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It used to be that "career advancement" meant keeping your resume up to date and waiting for your boss to move on. No more. Turbulent economic times have changed the way people move up the employment ladder. To make matters worse, the US Department of Labor estimates that today's job market might be tighter than in any period in recent history. But, as the old saw goes, new challenges mean new opportunities. By knowing where you want to be and some ways of getting there, you're already ahead of the game. Instead of waiting for the phone to ring, here are a few tips to help jump-start your career.

1. First and Goal(s)

Some lucky folks have found the job of their dreams and wouldn't think of leaving. For the rest of us, it's never too early (or too late) to think about our career goals. Research has shown that those who plan and write down their goals are more likely to fulfill them. A few simple tips will help you to plan and follow through on your career objectives. Divide your goals into short-term (for the coming year), and long-term. Although most "career goals" concentrate on job responsibilities and finances, don't forget the other areas of your life -- family obligations, social and spiritual needs. It's also important to keep your goals both realistic enough to be attainable and specific enough to be measurable.

2. Plan To Make A Plan

Once your goals are set, draw up a plan for meeting them. What are the prospects for promotion in your present job? Are there other departments in the company that could utilize your strengths? Are certain departments expanding? Or are there other companies -- suppliers, vendors, customers -- who have the kind of position you find yourself interested in? Once you have an idea of what's out there and where you'd like to be, then find out how people in those positions got their jobs. What kinds of educational backgrounds do they have? What kinds of tasks got them noticed? What kinds of assignments did they work on? Whom did they work with? By following in their lead, you, too, might create new opportunities for yourself.

3. When In Doubt, Write it out

To take advantage of new opportunities -- either with the same company or a new one -- your best defense is a good offense. Instead of explaining or summarizing what you're doing on your present job, document it. Keep an action plan that spells out your exact responsibilities and how you meet them. This documentation is more than a job description; it's a monthly (perhaps weekly) log of your duties and activities. Be careful to use specific, measurable assessments, and give credit to team members where appropriate. Note changes in duties and extra assignments and how you responded to these demands. Not only is this document valuable for a job search, it can also help during yearly job reviews with your supervisor.

4. A Modest Proposal

The typical route to a better position is through promotions or by applying for an advertised job. Many successful people, however, have made their own positions by marketing their skills and creating a new job for themselves. By carefully reviewing what your company (or another company) needs, you can suggest new and innovative ways to use your talents and skills. What kinds of problems are companies like yours facing? What role can you serve to address these problems? Develop a proposal that spells out exactly how you can help further the company's objectives. Detailed research and a solid action plan will demonstrate your commitment to the proposal. No matter what the outcome, such initiative rarely goes unrewarded.

5. Networking - A contact Sport

When looking for a job, many people use their network of friends and job acquaintances to help them in their search. (Research shows that 65 to 85 percent of new hires get their jobs through personal contacts.) Trouble is, many of these same folks forget about their network once they find a job. These personal and professional friendships -- like any relationship -- grow stale with disuse. Keep the network alive. Send thank-you cards when you do land a new position. Let them know what you're doing, and keep up to date with their activities as well. Of course, the same etiquette applies to any groups to which you might belong.

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