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1. Know What You Want

Research and bookmark job descriptions, and sample résumés and online profiles that could be your dream job. Then it’s time to get practical: Identify key skills and measures of success. Assess which job titles and responsibilities helped people in those fields advance. Compare the data to your own career trajectory, says Career Manager Laurie Doran. “Reflect on your past positions and how your resume can showcase relevant experiences in terms of the job you want to have.”

2. Harness the Power of Social

Social media isn’t just for keeping up with your friends from high school and college. Re-evaluate social media in terms of how you can use it professionally, rather than personally. Follow or friend 12 to 24 companies or people who are leaders in your industry, advises Career Counselor Emily Salazar. Through Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and others, you can stay abreast of hot topics, long- and short-term trends, training opportunities, job openings, and more. Don’t be afraid to jump into the conversation; you might even gain a few high-level followers yourself. And that can reap big rewards in the future.

3. Find a Mentor

If you’re aiming for senior leadership, connect with a vice president who’s a rising star. If you’re looking to start your own company, reach out to someone who has been through a successful venture. Ask them to share the challenges they have overcome in advancing their career — and what advice they might have for you as you work toward your own goals. While you can fairly easily identify a potential mentor through LinkedIn, Facebook or Google, “utilize the alumni connection,” says Salazar. Look for mentors who attended your high school or college or belong to a civic or professional organization you are involved in. “Because there is already a common thread between the two of you,” she says, “they will almost always say yes to a mentoring opportunity.” And aim big: Think about where you want to be long-term when looking for a mentor.

4. Get Up to Speed

Now is the time to take a serious look at what you need to be competitive for a promotion or job search. Perform a “gap analysis” based on the data you have collected through online research and from your mentors, says Doran. “Identify the specific skills you are missing and create a plan to fill in those gaps.” Enroll in continuing education courses. Join a local, state or national organization for professionals in your field. If you’re already a member, take on a leadership role. Attend conferences — or, better yet, submit proposals to present at them. Think about what your future boss will be looking to see from your resume.

5. Put Yourself Out There

“Networking is about more than making small talk with someone you met at a luncheon once,” says Salazar. “Build that relationship over months and years.” Call or email regularly to check in. Arrange to meet for coffee or dinner. Invite them to join you at a seminar or event. Share your successes — and thank them when their advice has been helpful. Your network will be its strongest if you maintain relationships with colleagues, bosses, mentors, professors and others who can offer support as you work toward the job you want. And remember, Salazar says, it’s not only about what your network can do for you. The strongest networks are more of an exchange of ideas and information.

6. Start Right Now

We all procrastinate on a lot of things, but your job search should not be one of those. Start by creating a master resume that lists all your past and present job responsibilities, measures of success, presentations, papers, conferences and other accolades. Update it regularly as you continue to enhance your skill set. Use that master to create targeted resumes for specific job openings as they arise. Also develop an “elevator speech,” advises Doran, that ties together where you’ve been, where you are now, and where you’re going professionally. It will keep you focused, so when the job you want opens in your existing company or another, you’ll be ready.

Stacia Hernstrom MLA '05 is a writer for St. Edward's University.

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