Advancing your career may be easier than you think during these strange times. With elaborate vacations out of the question for now, there’s never been a better moment to focus on your professional growth.
“It can be challenging to find time to work on your career while you’re working on the job,” said Val Olson, a career adviser at Korn Ferry Advance. “Your summer vacation may be an ideal time to focus on your career without any competing demands.”
Whether you’ve got vacation days to burn, reduced hours or are looking to jump-start your career after a layoff, here’s what you can do.
Meet with a career coach
Vocational gurus are offering online consultations right now. To find one, first tap your network for recommendations, since that’s also a casual way to reignite cold connections.
“Once you have your appointment on the calendar, carve out a half-day before to conduct a personal career evaluation,” said Olson, who suggests you take the time to write down reflections on your career goals and to pose some powerful questions to yourself.
A few on her list: “What would I do careerwise if money were no object? Where will I be in five years if I continue down the path I’m on? What haven’t I done that I long to? What are three possible career paths I could take?”
With this exercise, you’ll not only learn more about yourself, but also position yourself for a more productive session with a career coach. Then, “after your meeting, write about what you learned and create an action plan,” said Olson. “Include three steps you could take to move you closer to your career goals, and take the first step before you return from vacation.”
Conduct informational interviews
Always a good practice in an increasingly tumultuous job market, these informal discussions are especially useful now.
“Ask your current contacts to introduce you to interesting people who might have career advice or industry insights,” said Beth Bridges, founder of TheNetworkingMotivator.com and author of “Networking on Purpose: A Five-Part Success Plan To Build a Powerful and Profitable Business Network” (iBridge Enterprises). “Then, send a concise, focused e-mail asking for just 20 or 30 minutes of their time. After the conversation, be sure to follow up with a thank you and any updates on how you used their suggestions.”
You can also use this strategy if you’ve been interviewing for a job and it didn’t work out. Ask if the hiring manager would be open to a Zoom coffee break or a socially distanced walk to give you candid feedback on your candidacy. The employer will likely respect your humbleness and desire to learn, and you’ll come out of the meeting with helpful takeaways for your job hunt — and maybe even some freelance work.
Reactivate dormant ties
“These are people you used to know or work with, but whom you haven’t spoken to in some time. Reach out and ask them for advice, share an interesting link or tell them about a recent project, but don’t ask them for a job or referral,” said Bridges. “Renew the connection and see where the conversation goes.”
Strive to be specific in your conversation starters: Mention a favorite mutual band and your excitement for an upcoming album, a research study you saw that reminded you of them, praise for their latest podcast episode or anything that shows you’re tuned into the topics they care about.
Show some gratitude for your current employer
Love the ones you’re with, too, y’all.
“Too often we think of networking as prospecting for new people, yet the most underused resource for career advancement comes from nurturing current relationships with colleagues and clients,” said Erin Howard-Reid, a career counselor and owner of career empowerment company Chirp Clarity.
“Appreciation is always in demand, so take a few minutes to write handwritten notes or record a video of yourself thanking your team for holding the down the fort in your absence,” she said. “One client earned a coveted company project because her thank-you video showed empathy and gratitude — a trait her boss knew would successfully translate to clients.”
Buff up your social media presence
Hamaria Crockett, Ph.D., a career advisor at Korn Ferry Advance, said a lull in employment or vacation time is a great opportunity to evaluate how you use your current social media platform and build upon it.
“Think about researching articles, coming up with clever quotes, creating videos and even writing some LinkedIn posts,” she said. “This form of branding can really help you if you plan to make any changes in your career or to be noticed within your area of expertise.”
If you have the time and are feeling inspired, you may even want to write and schedule out content for the rest of the year.
Now, about that decade-old LinkedIn avatar. If you’re trading your fire-escape views for cinematic mountain vistas during your vacation days, take some new headshots for your Web site or professional profiles. Book an appointment with a professional photographer for a socially distanced session or have a loved one snap some pictures on portrait mode. (Yes, you can capture high-quality photos using only a phone.)
“If you’re visiting a scenic destination, pose for a few photos with your professional headshots in mind,” said Brianne Fleming, a branding coach who teaches masters-level courses in branding and marketing at the University of Florida. “Pack a bold outfit that expresses your personality and suits your industry.”
Bonus: You won’t be that guy or girl eliciting eye rolls from potential employers for repurposing your wedding photos.
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