10 Ways to Take Back Control of Your Career

career directionWith the new year rush behind us, this is the perfect time to create new goals, envision a plan of attack, and succeed in new ways.

And since we spend most of our time at work, it makes sense to focus on taking control of your career… and being the best you can be this year!

Here are ten things you can do to help you take control of your career:

1. Ask for Feedback

Constructive criticism can be extremely helpful—it can give you fresh perspective on your work and perhaps highlight a few areas where you can reexamine your methods and modify your approach.

If you take criticism effectively—read: not personally or emotionally—and reflect on it, you can definitely improve your overall quality of work.

Ask your manager and peers for feedback and start putting some of their suggestions to work.

2. Volunteer for a Project (or Create Your Own)

Volunteer for a project or create one by identifying a problem, then coming up with and executing a solution. Be proactive and offer to lead it.

At my last job, I noticed that there was a need for additional support with certain projects and initiatives. I solved the problem by building and running an internship program. We got all of the projects done in record time and, in the process, I got managerial skills that’ll be extremely valuable throughout my career.

Even if there isn’t a dire need for your project at the time, people will be impressed by your proactivity and thought leadership.

3. Ask for a Raise or a Promotion

Asking for a raise or negotiating benefits can be uncomfortable, but it’s worthwhile.

I asked for a raise for the first time last year. It was scary, but I was prepared. I wrote out my key accomplishments, researched the typical job salary range, consulted a mentor for advice and an objective opinion, prepared answers to questions I might be asked, read any resource I could find, and practiced multiple times.

The best-case scenario is that you end up getting a raise or non-monetary benefits like a title change or more paid time off. The worst-case scenario is that you don’t get more money or benefits, but you get practice asking—and asking in the future will be easier and less intimidating.

Don’t expect that people will hand you a raise or a promotion–you have to ask.

4. Say Yes and Figure It Out Afterward

A wise woman named Tina Fey (maybe you’ve heard of her?) once said: “Say yes and you’ll figure it out afterward.”

I agree with this statement (unless you’re a surgeon, in which case please figure it out beforehand).

At my last job, I was asked to be the Social Media Associate on my first day. I hadn’t managed any social media other than my own Facebook and Twitter accounts, but I said yes and figured it out afterward—in this case, by going to Barnes & Noble and picking up Likeable Social MediaThe Social Media Strategist, and just in case those weren’t enough, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Social Media.

I ended up learning a lot, really quickly, and no one knew that I was learning along the way.

5. Attend Networking Events

I can’t tell you the number of times people have told me that they hate networking. Yes, it can be uncomfortable to go up to strangers and introduce yourself or to ask for an informational interview, but it’s essential.

Networking isn’t just important when you’re looking for a job. If I’ve learned anything from my career profile series, I’ve learned that you can learn from other people’s career paths and insights at every stage of your career.

So take advantage of the opportunities in your city and your industry to meet new people. You never know how that new connection might be of service to you—or you to them—in the future!

6. Develop a Passion Project

Pursue a “passion project” on the side. Take advantage of activities that you enjoy—you might take writing classes, go to plays, volunteer for a nonprofit, start a blog, freelance, or start a business.

Just make sure that whatever you choose to pursue on the side is given the go-ahead by your current employer, and it doesn’t negatively affect your performance at work.

I started a blog because I needed a creative outlet outside of work, and it ended up helping me make the switch from law to marketing.

Explore what you enjoy doing—you never know where your passion project will take you!

7. Go Big or Go Home

Of course it’s important to do the work that’s assigned to you. But that won’t make you stand out; most people do at least the bare minimum. In order to take your career to new levels, you need to go big. 

I love Kate White’s book, I Shouldnt Be Telling You This: How to Ask for the Money, Snag the Promotion, and Create the Career You Deserve. In it, Kate says that it’s not enough to do what you’re told to do—you have to go above and beyond so that you can set yourself apart from the pack.

You have to constantly ask yourself, “When was the last time I made my boss say ‘wow?’”

Always ask yourself if you’ve covered the four B’s. Can I be bolder, bigger, better, or more badass? Don’t be afraid to bend the rules in order to go big!

8. Drain the Swamp

Kate White also writes about the importance of what she calls “draining the swamp.” She’s referring to when people get so busy doing their jobs that they don’t think about the big picture and the future.

All of us can get so caught up in the day-to-day that we forget to drain the swamp. The best way to overcome that? Schedule time in your calendar to remind yourself!

Book one hour every week for draining the swamp. Think about the big picture, look at data, reach out to mentors and sponsors, go to networking events, and think about your career trajectory.

Create a clear action plan so you don’t just spend your time doing the work, but you spend time doing work that’ll help you develop a bigger and better career!

9. Manage Your Finances

Alexa Von Tobel, the founder of LearnVest, recommends that you run your financial life like you run your social life. Make dates on your calendar to check your credit score, pay your bills, and double check all of your bills to make sure you were charged the right amount. You should also create an emergency fund, proactively protect your credit score, and start saving for retirement early!

Create an emergency fund that has enough money for you to live on for anywhere from six to twelve months. You can calculate the average amount of money you spend in a month, then try to set aside the proper amount to use in case of major emergencies.

Because your credit score shows how financially responsible you are, and is the litmus test by which you’re permitted to buy a car and house, among other important items, make sure it’s in tip-top shape. Don’t carry credit card debt. Never miss a bill. Check your score regularly, but always get a hard copy when you want to show it to potential lenders.

And I know retirement seems like a billion years away, but it is closer than you think—if you plan ahead—and it’s always better to start saving sooner rather than later. A company 401K is a great retirement savings options and many companies will match the amount you put in a 401K—and that money isn’t taxed. Check with your HR department to get your 401K set up.

10. Decide If It’s Right for You

Life’s too short to work at a job you hate.

Spend the early part of the year reflecting on your job and your hopeful career trajectory. Decide if your current job is the right one for you, and if you decide that it isn’t, have the courage to move on.

You deserve to be happy, and the New Year is a great time to move closer to that. As Kate White says, “your chances of being a success are so much higher when you do something you’re passionate about.”

When put into practice, these tips will help you take control of your career this year!


For this post, YouTern thanks our friends at Levo League!


Levo League


This post is by Elana Lyn Gross and originally appeared on CareerContessa.com, a collection of career informational interviews with women across a variety of occupations and stages. Our career profiles are tailored to each individual feature and offer readers the chance to get the real story behind her job and how she got there. 



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