You'll want to update your professional information on all of the various social media sites you may use, such as LinkedIn or Twitter.

Consider using the first person and a human voice while updating your profiles, making sure to bring the power of your story and personality across. You could write, "I was a high-tech marketer and project manager for 20 years. My passion for healthy and organic foods led me to move into natural-foods marketing and product development." You don't have say, "I would like to make a career change." No one but you needs to give permission for you to make that leap.

Finally, create a resume that reflects your new path. As you describe your past jobs, pull out the bullet points that are most representative of what you’d like to do in your next role. For example, if you were an accountant and have decided to transition into human resources, your resume should highlight your most HR-esque accomplishments. Instead of writing "I created reports for the executive team," for example, you could say something that details the elements important to your new career path, such as "I developed a comprehensive staffing and payroll report showing headcount and payroll by department, benefit costs, training allocations, and all other HR-related cost items in a single dashboard for senior management."