'Tis the Season for Career Success

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Follow five simple steps this December to improve your professional standing in the new year.

By Alaina G. Levine

This is the first of a two-part post about bettering your career during the holidays and the start of the new year. Read the second part here.

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It's December. It's dark and cold. You’re probably struggling to maintain your productivity when everyone around you is singing carols and sharing pictures of their dogs wearing Santa hats. I hear you.

Here’s a list of five holiday to-dos that will enhance your career as you move into the new year.

Most people look at the winter solstice as a period of respite and recharging, which is certainly important. But there are professional advantages to putting your holiday time to good use. Taking specific actions at the end of this year can improve your chances of achieving your career goals next year. So let’s up our game now to win later.

Here’s a list of five holiday to-dos that will enhance your career as you move into the new year. I certainly do these things myself every December. They have worked well for my colleagues, and they have become part of my own professional advancement process. So read on, and stay tuned for my next column in early January, which will offer tips for starting 2017 off right.

  1. Get your finances in order. Make donations to charities you care about. Check into tax credits and tax deductions. Take inventory of your bank account and see where you are financially compared with last year. Conduct a quick analysis: What are your expenses for the coming year, and how will you pay for them? Did you increase your savings since last year? If not, what derailed that? Make a 2017 savings plan now. Keep in mind that seemingly small financial choices, such as bringing your lunch to the lab every day, can save you hundreds of dollars over the course of the year.
  2. Spend your break networking. I know you want a vacation, and you deserve it. But with all the ugly-sweater parties and eggnog jogs, the holidays can be a time of high-quality networking. The people you meet today could be your research partners tomorrow. You can build mutually beneficial partnerships that lead to ideas, inspiration, and innovation. Bring your business cards with you to every event, even the holiday karaoke extravaganza. Just keep it light with the alcohol and maintain your professionalism. One of the best things about networking at this time of year is that you have something to talk about after introducing yourself: “So how are you spending your holiday time?”
  3. Check in with your contacts. At this time of year, I send holiday messages to my colleagues and clients. I email folks to wish them a great holiday season and to apprise them of my current work projects. Take the opportunity to schedule appointments in January and February, when people will be coming back from break fresh and excited to start the year. I recommend that you take the next few weeks to reach out to people with whom you haven’t spoken recently but with whom you would like to partner in 2017 and beyond.
  4. Look at and apply for jobs. I’m all about the hidden job market. Nothing beats networking and identifying an insider for a job opening. But sometimes that is just not possible. Fortunately, there are good advertised jobs too—and the holiday season is a great time to apply for them. Despite the traditional lull between Christmas and New Year’s Day, companies are still hiring (work never stops) and fewer applicants are applying. In fact, the start of the year is peak recruitment. And because fewer people start their search early and apply for those jobs, there’s a fantastic opportunity for you to gain a competitive advantage. Think how much the hiring manager will appreciate your flexibility when you agree to interview during your break. (Although not common, this is not unheard of, especially if the organization has a pressing need for the new year.) Use the last weeks of December to research places you’d like to work and to apply for advertised jobs that strike your fancy.
  5. Clear out the baggage. I’m not necessarily talking about physical stuff here (although if you do have suffocating piles on your desk, consider a year-end purge). Focus on your metaphorical baggage: mistakes you made or failures you experienced that are holding you back. Now is the time to reflect on those events and then shovel them away into the street. Clear them out of your home, your office, and your head. How can you expect to be agile and innovative if you are weighed down by emotional baggage? Take note of the tough moments from the past year, gauge what lessons you learned, discover what you could have done better—and then say “c’est la vie.” Move on to the new year fresh and clear, and without the extra kilos of mental burdens.

Have a very happy holiday season, and I wish you much success in the new year. Here’s to a magnificent 2017!

Alaina G. Levine is a science and engineering writer, career consultant, and professional speaker and comedian. She is the author of Networking for Nerds, which was named by Physics Today as one of the top five books of 2015. She can be reached through her website, www.alainalevine.com, or on Twitter at @AlainaGLevine.

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