The start of a new year offers a prime opportunity for charting a course for career advancement. Executive recruiter Kathryn Ullrich shares her advice for managing your career in the months to come.
1: Look out for number 1
Take responsibility for your own career development. Many large organizations have scaled back on training and development — a common outcome of the economic downturn — and small companies can rarely provide significant support. Simply put, your career rests in one set of hands: yours.
2: Be strategic
Have a long-term career strategy, or at the very least, a sense of where you're headed. Ask yourself, "What do I really want to do?" or "Where do I see myself in five to 10 years?" Seek people in similar roles and ask for their advice.
3: Work in step with your company's goals
Connect the dots from your role to your company's vision and key objectives. How does your work align with the organization's goals? What can you do to maximize your contributions?
4: Be customer-centric
Whether your customers are internal or external, know their wants and needs and be fervent about meeting them. Bring the voice of the customer into your day-to-day work and let it enhance your decisions and deliverables.
Working with and through others is requisite to innovating, creating, and producing business results. Adopt a mindset for teaming and collaborating and put it into daily practice.
6: Hone your communication skills
Communication skills can make or break careers. Pick one area that needs your attention — considering skills such as listening, presenting, influencing, persuading, or distilling messages — and commit to improvement. Take a class, practice with a trusted friend or colleague, or join a group such as Toastmasters.
7: Cross over functionally
Many successful executives have risen through the ranks by taking cross-functional roles, such as moving from finance to sales or from marketing to IT. Follow their lead and you can grow your skills, your network, and your political capital.
8: Expand your experience
Volunteer for special projects or assignments that are outside your everyday role. Discuss your goals with your boss, an HR representative, or a senior leader and ask for help in finding opportunities to broaden your experience base.
9: Find a guide
Mentors can serve as influential role models and provide important guidance for your career. Reach out to a potential mentor within your company or industry and see if he or she would be open to mentoring you for a specific purpose and timeframe.
10: Network — now
The best time to increase your network is... today. Starting now, get involved in groups such as professional associations, charitable organizations, or even sports leagues. Step into leadership roles and make your expertise known.
Bonus tip: SpecializeToday, companies look for specialists, not generalists. Develop a personal brand, distinguish your skills and strengths, and determine how to best market yourself.
Kathryn Ullrich is a Silicon Valley-based executive search consultant and author of the award-winning book Getting to the Top: Strategies for Career Success. She also serves as associate director of Alumni Career Services at UCLA Anderson School of Management.