Top 5 Career Investments for 2012

By Matt Smolsky , last updated January 4, 2012

If your career feels like it’s on autopilot, then it’s time to take control and soar to new heights. There are several steps you can take starting right now, from getting more education to networking smarter. Let’s look at key career investments that will help you have a more satisfying career.

Continuing Education

Regardless of the industry you work in, staying abreast of change is perhaps the most important career investment you can make. Continuing education can come in a variety of forms. The most common, of course, are classes offered by a local college.

Also, try looking at continuing education from the perspective of the teacher. If you have about 10,000 hours in your profession (roughly 5 years experience), you probably have enough knowledge to share at some level. Contact your local community college about teaching a course, especially if you have advanced degrees such as a PhD or MBA, or have teaching credentials. Create a seminar for a local chapter of your profession's trade organization. If your connections are good, you can even create a session topic for a national convention.

Become More Active in Your Industry

Though it's similar to speaking at industry seminars, becoming more active in your industry involves a broader range of activities. You can simply volunteer to help at or coordinate events, or you can go so far as to serve on the board of directors. You can create white papers, videos or PowerPoint presentations. Offer them to your industry organization, but be sure you can use them to market yourself as well. Host them on your personal website, or on your company's site. By developing valuable, informative content, you'll help the industry and you'll increase your stature.

Network Smart

While it's easy to go on LinkedIn.com and connect with everyone you remotely remember from past jobs or careers, that's not the best use of your time. Instead, focus on building relationships that make sense. Target a more focused network of business associates that will add value to your career, offer you mentoring and insights, and provide you with the connections you need. Of course, this is a two-way street, so be prepared to do the same for them. Once you've established your smaller target network, test it to make sure the individual members do add value. If someone isn't truly providing you with the career enhancements you need, then try to find someone who will. This doesn't mean you end a relationship, it just means you give it a different focus or status. You want to spend 80% of your time with the 20% of your contacts who can do you good.

Hone Your Negotiation Skills

Life is full of negotiation, even with the people you love. In business, negotiating is almost constant. The secret to becoming a better negotiator is to become a better communicator. Effective communication includes everything from body language to listening for verbal clues ascertain to your partner's intent. The knowledge you gain by listening and communicating effectively will go a long way in negotiations. Take part in classes that challenge your communication skills, whether it’s a simple public speaking course or an improvisational acting class.

Set Goals, Then Monitor Your Progress

Invest time each month to monitoring how far you've come in your career. Start by outlining your short and long-term goals. Set up key dates and key metrics as success checkpoints and indicators. Use these monthly review sessions to update your resume, add to your contact list, or even to start looking for a new job, if necessary.

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