The federal minimum wage since 2009 is $7.25 per hour. If you already knew that because you see that rate on your paycheck, it’s time for a change, and I’m not talking about getting tips. The economy is tough, jobs are scarce, college graduates are unemployed and every headline sounds like economic doomsday is approaching. Contrary to popular belief, there are still ways to advance your career path and move up the salary ladder.
1. It’s about what you know… Continuing to learn, train and acquire new skills will make you valuable to your company, give you leverage to ask for a raise and make you an appealing prospect to other companies if you are looking to change jobs. The nature of the workforce has changed drastically in the last two decades; industries rise and fall quickly and knowledge of machines, programs and protocols becomes outdated as technology accelerates. Take advantage of any relevant internal training your company may offer and consider taking time off for college courses. Studying renewable energy and sustainability, earning your MBA or getting professional certification in your field of choice can give you that advantage in the job market.
2. But it’s also about who you know. Networking, networking, networking. You’ve heard it all before, but are you using it? The key is to keep building your network even when you’re not job-searching so that it is already in place when you do start looking. Business social networking like LinkedIn can help you keep in contact and let others see what you’re doing professionally. You can also sign up for groups focused in your area that will alert you to new job opportunities. Similarly, there are ways to ensure that employers who are looking will be able to find you, by building a good reputation at your current company and involving yourself in the industry outside of your own workplace.
Finding a mentor is another big step in career development. A mentor is someone in a position where you would like to be someday, with knowledge of your field of work and business connections. He or she is committed to helping you thrive and advance in your chosen career path, offering guidance and seeing your personal development. Anyone you admire and respect can be a mentor if you can develop the solid professional relationship needed.
3. Be prepared. Seeking career counseling may benefit you if you are overwhelmed by the job search process and don’t know where to begin. City and county governments sometimes offer these services for free; the US Department of Labor website can help you find these services through a search by zip code. Even professional career coaches may offer their services pro bono. Having a plan will keep you moving forward rather than stagnating in a dead-end job or stuck in the black hole of unemployment. Remember, though, that it is usually safer to keep a dead-end job until you secure a better one than to quit and have no income for an indefinite period of time.
Take career tests online to help you know your own personality type, work preferences, ideal career matches and the type of environment in which you will thrive. CareerPath.com has such tests and other resources on careers, education, resume help and more. Practice interviewing with a friend using common interview questions like “What are your biggest strengths and weaknesses?” or “Tell me about a time when a situation didn’t go as planned and how you handled it.” Your resume is a jumping-off point for interviews, so consider how you want to explain and elaborate on your previous job experience and give good reasons for each time you’ve changed jobs. Don’t leave out recent jobs on your resume, since so many companies use background and reference checks from third-party companies who have all that data on file. Even if you had good intentions, leaving out information makes you look untrustworthy to employers.
4. Watch for scams. Con artists profit from the desperation of others, so job seekers often make easy targets. If you pay a firm to help you find a job, make sure you read the firm’s contract carefully. Understand what the firm promises you and what your responsibilities are. If the firm makes oral promises but doesn’t put them in the contract or avoids answering your questions, they’re probably using dishonest, although generally legal, business practices. Don’t believe promotions of “previously undisclosed” federal jobs; all federal jobs are announced on usajobs.gov. There are legitimate multilevel marketing plans, but some are pyramid schemes, so find out all you can about the plan and the company before you pay any money. “Mystery Shopper” jobs may be similarly fraudulent. In general, contact your local consumer protection agency and the Better Business Bureau to learn more about legitimate opportunities and check out individual businesses.
5. Take care of yourself. Being laid off, especially from a job you thought was secure or had held for many years, can cause anxiety and stress. It can be a devastating blow, but it may lead to new opportunities for you. Prepare for reentering the workforce, but be patient because it usually doesn’t happen overnight. Take time for yourself just as you would if you were working. Exercise can be helpful in this aspect, and being physically fit also builds self-confidence, a key trait leading to career success and satisfaction.
Whether you are changing the course of your career, moving up the ladder or recovering from an unexpected layoff, remember that you are not alone in your situation. Be patient and persistent until your hard work pays off. It always does.