Creating the Change You Want in Your Career

By Rachelle J. Canter, Ph.D., President of RJC Associates

Whether you're hoping to move into a different industry, wishing to start your own business or craving a step up in terms of your title and responsibilities, every once in a while, it's just time to shake things up. And while making a big career move may seem a bit intimidating, you might find that taking just a few, smart steps will get you well on your way to realizing your goal. Here are five easy steps you can take to create the change you want in your career:

The "Small Steps" Strategy

The key to any successful change strategy lies in the wisdom of small steps. You might remember a poem from your childhood:

Little drops of water
Little grains of sand
Make the mighty ocean
And the beauteous land

Although the poem was written a long time ago, the author had an important insight: that all big things are made of and built in small pieces. If you are looking to create and sustain change, waiting for the capability or courage or time to make the big gesture may cause you to wait forever and never take action. But if you can identify and take a small step, one that doesn't require much time or courage, little step by little step you can make big changes happen and stick. Think about what small steps you could take to begin working towards your goal.

Plan Ahead but Keep It Simple

Remember, you can always change your mind and your goals, but having a quick and dirty plan will provide intention and focus for the limited time you have to devote to furthering your career goals. But here's the secret: a quick and dirty plan is infinitely better than a highly detailed, analytical plan. Why? Because you will do the former and not the latter. Take out a piece of paper and in one minute write down three sentences based on your thinking today:

• Where do you want to end up in your career (goal job)?
• How do you want to make yourself more marketable for that goal job in the next year?
• How do you want to make yourself more marketable for that goal job in the next three years?

Consider an average trip to the grocery store. How often do you roam the aisles aimlessly and get exactly what you need? You probably rarely go to the store without a list of things to buy to help organize your time and get what you need. The same thing is true of your career: without a (simple) plan and a focused effort, you're unlikely to end up where you want to go.

Maintain an Accomplishment Log

An accomplishment log is another quick but effective career management tool. Keep an online (or handwritten) document to record every work-related accomplishment and quantify its impact (e.g., time saved, revenues generated, loss avoided). It will take you seconds to record but will provide a powerful source of information to help do things like update your resume, negotiate for additional compensation or responsibility and provide information for your performance review. If you record this information as it occurs, or even take five minutes to do so every week, you won't have to wrack your brain for specifics when you need to negotiate or promote yourself. This type of data is a powerful tool that you can use to help demonstrate your value.

Rely on the Calendar

One of the handiest and most under-utilized career management tools is the calendar. Pencil in small steps that can further your career. Just as you write in your weekly meetings at the office, children's soccer games, hair and nail appointments, or dates with your significant other on your calendar, schedule small items that can move you toward your goal job.

For example, you might want to schedule one or two networking luncheons a month to keep your network alive. You can also calendar in time to update your accomplishment log. Or you might consider scheduling a 10-minute conversation to ask your colleague (who manages to have a great relationship with your difficult boss) how she does it.

Take the Long View

This slow-but-steady approach to career building depends on taking small steps that don't overwhelm or exhaust you but move you in the direction of where you want to go over time. You can have a fulfilling career and life without running yourself into the ground, but only if you don't over-work the small step strategy by scheduling in too much too fast. Remember little drops of water, little grains of sand, little career steps lead to big things over time. This is not a race, it is your life and career, and you want to enjoy the journey as well as the destination.

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