The first Monday of September is an appropriate time for career reflection. This is the day we honor the struggles of earlier generations to secure basic human rights on the job, such as rest breaks, safe workplaces and the national model of a 40-hour workweek.
Your career concerns may or may not unfold on such an epic level, but all careers deserve attention if workers are going to reach their goals. Following are three areas to help you consider where you and your career are headed.
If this review leaves you overwhelmed, just bite off one or two items and schedule steps to make progress on them in the coming weeks. Then enjoy the rest of your Labor Day weekend.
Review your job(s). Consider this: While you’re busy chasing the details of your workday, the big picture might be escaping you. This is how experienced workers end up training their replacements and not-so-experienced workers miss opportunities for promotion.
1. For each position you hold, answer this question: What’s your goal for this job? If this is a stopgap position, there’s an argument for not over-investing in advancement or job-keeping strategies. But if you want to stay awhile, investing in this endeavor will pay off.
2. Look at the big picture in this workplace. Are your activities strictly necessary to the survival of the company? Would you be easy to replace? Evaluate how integral you are to the overall organization so you can get a sense of your job security.
3. Consider your relationship with your boss. Are you high-maintenance? A utility player? What are you doing to strengthen this relationship?
4. Consider your skill set. Do you have strengths that are not being used?
5. Finally, look at your personal goals for this job. What would you like to learn or do more (or less) often? What level would you like to be at? Is it time for a raise or promotion?
Review your career. The main question when it comes to career planning is pretty straightforward: Are you headed somewhere, and if so, are you making progress? For people in survival mode, the process of career management can seem tenuous at best. But on some level, we all understand that unmanaged careers leave us vulnerable to missed opportunities and the prospect of being trapped.
1. Ask yourself, do you feel you have a career path? Do your jobs link together to tell a story of increasing skill, growing expertise in a field, or more responsibility? Careers don’t need to look like a steadily rising line on a chart, but if you can’t see any trace of forward movement, it’s time for action.
2. Identify goals for your career. It could be a job title or particular activities you want to engage in, such as giving a presentation for an outside group. Some “do-by” dates will provide more urgency than a simple “someday” list.
3. Evaluate your current skill set, knowledge and credentials. Are you up-to-date on trends in your field? Have you learned the next level of skills? If the answer is no, ask yourself: How long can I ride on my current skills and knowledge? What’s my backup plan if I’m wrong?
4. Take stock of your network outside the job. Besides all the other reasons to build these relationships, this one is compelling: If there’s a mass layoff in your company, you’ll need these external contacts to help you stay in the field.
Review your work-life balance.
1. Consider your life/lifestyle goals, then ask yourself: Is there anything I can do about my current work structure that will help me reach my goals faster? For instance, if you switched schedules, would that make it easier to pursue a degree?
2. Look at your work hours overall. If you are not working very many hours, check to ensure this isn’t holding you back professionally or financially. But if you are overworking, take a breath and ask: Is this the best solution? Or is it a hamster wheel with no end in sight? If it’s the latter, now’s the time to review your options.
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Amy Lindgren owns Prototype Career Service, a career consulting firm in St. Paul, Minn. She can be reached at email@example.com or at 626 Armstrong Ave., St. Paul, MN 55102.