You’ve put your sweaters into storage, stashed your snow boots and vacuumed five months’ worth of dust under your bed. Your career needs a spring-cleaning, too. Whether you’re actively looking for a new job or willing to jump if the right opportunity comes along, use this season as an occasion to make yourself a better job candidate.
Tackle the most intimidating chore first, by taking stock of where you are professionally. Many of us get so caught up in our day-to-day duties that we lose sight of whether we’re on the right path. Do you enjoy going to work every day? Are you stimulated by what you do? Are you earning enough to live the way you want and save for the future? Are you pursuing your professional dreams?
You don’t need to figure out your life’s purpose or have a laser-focused vision of the future before you can make a move, Sheffield says. “While that kind of focus is great, it’s not in most of us.” Instead, he recommends, keep an open mind about different careers that might satisfy you. Start by developing a sense of what naturally interests you now. What do you read about in your spare time? What are your hobbies? Consider careers that could develop out of those passions. To get the most out of your current job, take on added responsibilities that will challenge you. In mastering new skills you may discover new things that excite you and get fresh career ideas.
Next, dust off your CV. Employers look at a CV for an average of 10 seconds, and that people who have worked for fewer than 10 years should keep theirs to one page. If you’ve been working longer than that, consider two pages. Replace hackneyed expressions like “strong team player” and “possess organisational skills” with strong, active verbs that demonstrate results.
Whenever possible, use numbers to document your performance. Instead of saying, “Managed a team,” say, “Managed a team of three employees who had a 100% client-retention rate over two years.” Include keywords related to your skills and background, since many big companies use computers to screen CV for phrases, like “analyst” or “business development.” Have a friend double-check your CV for spelling and grammatical errors, and always tell the truth.
Update your LinkedIn profile. Add links to any websites that showcase your work. Write a summary of your career, including as many keywords as possible. Enlist colleagues to write recommendations. Increase your volume of connections by reaching out to former colleagues. Send a brief personal note with each invitation to link. Flesh out the “Experience” section to include a concise but detailed description of every job you’ve had.
Clean up your online reputation, as well as your workspace. Either set your Facebook settings so prospective employers can’t see your updates and photos or be sure only to post information that presents you in a positive, professional light. Set aside an hour before or after work to de-clutter your desk. Enter information from business cards into a digital database.
Brush up on the latest skills in your profession. Work on your public speaking. Ask your office information-technology guru for a lesson in Excel or PowerPoint. Sign up for a course. If you have an area of expertise that you can share with others, gain visibility by starting a blog about it.
Network both inside and outside your organisation. The best time to network is when you’re not actively searching for a job. “When you’re gainfully employed, you’re in a position of strength when you meet new people,” Sheffield says. “They’re not worried that you’re going to ask them for a job.” Join an alumni organisation and network internally by meeting colleagues for lunch or coffee at least once a week.
Clean up your schedule by considering all the things that compete for your time, and decide what to keep and what to discard. If you volunteer with three nonprofit organisations, select the most meaningful one, focus on it and stop giving your divided attention to all three. Focus on the things that are important to you and ditch the extraneous.
Lastly, update your “bragalogue,” a short, pitchy story that incorporates a few bits of information about who you are and what you’ve done. Think of positive things you can say about your work and be prepared to share them during fly-by encounters with your boss. If you don’t already have one, create a journal in which you keep track of your achievements. Every time you accomplish something, add an entry, noting what you did and why it was important. When possible, show how that achievement helped your company. The list will help you make your case for an internal promotion. Or if you’ve stopped being excited about your accomplishments, it will indicate that it’s time for something new.