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Rising by Resolution

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By Mary Ellen Slayter
Sunday, December 30, 2007

Workers who make career resolutions -- and create a plan to make them happen -- can see benefits that pay off for years.

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Only 12 percent of workers made career-related resolutions at the beginning of 2006, but nearly three-quarters of those who did achieved their goals by the end of the year, a survey by staffing agency Accountemps found back in January.

The top career resolution: to learn new skills. Resolving to earn a raise or promotion and improve work/life balance were close behind.

These goals can seem simple enough, but as with losing weight or paying down debt, the path to lasting success can be complicated. The secret is to break those big goals into small, manageable tasks. And don't think you have to go it alone. Help is available. Here are a few of the most common career-related resolutions and some resources that can help you simplify things and stay on track throughout the year.

¿ Learn new skills. This is the most popular, and it's also the most accessible if you think broadly about your paths for learning. It doesn't mean you have to return to campus full time or spend a lot of money. Find out whether your company offers tuition assistance, and if so, how to qualify. Ask whether there are any classes or training being offered on-site. Consider community colleges and online options. They can be cheaper and are likely to offer more convenient hours for working adults.

¿ Improve work-life balance. Family duties, long hours and crushing commutes leave plenty of us frazzled. If moving or changing jobs isn't possible, look for ways to steal back some time at home. A professional organizer can help you streamline your daily routines and contain the chaos. One way to find one is through the Web site of the National Association of Professional Organizers ( http://www.napo.net). Services range from general clutter-busting to feng shui makeovers. Have the organizer start with that disaster you call a home office.

¿ Increase your earnings. First, find out whether your pay and benefits are in line with market norms. Then, be specific about just how much more you want to make. Ten percent? $500 a month? Once you have a reasonable number in mind, create a strategy that will help you reach that goal. As part of your annual review, ask your boss to help you come up with the criteria to merit the raise. A lot of people get the shivers at the merest thought of bringing up this topic. To overcome this, start by reading a guide to negotiating, such as "Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In," by Roger Fisher, Bruce Patton and William Ury. Short on time? Check out "Next-Day Salary Negotiation: Prepare Tonight to Get Your Best Pay Tomorrow," by Maryanne Wegerbauer.

¿ Change careers. If it's not just the job that's got you down, but the profession as a whole, it's time to switch careers. A professional career coach can guide you through this decision and the individual steps to make it happen. A pro can be especially helpful if you're not quite sure what the next step can be. As a bonus, many coaches are also professional r¿sum¿ writers and can help you translate your experience into language that prospective employers in your new field will understand. You can find one through the Web site of the Professional Association of R¿sum¿ Writers & Career Coaches ( http://www.parw.com).

¿ Start your own business. If you hope 2008 will end with your name atop the company letterhead, check out the Small Business Administration's online assessment ( http://www.sba.gov/assessmenttool/index.html). This tool will walk you through a series of questions to determine how ready you are to start your own company and where you need help. When you're finished, you'll have a list of recommendations on key topics, including funding, taxes and intellectual property laws.

College Quest

Are you in the market for an academic job, or have you been recently hired on campus? If you're willing to share your story for a column on the subject, e-mail me at slayterme@washpost.com. Please include your full name and daytime phone number. No attachments.


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