Back to work post-furlough? Now’s the time to work on your career

When it comes to our careers, there are many things we can control. And then there are things we can’t, like being furloughed for more than a month.

Here in Washington, D.C., many of my friends, clients and colleagues were affected by the government shutdown. All are relieved and eager to get back to work. In fact, I heard more than one person say, “I can’t wait.”

If you’re like many of the recently furloughed workers, you probably made great headway with your personal goals given the sudden influx of free time. Your closet is totally reorganized. Your refrigerator now gleams. And you can see the floor of your children’s playroom. But did you pay the same attention to your career?

If you didn’t spend time thinking about your professional goals while on furlough, no problem (you certainly had a lot on your mind). Now is actually the perfect time to do just that, as you eagerly return to your work routines. In fact, these last five weeks might have given you a fresh perspective on life, a greater awareness about what you want from your career or some newfound energy.

Let’s harness that fresh thinking and enthusiasm to help you get ahead professionally. Here are three great ways you can become a more active participant in your career:

1. Reflect on your career and set goals

Quite frankly, most of us are not actively engaged with our careers on a consistent basis. For many people, active career participation comes in the form of conducting a job search every few years. This is not the same as proactively managing your career, nor will it bring about the same results.

Proactively managing your career involves setting goals, breaking them down into smaller, actionable pieces, and being accountable for your results. A great way to start goal-setting is by reflecting on your career, especially if you (and you are not alone!) have not done so in a while.

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Choose your method: Pen and paper, laptop, tablet or a voice memo on your phone. Record what comes to mind when you think about the current state of your career. You might recall that important lunch you want to have with a client that hasn’t yet happened, a difficult conversation you must schedule with your direct report or your 2019 career goal to network more often. Or your mind may turn to bigger questions, such as how happy you actually are with your career.

Try not to judge what comes up — wherever you are with your career, or however you feel about it, or whatever success looks like for you, is all that matters. Because it’s your career.

Start small and set one goal for yourself. For example, upon reflection, you might choose to set a goal around getting more concrete feedback from your manager. Commit to one action and the date by which you will achieve it: emailing your manager to set up a conversation, asking a colleague for feedback about how you are perceived, or collecting emails that hold nuggets of this information you may have skipped over previously.

When you take the time to reflect on your career, you make an important first step in setting goals that will help you translate your thoughts into action.

2. Review your resume

The hard part may actually begin with locating your resume, especially if you have not needed it in years. However, it’s always a great career management strategy to give your resume a periodic review, since it is the number-one marketing tool you have. So dig it up and spend some time with it.

Ask yourself: Do I get a good feeling when I look at my resume, or is my response closer to cringe-worthy? Does it sound like me and who I’ve become? Would I want to learn more about this person?

Instead of putting it down or, worse, looking away, make updating it one of your goals. Spend time capturing all that you have done in your most current job, so as not to miss a powerful accomplishment. Do not focus on creating the perfect bullet points using the top 50 best adjectives or reformatting the font, point size and page numbers. In other words, leave the prettying up for later.

It’s okay to run long as you recall all your achievements; you can always cut content later. Working on your resume will boost your confidence and put you in a more active career management mindset, and forcing yourself to recall your achievements might even help you better prepare for an upcoming performance review.

3. Revisit your network

Your network will always be an important part of your professional success, no matter where you are with your career. Networking is relationship building, and it’s an important career management strategy to connect with others consistently.

Assess your network, now that you’re back to interacting with colleagues again. Is there anyone you’d like to get to know better or deepen your relationship with? Who in your network would be just the person to give you some much-needed career advice? Did you make a new contact while on furlough who’s worth following up with? Who can you help?

These are all great places to reignite your networking efforts. LinkedIn may be the go-to professional networking platform, but face-to-face networking will always be the most powerful.

So reach out and schedule a coffee or lunch. Being proactive — and not waiting for someone to reach out to you — will empower you to do (even) more networking. And chances are, he or she will say “yes!”

It’s never too late to become an active participant in your career. If the shutdown had you thinking about looking elsewhere, know that your competition is likely to be in the same boat. Get a jump on your career goals now and you will feel the same sense of pride you got from KonMari-ing your closet.

And know, too, that during times of change, especially when your employer holds the upper hand, you can still take charge of your career, feel empowered, and even get ahead. And that’s perhaps the best feeling of all.

Ellen B. Dunagan is the founder and president of Traverse Career Solutions, LLC, an executive and career coaching company based in Arlington, Virginia. Dunagan has helped hundreds of individuals take charge of their careers and discover greater professional and personal satisfaction.

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