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Investing time in your career is like investing money for retirement. If you forget about your career once you clock out, you’re essentially stashing savings under the mattress (there's little opportunity for growth in either scenario). Commit extra time to it, and, well, you know about the miracle of compound interest.
“Seeing [your career] as something you invest in is the only way to make it fruitful, enjoyable and successful,” says Andrea Kay, author of “Work’s a Bitch and Then You Make It Work,” and several other career books.
So get started. Here are three ways to invest in your career this week.
1. Learn about yourself
What better time for self-reflection than the new year? Silence your phone, and commit time to considering what your preferences are in different aspects of work. What types of coworkers and managers do you enjoy working with most, for example? What kind of company values and culture matter to you? Also, assess your strengths, skills and areas of expertise.
This week’s to-do: Kay says you should be able to list about six functional skills that you’re good at and enjoy doing. If, like many of her clients, you can’t come up with six, she suggests looking to the past. Reflect on a successful, enjoyable project, and list the skills and talents it required. Do the same exercise for four or five achievements. Next, Kay says, look for patterns. What words show up in multiple lists, and which of those bring you joy? Voila: Those that make the cut are, as Kay puts it, your “most joyous skills.”
The payoff: You will face less guesswork the next time you consider a new project, job or career path. “You’re in a much better position of strength when you have all this information and can feel confident about what you have to offer and what you’re seeking,” Kay says.
2. Become an expert
This step involves “developing your knowledge [and] your reputation as the one who knows the most,” Kay says. Reflect on what you need to know more about, like the current state of your industry and its future. Or maybe you need to master a skill, like public speaking. Next, research what resources will help you gain that expertise.
Think: classes, trainings, conferences, retreats and professional associations. Using those resources, Kay says, “commit to doing something every quarter that makes yourself more valuable.”
Andrea Kay, career expert
Commit to doing something every quarter that makes yourself more valuable.”
This week’s to-do: “Part of your investment in yourself is having a daily routine that encompasses reading whatever it is that will help you be better that day,” Kay says. Read books, online articles and professional journals about your industry and the skills you’re working on. Need a place to start? Ask your manager what he or she reads. Keep up with daily news events, too. They can affect you, the marketplace and just about every industry, Kay says. “I cannot overemphasize the importance of having a broad understanding of the world and where the world is going,” she adds.
The payoff: Over time, you’ll likely become more hireable and promotable, Kay says, particularly if others notice your expertise. You’ll also feel more confident and fulfilled. “To feel you are developing into an expert that really knows your stuff … that is just an incredible feeling,” she says.
3. Build relationships
Kay suggests aiming to meet with at least one person a week to discuss each other’s industry and career. Get to know people now, and you may be able to lean on them later. “It is so, so joyous to know that other people are there for you,” Kay says.
This week’s to-do: Schedule a coffee meet-up or phone call with someone you already know, like a coworker. If this step seems awkward or intrusive, Kay suggests telling the invitee that you’ve made a goal of developing new relationships this year. Chances are, he or she will be eager to help. “We really are creatures that are kind of built to scratch each other’s back,” Kay says. As for the conversation itself, aim to learn more about what the person and his or her company does.
The payoff: For one, these conversations will boost your networking skills. You will also make connections that may lead to new jobs, projects and board positions, Kay says, “because people know people.” The relationships you nurture can also become your personal think tank — people who can help you navigate problems.
“If you don’t have those kinds of relationships,” Kay says, “This is the year to start.”