Many people make resolutions at this time of year, and plenty of them are career-related. Most resolutions -- whether they are to stop smoking or to get a better job -- are broken by Valentine's Day. To improve your chances this year, choose resolutions that are realistic, write them down, and think about the small steps it will take to implement them. Even the grandest projects are really just a series of small ones.
Here are my five favorite career-related resolutions and suggested steps to help get you started:
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Ask for a raise. First, find out what you're worth. Online salary comparison sites are a good place to start. Then, think about the ways you bring value to the place where you work. The most successful argument for a raise is based on quantifiable evidence of what you contribute to the company's bottom line. Whining and idle threats to quit rarely work.
Go back to school. This will take two things: time and money. Chances are you have more of both than you think. Examine your schedule and see how many classes you can slip in. If you have a spouse or children, get them on board with your goal. Household chores may have to be redistributed for a while so you can concentrate on school. As for cost, comparison-shop for programs that suit your needs, as well as opportunities for financial aid. Find out if your employer offers tuition benefits; many do. If you're planning to return to school in the fall, complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) as soon as possible.
Go solo. Many people dream of starting their own businesses, but few pull it off. Increase your chances of success by writing a real business plan, one in which you spell out your company's mission and crunch the numbers to see if your idea can be profitable. A serious analysis of your prospects at the outset will save you major headaches along the way -- not to mention a lot of money. Local economic development agencies often sponsor free or inexpensive workshops on writing business plans. Take advantage of them, as well as a basic bookkeeping class or two. At the very least, pick up a copy of "Business Plans for Dummies." No matter what your trade, the investment will pay off.
Find a new job. Most jobs are filled through networking, so guess what you need to do more of if you want a new one! If the very word "networking" sickens you, calm down: It does not have to mean roving around conference rooms shaking hands with strangers and slipping them your business card. Instead, resolve to better keep in touch with people you already know casually. E-mail is a wonderful, non-intrusive tool for this sort of social maintenance. Vow to send a friendly e-mail to at least one former colleague or classmate each week. The wider your circle of acquaintances, the more likely it becomes that you will know someone at any particular company where you are interested in working.
Get organized. In case you haven't noticed, this is actually the mother of all resolutions, the key to pulling off any of the others. Real organization goes beyond stuffing the stacks of papers on your desk into a filing cabinet. It does not require fancy gadgets or expensive consultants. At its heart, organization is about simplicity. It means deciding on your priorities and making sure everything in your environment supports them. If you don't use something, toss it out. If you use something often, place it close at hand. These principles apply to electronic "objects" as well: Keep your e-mail address book in order. Time spent sorting aimlessly through e-mails for someone's contact info is time you don't have available to spend on something that matters to you, whether it's work, family or a hobby you love.
And we can all resolve to do a little more of that.
What are your resolutions? Any special tricks that you think will help you pull them off this year? Tell me about them by sending an e-mail to email@example.com possible inclusion in a future column.
Join Mary Ellen Slayter for Career Track Live, an online discussion of issues affecting young workers, at 2 p.m. Jan. 7 at www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/liveonline/jobs/careertrack. Her guests will be Anita Sharpe and Kevin Salwen, editors of Worthwhile magazine.