Education

10 career resolutions for the new year

Another year has arrived, and with it, the urge to take a fresh run at professional improvement and career success. Here are 10 resolutions aimed at helping you expand your knowledge, sharpen your skills, and develop better business relationships.

Another year has arrived, and with it, the urge to take a fresh run at professional improvement and career success. Here are 10 resolutions aimed at helping you expand your knowledge, sharpen your skills, and develop better business relationships.

Note: This information is also available as a PDF download.

#1: Improve your communications skills

Anyone who thinks technical skills alone guarantees career success would do well to remember the fates of Operating System/2, Betamax, and the Dvorak keyboard. Though technically superior to their respective competitors, they nonetheless lost out to them. In the same way, the ability to communicate and work well with co-workers, bosses, and customers is invaluable to your career success. I've written frequently on this topic but can sum it up in three adages:

  • Be quick to listen (for example, when learning about system requirements or doing problem determination).
  • Be slow to speak (that is, try to hear the other person out before you yourself respond).
  • Be slow to anger (when that upsetting e-mail arrives, wait a bit before responding and consider having a co-worker review your response first).

#2: Become active in a professional organization

Becoming active means more than just filling out a membership form or page and coming to a meeting. It might mean, for example, serving on that organization's board of directors or setting up a meeting for the organization or even delivering a presentation yourself. Being active in the organization raises your visibility, highlights your abilities, and helps you gain professional contacts. Examples of IT-related organizations include the Association of Information Technology Professionals (AITP) and the Society for Information Management (SIM).

#3: Reconnect with a former colleague, boss, or teacher

You've probably heard the adage about not burning your bridges. Or the one about being nice to people on your way up, because you'll meet them again on your way down. I hate to be pessimistic or cynical in this new year, but keeping in contact with people can help you professionally -- for example, in finding a new job. A considerable number of available jobs are never advertised. And even jobs that are advertised may not really be available, but only placed by an employer to test the waters.

Did you have a good working relationship with a former associate or manager? If so, reconnecting will allow you to relive those times. Did you have problems? Maybe now's the time to make up. I remember a former boss who mistakenly thought I was skirting proper procedures and was upset with me. A few years afterward, I contacted him to say hello, and we both had a good laugh about the whole thing.

Did you learn something valuable from this person? Let him or her know, particularly if your opinion of that person has improved since the time you worked together. Mark Twain once said that when he was 14, he couldn't stand how stupid his father was, but when he turned 21, he was amazed at how much smarter the old man had become in seven years. If you thought at the time a former boss was clueless but now recognize that boss's brilliance, say so.

#4: Improve your usage and grammar skills

Is it "...the system and its functions" or "...the system and it's functions"? Does the task force have "nine" members or "9" members?* Your grammar, spelling, and usage skills reflect on your professional ability and your credibility. Resolve to fix at least one issue that's been plaguing you in this regard. I suggest, as references, The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage and the classic Strunk and White work, The Elements of Style.

#5: Gain at least one compliment from your boss

The 1973 movie The Paper Chase follows a group of first-year Harvard Law School students in their contracts class, taught by the tyrannical Professor Kingsfield. Woe to any student who arrived unprepared or unable to answer his many questions. However, one day Hart, one of the students, gives a detailed but concise answer to one of Kingsfield's "hypos." The camera cuts to Kingsfield as he gives just the faintest trace of a nod, after which we see Hart whooping it up as he happily runs out after class.

Your boss generally has little reason to curry your favor. Therefore, the boss who compliments you most likely is sincere in doing so and recognizes a contribution or idea of yours. That recognition can help you later, when promotion and salary decisions come up. So be on the lookout for those "good idea" and "good job" comments from the boss.

#6: Publish an article on a Web site such as TechRepublic

Writing articles for publication is a great way to gain exposure. For instance, TechRepublic reaches thousands of information technology professionals and executives, and writing for it could help build your resume. What's more, preparing and writing the article will help improve your own knowledge of the topic by forcing you to think about the topic itself, as well as how to express it clearly. [Editor's note: If you'd like to try your hand at writing a 10 Things piece, check out the Blog Submission Tool for TechRepublic members.]

#7: Volunteer for an office event

The holiday party, picnic, or team-building event can be a pain to organize. You don't get paid extra for doing so, and you have your "real" job besides. However, if you get the chance to lead or organize an event, consider doing so. You will have the chance to show leadership and organizational skills and possibly to work with potential future bosses.

If the event already has an organizer, consider asking whether that person needs help. Just be careful that the organizer doesn't view your offer as encroaching on his or her turf. Handled correctly, however, such an offer gives you visibility and gains you an ally in the organizer.

#8: Give a presentation at a conference

Delivering a presentation at a conference offers the same advantages as writing for a Web site. And if you pick the right conference, they might even pay your expenses -- something your own company's finance organization would appreciate.

#9: Train a co-worker in some aspect of your job

What would happen if tomorrow you stepped in front of a bus? Could a co-worker step in and take over? If not, think about training someone in some aspect of your job.

"Wait a minute," you're saying. "If I do that, I become dispensable." True, you do run that risk. However, you also demonstrate that you are ready for your next promotion to a job of greater responsibility. You also show your boss that you're thinking about the good of the whole department.

#10: Sidestep political discussions

From now until November we will be hearing constantly of the upcoming presidential election. Politics, like religion, can be a dangerous discussion topic. In your job, having someone upset at you is unlikely to advance your career. For that reason, it's generally best to sidestep such issues. Try to change the subject or make some noncommittal comment such as, "Thanks, that reminds me that I need to register to vote."

I wish you the best for 2008.

* The answer in both cases is the first option.


About

Calvin Sun is an attorney who writes about technology and legal issues for TechRepublic.

10 comments
spkarthigeyan
spkarthigeyan

Do not feel hesitated to apologise at ur mistakes no matter how small it is ...

ymic88
ymic88

People in our organisation are doing well, by nature, all 10 points. Perhaps point 4, 6, 7 and 10 are coming along, but all other points are built-in for everyone's success in our system.

ENabel
ENabel

Thank you for the sound advice.

skooboy
skooboy

At least this wasn't another blathering article about how a new year is "an opportunity to improve your skill set, take more classes, spend more personal time training..." I cast a vote for living life! That means taking the music, dance or ceramics class you've always talked about. Or planning a great travel-adventure, or deciding to spend more quality time with the ones you love. Sometimes you must say "to hell with the stupid job and the idiots who want me to make it my life". In 2008, I'm going to live a lot more, and let the workplace play less of a role in my life. Promotions? You can have them. Networking with peers? Get a life. Raises? I'll take the money, but not the extra duties. Can't have both? Then forget it. In 2008, I'll start remembering that I work to live, not live to work.

bonifide_22
bonifide_22

Commenting on the last paragraph. You shouldn't be looking to stir up the pot in discussing sensitive subjects; i.e politics, religion. At the same time, you shouldn't back down from your personal convictions, neither. In my worldview, there are some things more important than my job, and even material posessions.

Tig2
Tig2

That you shouldn't have convictions. He is saying that the work place is not the proper forum for those convictions. I agree.

apotheon
apotheon

If I worked in a corporate cubicle nine-to-five environment, I'm sure I [b]wouldn't[/b] keep my political opinions to myself. In large part, that's because of the fact that if the political climate keeps going the way it has been for the last couple decades, I'd probably have to quit any such job and move to another damned country within the next decade anyway. Le sigh. edit: typo

chrisbedford
chrisbedford

...that s/he wants to let everyone have the "benefit" of his/her convictions at work - and I have to agree 100% with Tigger and Calvis that the workplace is *not* the right place to be sounding off on controversial topics like religion and politics (and, in many cases, sport!) because, like all religious arguments (for many, political conviction is indistinguishable from religious conviction) there are two sides and ne'er the twain shall meet - no point attempting to proseletyse, you're not going to change anyone's mind so don't waste your breath. Also you are wasting your employer's time shooting the breeze, bosses tend to note that sort of thing too.

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