When your career is just getting started, you might have a vision of where you'd like to be in five or 10 years, but how do you get there? Usually, there won't be one big, magical opportunity that lands in your lap. Instead, you'll find success through a series of small, incremental decisions and actions that set your career in motion.
The main goal is to set yourself apart from the crowd. It may seem obvious, but it's not easy to do. Maybe you're a "big-picture person" who's able to help your company create a profitable new strategy. Maybe you love the small details and help prevent costly errors. You already possess skills that your company values, so how can those skills help you reach career goals?
Even if you don't work for yourself, you can think like an entrepreneur by identifying things your company needs to be more efficient, profitable and relevant to the market it serves. Think: How can I save my company time or money? In doing this, you become the person your co-workers can't imagine working without.
It's also important to never stop growing. By thinking like an entrepreneur inside your company — I call this being an "intrapreneur" — your career will allow you to strategically shift from role to role. But how else can you work toward career growth as a busy professional? There are many low-risk ways to learn new skills.
At work, take advantage of side-of-desk projects for other departments, which allow you to network within your company. You might put yourself at the top of their list the next time that department has an opening.
Take online courses and spend time reading articles to develop a very specific skill set that can set you apart from your co-workers. Oftentimes, companies want to use social media or certain technology more effectively, but they're not sure how to do so. Be that person that shows them how by volunteering for the job.
There's also what I like to call the power of a "side hustle." Freelance or contract work will allow you to earn extra income and build your résumé at the same time. Side hustles allow you to explore the things you like to do in a profitable way. And if you discover that you don't enjoy that work, you still have your day job.
However, I've known a few millennials who started side hustles as a way to do the work they love, such as freelance writing, and eventually they felt like they were working two full-time jobs. Ultimately, they had to decide to either stay with their full-time employer or taking the leap and work for themselves.
If you are considering a change, think the job move through carefully.
It's important to reassess your career every few years. Are you still learning and growing? Do you feel trusted, respected and appreciated by your co-workers? Do you feel that way about them? Are you working toward a job in a field that interests you, or are you feeling stuck in a job you took because you needed to? If you feel unchallenged and burnt out, it might be time to move on to something new.
Getting a job offer is exciting, but there's a reason companies give you time to think things over. Even if you're aching for a change, stop and think if this new job would be the right change for you.
As your résumé grows more impressive, you've earned the right to be particular in which job offers you accept.
Consider the role itself. Is it the same job you're trying to leave, just at a different company? Or will it provide you with new challenges and responsibilities? Do you like the company culture? Do you see this as a step in the right direction? If not, keep job hunting.
If the job excites you and you think the company is a great fit, shift your attention to the terms of the offer. It's easy to get so wrapped up in the role that you ignore other important details.
Is there potential for growth at this company? Do they promote from within, giving you a chance at different roles in the future? Or would you have to leave in a few years to further your career?
Ask yourself if you are ready to make the switch. Take into account not just the salary but also the benefits the company is offering.
Do they offer a comprehensive benefits package with a generous 401(k) match? Or is the company a start-up where you are offered fewer benefits but shares of company stock? How much paid time off do employees get? What is the monthly cost of health insurance? Are there any benefits that might sweeten the deal, such as commuter benefits or discounts at area gyms?
It's easy to ignore a long commute, expensive health insurance premiums and a below-average salary when you're enamored with a job offer, but don't underestimate how deeply these things will affect your daily life. Be wary about taking a job with a long commute, because it could ultimately affect your overall happiness.
Career moves are all about getting to where you want to be. If you're starting out in your career, seek out learning opportunities. Ask more experienced workers for the story of how they got to where they are now. As you reach a point where you can be more discerning in your job hunt, carefully evaluate job offers to make sure any move you make will serve your goals.
You have a greater command over your career path than you realize, and taking control today will pay off very soon.
— By Sophia Bera, founder of Gen Y Planning
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