Most career advice you receive focuses on the big picture: how to get ahead, how to “win,” and such things that are on a much larger scale than the daily grind that most of us face. In fact, it is that day to day grind that pulls down many of us - we go to work, come home exhausted, and often feel as though we’re just spinning our wheels.
If you want to get ahead in your career and in your life, you need to start small and look at the immediate things you can do to help out your situation. If you’re sitting out there at your desk, tiredly wondering if there’s something better that you can be doing with your life, start with these fifteen tips that you can start executing immediately that will lead you down a path towards a better career.
Make a list of all of the things you did today/this week/this month to help your organization, and file them away.
Whenever you have a few spare moments, make a list of all of the things you are actually doing at work. Date them and provide specific examples. When you’ve made this list, drop it in a folder and let it sit there until your next performance review - or the next time you ask for a raise or a promotion. I do this regularly, which has allowed me to build up extensive positive documentation about my career.
Send a thank-you note
If you’ve recently been assisted in your career or personal development by someone, spend a few moments and send that person a handwritten thank you note. The respect, kindness, and personal touch of a handwritten thank you creates an indelible positive mark in your favor in the recipient’s mind, which can do nothing but help you out in the long run.
Work on your writing skills
For me, The Simple Dollar is actually an active part of improving my own writing. Starting a blog related to a work-related topic that interests you is a good way to practice your skills. Don’t be lazy with it, though; focus on writing strong material that will engage others, because without it, you’re not really improving your skills at all, merely regurgitating facts.
Design some classy business cards for you
I have a small pile of business cards that are just for me (actually, they’re for The Simple Dollar), not for any firm I represent or work for or anything else. I drop these regularly, as envelope enclosures and in face-to-face opportunities. These cards are a reflection of me and what I wish to represent to people, and by getting quality ones, I create a positive impression on the recipients. Don’t go for the office store perforated ones, either; get them professionally done and in a high quality.
Send a quick contact email
Got any professional contacts that you haven’t touched base with recently? Send them an email letting them know what you’re up to - and ask them what they’re up to. By this, I don’t mean clients - I mean professional acquaintances in the same field as you (contacting clients should be a regular part of your workflow). A quick email to the people you met at conferences last year can be a very good thing, as you never know if they might have a great opportunity available that could really help you out.
Suggest a solution to a persistent workplace problem
This is especially true for smaller things, not necessarily big enterprise-wide issues. Are people always complaining about the printers? Spec out an additional printer and ship a proposal for a new printer by your boss. Workplace tensions between two people? Figure out how to most discreetly move them far apart from each other, write it up, and ship it off. The key is to make the solution as complete as possible, so that the boss can tell you saw a problem, looked into how to solve it, and came up with a solution on your own.
Pick up the phone and make a call
Keep in touch with what’s going on in the organization as a whole so you can be more informed when meetings occur. Pick up the phone and give someone else a call to see what you can learn, or take a stroll through different parts of the workplace to find out what others are up to. Don’t make a nuisance of yourself, but be aware of what is going on, how it can affect you, and how you might be able to leverage that to get ahead.
Work on your language skills
Are you a non-native speaker of the language in your workplace? Spend your spare time working on the finer points. I find that listening to audiobooks and podcasts is an incredible way to pick up on the nuances of a language given that you already know the basics. If you don’t know the basics, seek out some audio courses on that language and get started. For myself, I’ve found that a great way to pick up a foreign language is to read a translation of a work I’m already very familiar with, such as Harry Potter.
Make yourself more presentable
It always helps to have a clean, fresh impression. I keep a few hygiene products in my traveling bag at all times: underarm deodorant, toothpaste, a toothbrush, some mouthwash, some facial cleanser, a comb, and some cologne. I make sure to clean myself up at least once a day, and often twice a day, when I have a few free moments. That way, I look freshly scrubbed at the 3:30 PM meeting - and having just washed my face vigorously, I feel more awake.
Polish your resume
There’s never a bad time to give your resume a bit of a touch up. Make sure it has plenty of action words and documents specific results that you’ve produced. In fact, your personal work documentation is a great way to look for ideas to spiff up your resume.
Read something on topics you plan to be facing in the future in your career
Don’t waste your time reading PerezHilton (unless you work for People magazine or something); instead, find resources that are related to your job and focus on those. If you spend your spare time at work browsing the web, at least spend that time browsing items that can potentially further your career.
Prepare some comments in advance for your next meeting
Got a meeting later? Instead of dreading it, look at it as an opportunity to shine. Look at what the meeting agenda is and prepare some notes and thoughts that you can present during them. If you’re going to sit through someone’s presentation, find out what it’s going to be about and do some preparatory legwork in advance so you can ask a few astute questions.
Work on your public speaking skills
This seems like it would be difficult to do right now, but it’s not. Merely listen to the work of great public speakers on the internet, burn yourself a CD or two of speeches that really inspire you, then play them in your car on the way home and practice speaking along with them. You’ll learn a great deal about how to enunciate words to get your points across and influence others.
Clean your work area
Not only will this create a better impression of you in the eyes of others, you may also come across important materials that you thought were missing or lost. It’s also good to start (or enhance) a document filing system when you do this, so you can quickly find materials.
Figure out where you want to be in five years - and create a plan for getting there
Spend some time visualizing where you want to be, then think about what it’s going to take to get there. From there, keep breaking down each piece in the process until the pieces are things you can do quickly - and start doing them. Every mountain climb is just a series of steps, after all.