The first few steps of anything are going to be hard and fraught with obstacles. But there’s a hidden danger to those first few steps that no one ever talks about, and it’s that they can all too quickly set the tone for the rest of your life. Human beings are creatures of habit, and we quickly fall into a comfortable routine. Years go by, and we persevere with our little routines with unquestioning loyalty, even if they’re doing absolutely nothing for our lives. That’s where this list comes in. Anytime is a good time to change things up, so let’s look at what you can do this year to take your career to the next level.
1. Take Control of Your Online Presence
If there’s one thing you can be absolutely certain of, it’s that every employer will Google you, so owning your online presence becomes a matter of survival. If you already have a website, update it so that it shows you in the best possible light. If you don’t have a website, then you should get one. A simple blog will do. You don’t want to trust Instagram, Facebook and Google Image results with your future. By creating a compelling website you control what images come up on top of Google search results, thereby ensuring that you are presented in the most professional way possible.
2. Think Outside of your Job Description
Sure, it may not be in your job description to pitch an article idea, reorganize the company’s database, or find new leads, but that does not mean you shouldn’t pursue these projects if they fire you up. Your creative thinking and initiative can only impress your manager, and catapult you forward in your career. Same goes for any of you freelance creatives. All those extra touches that go beyond your job description are what make you stand out in the end.
Take your coworkers out for coffee, ask them about their weekend, their parents or travel plans. Find out where they went to school and what they studied. You really never know where your path may lead and when they may cross in the future. That quiet girl sitting next to you at the office may be the future CEO of a major company.
3. Simplify Your Resume
If you haven’t done so already, immediately cut out the following information from your resume: Elementary and High-school information, your GPA (unless it’s stellar), skills that are just so obvious mentioning them actually makes you look bad – like Microsoft Word and typing speed. Another largely useless feature of your resume is the objective statement, though this one is hotly debated. The problem with your resume’s objective is that it’s extremely self-serving. Explaining how a job position can help you achieve your dreams isn’t going to get you hired. In most cases the company will be much more concerned about how you could help them achieve their objectives. A creative solution would be to switch out your resume’s objective to write about how you intent to make a difference at the company you’re applying to.
4. Know The Difference Between Men and Women
Yeah, we know, no one likes to talk about it, but here it is anyway. There are certain fundamental differences between men and women that can sometimes make working together difficult. Studies show that men and women communicate in very different ways, and the result is that a lot of information gets lost along the way. Women for example tend to use more words than men, and men tend to be much less inclusive than women. What that means is that men tend to think that women take too long to get to the point, while women tend to think that men are vague and unfriendly. If you are a woman and your interview, meeting or presentation is with a man, then you will be more successful if you communicate in short, straight-to-the-point sentences. If you are a man interviewing with a woman, being more inclusive (i.e. using “we” more often that “I”) will get you ahead in the game.
5. Focus on Soft Skills
When you’re young and inexperienced, know that no one expects you to have tons of hard skills yet. But they are looking for those critical soft skills, so make sure you’re bringing them to the table. Generally, soft skills are much easier to develop, and include things like: Being dependable, organized, flexible, a team player, confident, having leadership abilities, and taking initiative. Don’t worry about all the concrete things you can’t do, because if you’re a rockstar in the soft skills department, you may be a golden ticket and you don’t even know it.
The more you spread the seed of your dreams among the people around you, the more likely that happy coincidences happen. Maybe the next time Sue the receptionist is at a party, and meets someone who knows someone who could really help you out, she’ll know to even ask.
6. Dress to Kill
Studies show that people subconsciously look for physical cues to a person’s intelligence and social status in the clothes they wear, so consider what you put on your body before you go in for that interview. Stick to tailored, solid-colored, and professional looking clothes if you want to appear more experienced. But depending on what kind of job you are applying for, a long bohemian kimono and flared jeans may be the perfect power outfit if you’re an artist. The point is to dress in a way that embodies the kind of person your employer wants on their team.
7. Get to Know The People You Work With
Take them out for coffee, take the time to ask them about their weekend, their parents or travel plans. Find out where they went to school and what they studied. You really never know where your path may lead, and when your paths may cross in the future. That quiet girl sitting next to you at the office may be the future CEO of a major company. Building your network at work is the easiest place to start.
8. Learn to High-Five Your Pain
Pain is an indication that things are coming along…right when you start getting sick and tired of your assignment or project, that should be a signal for you to sit up straight, down a coffee or two, and refocus, because things are about to get interesting. Don’t look at challenges as signs that things aren’t working. Teach yourself to treat these moments as psychological landmarks for triple-checking your work, and pushing harder.
9. Become a Master of the Follow-up Email
Follow-up emails should be sent immediately after meeting someone, and if that’s not possible you have 24 hours before it starts to become a missed opportunity. It should be as brief as possible, no longer than four sentences, and be light and conversational in tone. The whole point of the follow-up email is to express gratitude, as well as add anything important you feel you didn’t get to during your meeting/interview. If a few weeks have gone by since you met, the follow-up email should take a slightly different tone – it’s less about gratitude and relaying information, as it is about showing that you would like to stay in touch. Don’t be afraid to be persistent here. The golden rule is, if you don’t hear back from the other person after eight emails, then and only then you can stop (though you don’t have to). The perfect follow-up email walks the line of being annoyingly persistent and friendly.
Learn how to ask for more than you think you deserve. Even if you don’t don’t think you have the necessary skills for a promotion or raise, you should ask for one anyway. You will be surprised at how much you can accomplish by just asking. People respect someone who knows their worth.
10. Reach Out to People That Intimidate You
Linkedin is probably the greatest and most untapped resource for meeting new people the world has ever seen. It is so much more than a social network, it gives you access to the people that could be instrumental in catapulting your career forward. If you’re young and just starting out, spend as much time on Linkedin as possible, find the people that you hope to become one day and ask them to meet you for coffee. Will it be awkward? A little, yes. But will it also be incredibly helpful? Most definitely.
11. Learn How to be Comfortable With Confrontation
The fear of confrontation, no matter what end you find yourself on, is going to be a major impediment to becoming successful. So figure out a way to get over it, and figure it out fast. If you fear confronting people, and end up not standing up for yourself as often as you’d like, it may be because your sense of what may happen if you confront someone is an exaggeration of reality. No one likes to be confronted, so you should expect some negative feelings, but it rarely ever turns into the kind of shit storm you imagine. Being confronted on the other hand, is all about boundaries and understanding that negative feedback is often just as useful as positive feedback.
12. Figure Out Your Goals and Talk About Them Incessantly
You’ve been dreaming big since you were little, you know exactly what you want, and have some ideas about how to get there. If this is true for you, then you should be talking about those very goals to everyone and anyone in earshot. Try to get to the point when everyone at your office knows the minute details of where you hope to be in the next ten years. The more you spread the seed of your dreams among the people around you, the more likely that happy coincidences happen. Maybe the next time Sue the receptionist is at a party, and meets someone who knows someone who could really help you out, she’ll know to even ask.
13. Learn How to Ask for More
Learn how to ask for more than you think you deserve. This one is particularly important to all you perfectionists out there who would never ask for a raise, or for a promotion if you feel you’re even a tiny bit deficient. Even if you don’t actually have the necessary skills for a promotion or raise, you should ask for one anyway. Just come up with a rational reason for it. You will be surprised at how much you can accomplish by just asking. People respect someone who knows their worth.
14. Stop Sending Generic Emails
Please, by the love of everything that is beautiful on this earth, stop sending emails/resumes that sound something like this: “Dedicated, hardworking student interested in obtaining work experience in the field of X and bring her strong background in Y and Z to work within a team setting in order to gain further experience in X.” Stop it. Please. Not only is this generic, it gives the impression that you have no personality whatsoever. You want to be able to show that you have something to offer, that you march to the beat of your own drummer, that you’re interesting, and creative, and maybe, just maybe able to come up with unique solutions. You would be 100% better off writing, “Hey, I’m really passionate about X, it’s all I’ve ever wanted to do with my life and I’ve spend Y amount of years working on my craft. I’d love to get a moment to talk to you about how I can help make a meaningful contribution to your company. It would seriously be an honor.”
15. Be Authentic in Interviews
Too many people go into interviews with the mindset that they should say only what they think the interviewer wants to hear. Doing this will only serve to make you come across as totally inauthentic. Never underestimate another person’s ability to read your body language and micro expressions. Your mouth may be saying the right things, but your fidgeting and nervous smile makes it obvious that you are not comfortable with what you’re saying. A much better approach is to just be honest, and to always put your own personal spin on things. If you’re interviewing for a fashion magazine, for example, you are by no means obligated to know and love every designer on the runway. It’s ok to shop at Gap if Gap is what floats your boat. Never treat these things as something ou have to make excuses for, or be embarrassed about, just say, “I love the creative aspect of fashion, but don’t follow what’s going on on the runways. I have a deep appreciation for style, but prefer to keep my own closet simple.”