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Six Steps to Career Success

There’s a big difference between having a job and having a career. Many of us stumble blindly from job to job, with no real career path in mind. But top executives have one thing in common: they make the most of each job they have, using that job’s knowledge, experience, contacts, and resources to build toward their next career goal. These six steps can help guide you toward similar career success.

Engage in strategic career planning.

You probably think more about where you’re going for lunch than where your career is going. But it’s well worth the time to determine your career strategy.

Consider what you want to accomplish in the next five, ten, or fifteen years–and what it would take to get you there. Do you need additional education? Could you benefit from different job responsibilities or a better job title? Should you increase your visibility in your industry? Get to work on those goals as the first step to a better career.

Use networking to your advantage

It’s a common piece of business advice because it’s true. It pays to maintain professional contacts.

People who work in sales know to call all of their contacts at least once a year–whether it is business related or not. Even if you work in a completely different industry, speaking to your contacts gives you valuable information and keeps you top of mind when they are looking for referrals in your field. “Tell me what’s been going on with you since we last talked,” or “I’d love to take a minute to catch up with you,” goes a long way toward keeping connections open. Your contacts already know and trust you, so you make sure they call you first when they need help and vice versa.

Be professional and polite

The saying goes that you should be nice to people on the way up because you’ll meet the same people on the way down. You never know who holds the key to your next job, so it pays to be professional and polite to everyone.

Will your behavior make someone think twice about giving you a referral? Even administrative assistants have the power to put your call through to the CEO or put you on indefinite hold. If you are impatient, imperious, or rude, you’re literally going to stop your own progress. Whether you’re applying for a new job or socializing at the office, be nice to everyone. Never let your attitude keep you from career advancement.

Know your industry

Know the big picture about your industry. Set alerts on business and financial news to know where the industry as a whole is heading–and when it might be best to shift to a different career path. Keep up to date on the latest developments through professional associations and publications. Follow industry trends to determine how they might impact your career outlook and what new jobs might be available.

Do a salary search for your current job title, as well as for job titles you are interested in. Know what you are worth in your industry. Staying one step ahead is the difference between management material and executive material.

Stay in touch with recruiters and headhunters

Many people disregard calls from recruiters and headhunters when they aren’t actively searching for a job. But qualified professional recruiters and headhunters can be a great resource for job leads and inside information.

Stay in touch with recruiters who specialize in your industry or area of expertise, and let them know what your dream job (and dream salary) would be. Consider contacting recruiters outside your geographic region if you are willing to move for the right job.

Conduct an annual resume review

Smart professionals update their resumes annually. Many executives conduct an annual resume review and update. Then when they hear of a job opening, they move fast–and beat the competition. If your resume is ready at a moment’s notice, you’ll be prepared whenever a job opportunity comes to your door.

If you’re not confident about your resume writing ability, pay a professional to do it for you. This is absolutely an investment in your career. A good resume writer can tell the story of your career arc and show what you are capable of doing next. They know how to highlight the skills you have that qualify you for the job you really want.

Building a career doesn’t take much more effort than moving job to job. Being aware of your career goals means you can take advantage of every opportunity to work toward them. Engage in a little career management now and put yourself on the path to future career success.