4 Ways to Step Up Your Career Game
4 Ways to Step Up Your Career Game

Let's face it, everybody loves a quick fix. And in today's world, we're surrounded by countless tempting remedies designed to help us effortlessly overcome whatever adversity we may be facing.

While the desire for instant gratification is an understandable one, there unfortunately aren't any magic bullets when it comes to most things — career growth among them.

Growth is not about shifting to a funky new resume format or subscribing to the latest exclusive job website. As a veteran career coach, I've seen what takes: the right mindset, taking your career seriously and doing a whole bunch of little things, day in and day out, to ensure you stay highly connected, current and marketable.

There’s no time like the present, so if you're looking to boost your marketability and create new career opportunities, it's time to step up!

Embrace Networking as a Way of Life

For the past few decades, virtually every front-line observer of the job market has emphasized that the vast majority of opportunities — at least in terms of professional-level roles — are filled through personal connections and word of mouth.

Long story short, this means nothing is more valuable to your future job prospects than growing, managing and investing in professional relationships. So whether you need to reboot your networking efforts or simply carve out a little extra time each month to stay in touch, don't delay. Your career will thank you for it.

As one colleague of mine recently put it, networking is not just something you do every once in a while when you need to find a new job. Instead, it's a way of life. It’s something you should try to ingrain into your daily thoughts, actions and routines — because the ideal time to be networking is when you actually don't need a favor. 

Our jobs are evolving at lightning speed. To stay competitive, you need to stay current. 

Matt Youngquist

You'll find this principle stressed in many great books, from Harvey Mackay's Dig Your Well Before You're Thirsty to Keith Ferrazzi's Never Eat Alone, where he has this blunt advice for a frustrated job hunter: "You should have been building relationships for the past five or 10 years so now that you need a job, you could make 20 calls to people in your strong and thriving network and have five job offers waiting for you in a week.”

Keep Your Resume Polished Up

While resume writers, like myself, can give your document a makeover and buff up the keywords and such, it's beyond our power (or at least ethics) to make up content completely from scratch. We need to know what you've done that's terrific, specific and can be effectively measured.

What are your proudest professional contributions and accomplishments? What did you get done last month? Last quarter? Last year? Only you have the answers to these questions, and if you don't make a point to regularly take some notes on what you've accomplished, it's going to be really hard to recall it down the road when you suddenly need to start bragging to a potential employer.

So do what many top professionals do? Create an electronic file, or add an extra scratch page at the end of your resume and use that space to jot down details of all the great things you've accomplished in your career lately.

Keep in mind that you don't need to polish anything into final form as you write it down. You just need to track how many people you supported on a given project ... or how many hits your marketing campaign received ... or how many hours of time you saved with that new process you developed. This data will come in incredibly handy when the time comes to take your qualifications on the road in search of a new opportunity.

Be Resourceful: Master "Just in Time" Learning

Not long ago, a client came to my office to prep for an exciting interview she had with a nonprofit. The job description said the ideal candidate would have strong experience using Raiser's Edge fundraising software. But my client had never used this particular application — or even heard of it.

When I asked her how she was planning to address this, however, she didn't seem all that worried. She said she'd simply tell the employer, "You know, I've never had the chance to use that program, but I'm a fast learner and am sure I could pick it up quickly, if needed."

Needless to say, my client was pretty surprised when I told her that, in the eyes of many employers these days, such an answer would be seen as antiquated, lazy and unacceptable. Given the fast pace of the workplace today, and the need for employees to quickly pick up new skills on the fly, she needed to go the extra mile in learning about the software before the interview — not after.

I told her to spend at least an hour or two online researching the program so that, if pressed, she could respond with a much more proactive answer, such as: "You know, while I've never had the opportunity to use Raiser's Edge, I'm well aware of the program and similar applications such as DonorPerfect and GiftMaker Pro. In fact, are you using the software's new MobilePay option? It seems like it would be a great fit with your needs ..."

Ultimately, you'd have to be superhuman to check every single box most job descriptions throw at you these days. If you learn to leverage the wealth of "just in time" knowledge available on the internet, however, you can usually fake it 'til you make it. And what's more, you can show employers that you're the resourceful, web-savvy self-starter they're looking for.

Invest in Education & Training

Last but not least, it's worth pointing out that any successful career today rests heavily on a foundation of ongoing training, schooling and education. Our jobs, and all the skills and tools we use to get them done, are evolving at lightning speed. To stay competitive, you need to stay current.

If you're not in a situation where you can keep learning on the job, don’t worry. There are a multitude of educational options today you can tap into as an alternative, including many programs designed to meet the challenging schedules of working adults. An obvious choice is a UW certificate, which offers you a quality learning experience that fits into your busy schedule.  

With so many ways to engage in lifelong learning, there can be little excuse for not building a bit of ongoing class time into your career management plan. Not only do formal degrees and certifications demonstrate your professionalism and commitment to your field, but, as many of you have likely experienced, they also provide an invaluable opportunity to expand your network and build relationships with fellow students, recruiters and industry representatives.

So, do yourself a favor career-wise. Think big. Embrace the new paradigm and start actively taking steps to improve your professional marketability, even if you're not immediately in need of a new job!

For more career tips and industry trends, visit the News & Features section of our website, and subscribe to our email list. To learn more about UW Professional & Continuing Education certificates, specializations, degrees and courses, explore your options or contact us.

Matt Youngquist

Guest writer Matt Youngquist is a recognized career coaching expert and LinkedIn trainer in the greater Seattle area. He’s the founder and president of Career Horizons, where he helps clients across the Pacific Northwest tackle the challenges of job hunting and employment transition.

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