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How to Start – or Change – Your Career on the Right Foot

In May and June, million of graduates threw their caps in the air, rejoicing at the completion of their college degrees. After four years of hitting the books, now it’s time to find a grind and get on it.

The good news is the job market has definitely improved since the crash of 2008. When the global financial earthquake hit, it certainly affected the job market, and companies had their pick of multiple candidates for every open position. Fast-forward almost 10 years later, and the tide has changed. It is truly a candidate’s market, where job hunters now entertain multiple offers and the advances of recruiters desperate to find top talent.

Although the economy is looking up for recent graduates, it is still important to develop a well-defined strategy as you approach the job market to ensure you land the right position.

Preparation Is Key

First, start off by researching the types of companies you are interested in. Identify your ideal company’s top competitors. Visit the websites of potential employers to learn more about their functional departments, leadership team members, annual reports, board members, and business strategies. This preliminary research will not only help you confirm whether a company is right company for you, but it will also arm you with pertinent information that will prove useful during interviews down the line.

Get Networking

Internships and professional organizations are great avenues to help you expand your network and gain access to the hidden job market. Employers tend to interview and hire referrals from high-performing employees or candidates they meet through networking opportunities, so relationships are key. It is best to start developing relationships and building your network early in your career. As you grow in your career, be certain to grow your network, too.

You should also seek out a mentor who can offer solid guidance as you make moves throughout your career. In choosing a mentor, look for someone who is in your dream job or a key industry leader in your field of choice. A mentor should be someone with whom you can be completely transparent and vulnerable, someone who will hold you accountable as you strive to achieve your goals.

In most cases, your mentor will not be employed at the same company as you. This is beneficial, because it will enable them to provide an outsider’s perspective on issues you may encounter in the workplace. Throughout your career, you may or may not change mentors, but you will know when your mentor has taken you as far as they can. If and when that happens, be sure to keep your mentor in the loop. Update them on your successes and routinely acknowledge their role in your career growth.

Making a Change? Take a Step Back to Make a Leap Forward

If you’re a mid-career professional looking to make a career change, research will be just as important now as it was at the beginning of your career. One valuable step you can take is volunteering for projects in other departments. This is a great way to gain exposure to other functional departments within the organization and work alongside managers you would not ordinarily have access to.

When switching careers or industries, you may have to consider taking a couple of steps back in order to prepare yourself for a big leap forward. If you find yourself in a lower position, take the time to close any skill or experience gaps you have. Consider this time as an incubator phase that will surely pay off in the future.

Maintaining memberships with industry-specific organizations and expanding your network – both in person and on LinkedIn – will also prove beneficial while making a career transition. Do your homework. Keep abreast of industry and work trends. Develop your technology skills, as they will be useful in any career.

Look for opportunities to join the board of and/or volunteer with a small company or nonprofit organization. These organizations are always in need of help from experienced individuals and are likely to accept your offer. Not only will this type of work feed your soul and allow you to give back to your community, but it will also help sharpen your skills and possibly encourage you to develop new ones. You will also have the opportunity to work with companies and individuals outside of your normal network.

It May Be Time for a Makeover

Never underestimate the value of a personal image makeover, which includes your wardrobe, accessories, hairstyle, and makeup. This goes for both recent grads and career-changers, but it’s especially applicable to the former. Have a closet full of Greek-life paraphernalia? You will definitely need to upgrade your look with a complete wardrobe overhaul.

Begin your wardrobe makeover with the basics. There are plenty of fashion bloggers out there who can show you how to build a capsule wardrobe and look good on a budget. Remember: Your chosen profession – whether creative, tech, or corporate – will dictate the acceptable dress code for your industry.

By implementing these career tips, you’ll be prepared for the grind, and you’ll stand out in a competitive job market. Although the steps are simple, they are each very effective when strategically applied.

This was originally written for

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