One of my favorite topics to write about is ways to earn more money, though I don't often cover it here at GRS. As most regular readers know, last summer I quit my day job to work full-time as a freelance writer. Financially and personally, it was the best decision I've ever made.
Nevertheless, there are a significant number of GRS readers who have no interest in quitting their day jobs or becoming self-employed. Some careers don't lend themselves to self-employment, such as being a police officer or a research scientist. Some people prefer to do their jobs and leave work behind at the end of the day, which isn't always possible when you're self-employed. Some like being surrounded by coworkers, and the freelance life seems too lonely. Other people need major benefits that they can't get on their own, often the case for people with chronic health conditions.
If you're gainfully employed and plan to stay that way, increasing your salary is obviously key to making more money. And while salary negotiation is a critical part of the process, there are other important components to steer your career in the right direction.
The following are my top five smart career move tips:
Write Handwritten Thank-You Notes on Nice Stationery
A handwritten note takes more time and thought than an e-mail, and these days they are so rare that people remember them.
Who should receive a thank-you note? Clients who refer others to you, colleagues who helped you on a project, interviewers after a job interview, or anyone else who helps you out.
Saying “thank you” is a given, but writing it in a personal note goes the extra mile. In fact, a 1995 study by Bruce Rind and Prashant Bordia found that restaurant servers who wrote “thank you” on the bill before handing it to customers received an average of 11% more in tips than waiters who didn't.
Invite a Mentor Out For Lunch
Wondering how to break into management or a more exciting department? Considering a new career path?
The best $20 you'll ever spend is taking a mentor out to lunch to pick his or her brain about ways to advance your career. Ask her for advice and how to avoid missteps, and spend the majority of the time talking about her. (And don't forget to send her a handwritten thank-you note!)
Not only will you pick up some great tips, but you're also networking. Who knows when an opportunity might arise and your lunchtime interviewee will recommend you for a job opening or promotion?
Keep Your Résumé Current
I wasn't good at doing this when I was an employee, and every time I needed my résumé it was a chore to update. I likely left out some great points simply because I forgot about them.
An easier solution is to schedule a résumé update every few months and edit as you go, swapping more impressive accomplishments for résumé filler. Another way to update is to keep a running list of accomplishments from which you can pick and choose later depending on your needs. For example, the last time I was job hunting, I had two versions of my résumé, one for project manager positions and one for editor positions. With a list of accomplishments, I could pick and choose the ones that were most applicable for each job for which I was applying.
You never know when you might be up for a job opening or when you'll catch wind of the perfect position at your dream company, but if you keep your résumé in tip-top shape, you'll be ready to seize the opportunity.
Keep a Brag Folder
This is a tip I learned from a supervisor: keep positive notes, e-mails about a job well-done, and kudos from your boss, and file them away in a folder.
As an employee, I felt uncomfortable “bragging” about myself, but unless you work very closely with your supervisor, your boss may not be aware of all of your accomplishments. Bosses are too busy to keep up with every employee's triumphs and certainly won't remember all of them come review time.
Thanks to my former supervisor, I eventually realized it's not bragging, it's actually helpful for supervisors when employees keep good records. My boss wanted to include as many positives as possible in her evaluations and providing them made her job easier.
It'll also make your life easier when you have to fill out a self-evaluation or when you're preparing to ask for a raise. Rather than racking your brain to remember what you've done for the past year, you'll have a folder ready to go.
Read an Industry-Related Book
Staying abreast of your industry shows that you take initiative and have a deep interest in your career. It also helps you to bring new ideas to the table, something any good boss appreciates.
Every few months, read a book that relates to your career and brainstorm five ways the information could be used to improve processes or develop new programs at your company. Again, every boss appreciates an employee who makes his or her life easier. The more problems you can solve, even if it's not something in your job description, the better your chances for raises and promotions.
(Hopefully reading an industry-related book isn't a chore because you like your job, but if you really hate what you do, then pick up a book about another career track you're considering.)
In many ways, employees and entrepreneurs are a lot alike. An employee can no more coast along and expect to excel than a freelancer can, and just like with freelancing, a job with an employer isn't guaranteed. In fact, all of these tips — networking, keeping a list of accomplishments, and staying on top of your industry — can benefit both employees and entrepreneurs.
Essentially we are each CEOs of our own little company of one, whether we work for ourselves or for someone else. Rather than waiting for your boss to notice your good work or hoping to be granted a raise, take steps all year long to propel your career forward and sell the personal brand of You.
What are some of your career tips to be prepared to interview, ask for a raise, or network?
Author: April Dykman
As a freelance writer, editor, and blogger, April Dykman specialized in personal finance, real estate, and entrepreneurship topics. Her work has been featured on MSNBC, Fox Business, Forbes, MoneyBuilder, Yahoo! Finance, Lifehacker, and The Consumerist. Now she does direct response copywriting but, in her free time, April is a wannabe chef, a diehard Italophile, and a recovering yogi.