When it comes to your career, there’s a lot that’s outside your control. You can’t make a job opening appear when you really need one, or keep an awesome boss from transferring to another department, or boost the budget for raises and the opportunities for promotion. At the end of the day, pretty much all you can control is yourself and your behavior. The good news is that sometimes, that’s enough.
If you’ve been having a tough time getting to where you want to be in your career, now’s the perfect time to change that. It’s not really about luck, of course; it’s about changing your perspective and behavior so that you can see and take opportunities when they arise.
Here’s how to do it:
1. Know your worth.
Quick: you’re sitting in a job interview, and the hiring manager asks the dreaded question, “What are your salary requirements?” What do you say?
First of all, of course, you’d try not to say anything – it’s always better if you can get them to say a number first. But that’s not the point here. The point is that you should always know how much your skills, experience, and education are worth on the job market in your area. If you’re not sure, PayScale’s Salary Survey can get you the information you need.
Even if you’re not looking for a job right at this very second, it’s a good idea to know how much you’d ask for, if an opportunity arose. Plus, you never know when things could change. Just like it’s a good idea to keep your resume updated in case of a sudden layoff (or unexpected job offer), it’s important to know how much you’re worth.
2. Ask for what you deserve in a way that people can hear.
In a perfect world, we’d all be able to talk comfortably about money, secure in the knowledge that we’d done our research and were asking for what we deserved. Unfortunately, we live in this world, and there’s no way of telling what kind of unconscious bias you’ll come up against when you negotiate salary. For example, research has shown that the social cost of asking for more money is higher for women, who are more likely to be perceived as aggressive or “not nice” if they ask for a higher salary.
You can’t change the world in the day, but you can help change it over time, and getting paid the appropriate salary for your skills and abilities is a good first step. The way to do that is to ask so that hiring managers can hear your request without reacting negatively. For women, this might mean adopting a data-driven approach or tying their request to a communal concern. For everyone, male and female, it means having a salary negotiation script in mind when entering the meeting, so there’s no fumbling around, looking for the right words.
3. Boost your emotional intelligence.
Emotional intelligence means understanding and dealing with your own emotions, and those of the people around you. Becoming more emotionally intelligent means learning how to manage your own emotions better, and perceive and respond to other people’s emotions. It will make you more comfortable in your own skin, better at dealing with others, and even more charismatic and productive. Psychology Today offers a good rundown of key ways to boost your EQ.
4. Make friends.
Do you cringe at the thought of networking? Maybe it’s the word itself that’s tripping you up.
At its heart, networking is about building relationships. The more people you’re connected to, the more likely you are to have someone who knows about a job opening, for example, or who can bring your resume to the attention of a hiring manager.
It’s not about attending formal networking events, although that’s an option. You can network fairly painlessly by reaching out to people who have similar interests to your own. In short, you’re networking whenever you’re doing something you love that involves meeting new people, whether it’s attending Comicon or going to a basketball game.
5. Help others.
Ask not what your colleagues can do for you, etc. People want to help people who help them. Help a friend or co-worker today, get help when you need it. (Plus, it’s just the right thing to do.)
6. Take responsibility, without assigning blame (especially to yourself).
When something goes wrong, it’s easy to start pointing fingers. Don’t. Remember that the most important thing isn’t who’s to blame, but rather, who’s going to fix it. Be the fixer, not the blamer. Especially don’t waste time and precious energy beating yourself up. It won’t make things right any faster, and it might make you look weak in a way that a more measured acceptance of responsibility wouldn’t.
7. Be willing to make a change.
Three years ago, you loved your job – but that was three years ago, and today’s a different story. Or: your resume got lots of compliments from your college career counselor, but now it’s after graduation, and you’re not getting any calls for interviews. Whatever your particular situation is, it’s easy to get stuck in past successes and not see that they’re, well, in the past.
Change is the only constant thing in life. Don’t be afraid to shake things up. Especially when it comes to building your career, if you’re standing still, you’re actually moving backward. Look toward the future, think about what you really want, and move forward.
This post was updated from an earlier version previously published on PayScale.
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