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Success in Your Career: A Crash Course

Your professional life will come with a lot of planning and decisions. To start, you must figure out how to find the right job that will make building a career an option. After you are established in a career, you may need to figure out how to to ask for a raise at work, or you may need to come up with a back up plan if your company begins to struggle.

Finally, it is likely that you will need to determine how to quit your job at some point. Below is an overview of how to navigate yourself through your career.

Choosing a career

In the big world of Internet memes, the ones about Monday, that first day of the workweek, feature tortured expressions, people fleeing from some terrifying assailant, even blood. It says a lot about how so many people feel about their work: They hate it. The Conference Board Job Satisfaction survey indicated that just 47.7% of American workers are happy at work.

Sometimes, work is just hard. That’s the reality of being paid to do a job. But that doesn’t mean that that job has to feel like a daily grind all the time. And it shouldn’t. Here’s how to find the right job that best fits your personality while building a career.

Pick Your Poison

A lot of people will tell you to choose a career that you love. That’s great advice, and working in a field you’re truly passionate about is a sure-fire way to stay engaged in your work and maintain the energy that’s required to excel. But here’s the thing: A lot of people love money. A lot. And that isn’t always compatible with their love for, say, watercolors. That means you really have two choices. You can either choose love, even if it doesn’t pay well, or you can choose money. The key is to make the choice you can live with, both personally and financially. Plus, statistics do show that those who earn more are happier with their jobs. That doesn’t mean it’ll be true for you, but it’s worth considering.

Below are the ten best jobs in America in 2014 according to an article published by U.S. News.

A career in the medical field not for you? According to CareerBliss, the happiest employees in America were found in fields where workers had a lot of control, such as software engineering, administration, management and customer service. In other words, these are jobs in which people are involved in overseeing a process, rather than just pushing a button. This, presumably, allows them to really see the value of their work and the role they play in their company, and even the world. When you think about building a career, this may be something to consider when trying to find the right job,

Get Creative

Creativity is often assumed to be this fluffy thing that doesn’t really mesh with hard work. What we often forget is that creativity doesn’t just produce art or music. In fact, it’s great ideas—creative ideas—that drive innovation, promote efficiency and create new opportunities in all kinds of industries.

Just because you’re at work doesn’t mean you can’t play. Find room to be creative in a way that benefits both you and your employer. It’s likely that you’ll both be happier for it.

Polish Your Skills and Work Hard

No matter what you do, you’ll feel better about it if you’re good at it. That doesn’t mean you have to work your way to the executive suite – or even aspire to it – but you should aspire to something, even if it’s just continuing to learn and grow in your present position. Ask your employer about career development opportunities. If there aren’t any, seek them out yourself.

Improving your career skills will also make you more valuable to other employers. That could also benefit you if you decide that what’ll really make you happy at work is to get a new job and building a career further.

You can’t expect to feel satisfied with your work if you don’t get anything done. If you’re unhappy with your job, take some responsibility for your lack of satisfaction and work to turn it around. According to CareerBliss, the happiest jobs in America weren’t easy or low stress; they were satisfying because workers had some autonomy in their work and did work they felt was meaningful. Work, by its very nature, is often hard. But just like paying your bills, you’ll feel a lot better once it’s done.

Be Balanced

Although most people spend a large portion of their lives at work, work is not life, and it shouldn’t be. That means you shouldn’t be looking to work as your only source of self fulfillment – you have your whole life for that! If your passions can’t be part of your profession, that doesn’t mean you can’t pursue them anyway. Plus, if the other areas of your life, such as relationships and hobbies, really shine, work won’t have nearly as much power to drag you down.

Getting a Raise

Even when the job situation is pretty bleak, there are situations when you need to consider your job role and make a case for why you should receive a pay raise for your efforts. If your company is fighting to stay alive, you may have to bide your time, but if you can prove how invaluable you are to the company, there’s always the chance that they can find some way to reward you for your efforts – even if it’s not monetary compensation. If your company is doing well, you still need to prove why you’re worth more than what you’re currently being paid, and why it’s better to give you a pay raise rather than find someone else to do the job for your current wage. Asking for a raise can definitely be an uncomfortable situation, but if you’re prepared, it can lead to success.

Know Your Company’s Financial Standing

One of the first things you should do when preparing to ask for a raise is to do some research into how your company and you department is doing. If there are layoffs happening all around you, and your company is bleeding money, there will probably not be many funds set aside to give people raises. Find out how your company has performed in the most recent quarter, and look at the current economic environment around you. If unemployment is really high, the mentality might be that you should be thankful to have any job and not be asking for more. If things are going well at your company, you’re in a better position to ask for the wealth to be shared.

Know How Your Company Gives Raises

Some managers will have their hands tied when it comes to giving raises, as the company’s practice might be to only give raises at one or two times per year – following employee reviews, or when adjusting salaries up to meet inflation. You don’t want to go into your manager’s office asking for a raise when they are unable to give it to you, so it helps to know when raises occur, and how much they usually are. If you know that raises are given out mid-year and end-year, go see your manager well in advance of these dates and present your case for why you should get the maximum pay raise allowed, or why you deserve even more when the company gets around to giving raises. Since raises will usually have to go through several layers of management, you need to give enough time for management to come to an agreement on your raise, and then for all of the paperwork to go through. Sometimes management is unable to give a pay raise, as the annual budget may not have any room for raises except at the beginning of the year.

Know Your Worth and Your Value at the Company

Research your position and how much the typical salary is in your industry. If you’re already paid more than the average, it’s harder to argue for a pay raise. If you can find other job openings that pay higher, or can get the figures from sites like, then you are armed with the information that will help you when asking for a raise.

Think about the value you add to your company, and what tasks you do that no one else can. If you’re in a position where you have the skills and company knowledge that set you apart from other employees, you’re in a good position to argue for a pay raise. Making the case for being irreplaceable is a good point to bring up when asking for a raise.

Know Your Job Description

If someone is paying you more, then they expect to get more from you. Figure out what your job is, and what extra tasks you usually perform that are above and beyond what you’re supposed to do. If you can argue that you’re saving the company money, or you’re able to help out in other ways, thereby adding value to the company, then the company will be more willing to give you a pay raise.

Prove Yourself

Asking for a raise works best when you’re in good standing with management. If you’re working on a large project, wait until it’s successfully completed; not only will you be viewed more positively by the people making the pay decisions, you’ll have more back-up for how you add value to the company, and why you’re worth more than your currently being paid.

Don’t Offer an Ultimatum

Unless you’re really dissatisfied with your job, and have other job opportunities you can easily take advantage of, do not give your manager an ultimatum. Asking for a raise with the threat that you’ll leave if you don’t get it will not make the manager want to give you one. Focus on what you bring to the company, and why it makes sense to pay you more. You want to convince your manager that you deserve a pay raise, not back them into a corner.

If You’re Turned Down, Find Out Why

If you’re turned down when asking for a raise , inquire as to why this is the case, and what the possibility is that you will be eligible for a pay raise in the future. Try and come up with a plan for how you can get the pay raise next time, and if there’s simply no money for raises in the company, see if you can negotiate for other types of non-monetary compensation.

Ask About Bonuses and Non-Monetary Compensation

If a pay raise is not possible, see if there’s anyway that you could be put on some sort of bonus structure, or see if there are possibilities for non-monetary compensation. Extra vacation days, working from home and flex-time are all non-monetary ways that a company can reward you if it can’t afford to give you a pay raise.

Job Loss Plan image

Sometimes you have to think about and plan for life’s unpleasant experiences; wills, insurance (life, auto, property), emergency funds – all of these financial tools are there to help you when things go poorly. The list doesn’t stop here, however, as you also need to plan out what to do if you lose your job. Though it’s not the most enjoyable thing to think about, losing a job is a very real possibility that you will have to deal with at some point in your life, and having a plan will make it as bearable as possible.

The thing about a job loss plan is that you can’t create it after you lose your job, you need to make it beforehand; think of it as a type of insurance – you can’t buy auto insurance after you get into a car accident, it must be there just in case. Read on to find out the best way to plan for a job loss, and what you can do to keep yourself motivated until you get back on your feet.

Professional Considerations

Even if you don’t think you’re in danger of being canned or laid off, you should still be prepared in case the unthinkable happens. This means you should always have an updated resume and cover letter, a list of references and contacts, and a running tally of your skills and responsibilities at work. It can be hard when you’re not at work everyday to remember all of the things you did on a daily basis, so make sure you keep track of your responsibilities and tasks so that you have them on hand to update your resume. As well, get numbers and stats – did you beat a goal by 40%, or come under budget on a project by some amount of money? Make sure you keep track of all of these things.

Make sure you’re in good standing with your contacts at work that you would like to use later as a reference. If possible, get their personal email addresses from them so that you can contact them after you’re gone. One great tool you have at your disposal is LinkedIn – keep your profile updated, and make sure you are connected to all of the important people you work with, in case you need a reference later on.

Financial Considerations

Having an emergency fund is the most important thing you can do for yourself to prepare for a job loss. It even helps to beef it up so that you have even more than the six to 12 months of expenses that is normally needed for such a fund. The best thing to do is to calculate your monthly expenses, find out what expenses you will want to cut down on, and then estimate how long you think it will take to find a job in your particular field.

The last part of this can be tricky, but it helps to look at job boards and see how many jobs are out there, and how qualified you are for the jobs that are currently available. Looking at job market statistics and projections should help you figure out the longest amount of time you think you’ll be out of work. Remember, always err on the side of caution.

Below are some of the best job boards for job searching. according to Career X Roads.

As well, you should check out the process for applying for unemployment insurance, and figure out whether you’re eligible, how long it normally takes to receive your first monthly payment, and how long it will last for based on how long you have been working. Even though this will be a fraction of what you made before, you can still use it to avoid going into debt while you’re out of work. Looking into severance from your current employer is also a good idea, too, so that you know what to expect. Severance is not given in every situation, so you should be aware of those rules, too.

Quitting job image

Quitting your job is not something to be taken lightly. Especially given the tough job market. You will only want to quit your job if you’re sure you can find something else that will allow you and your family to get by. Unless you have something else already lined up, quitting your job should be a last resort, and you should spend the time to determine how to quit your job in the right way. If you’re a disgruntled employee, going out in a blaze of glory is probably pretty tempting, but keep in mind that it doesn’t help you in the long run. If you’re thinking of quitting your job, or switching careers, read on to find out how to quit your job in the best way possible.

Before You Quit

Quitting your job should only be an option once you’ve exhausted all other possibilities. There are many things that you can do to improve your quality of work life so that you won’t even want to quit. If you’re not enjoying your job or the company you work for, think hard about what it is you’re not enjoying; is it your specific job, is it the work environment, is it your boss, your co-workers, the company overall, the lack of opportunities? Once you have figured out just what it is you dislike about your job, you can go about trying to improve your job without quitting. Also, think about what it is you want from your job, and what new responsibilities and tasks would make you more satisfied and add to your skill set. Imagine your ideal job, and even if you can’t have that job at your current company, what experience and skills can you gain from your current position that would help you eventually land your dream job.

The best thing to do at this point is to talk to your direct superior about your dissatisfaction with your job. You should also come to this conversation with some ideas for how it can be improved, and for other areas you’d like to become involved in. Remember that you are an asset to the company, and with your experience and knowledge of the inner-workings of a company, you have a lot of value and the company, most likely, will want to keep you on board. Find out if there are ways that you can get involved in projects that are more interesting to you, or that can improve your skillset. Managers know that a satisfied employee is a motivated employee, and they will want to make sure you’re working your hardest at something you care about.

As well, if you don’t tell anyone, nothing will change; so, if you at least let it be known what it is you’re having problems with your current job, your manager can try to alter your workload to keep you more motivated. The worst that can happen is that things will stay the same, and in most cases you will see some sort of change that will make you happier in your job, or at least get the experience and skills that will benefit you when you look for a new job.

Work Like You’re Not Quitting

Many employees that are not happy with their job will start to slack off, do the minimum amount of work, show up late and generally give the impression that they no longer want to be there. Though this may be true—you may not want to be at your current job—you shouldn’t treat the job any less seriously than if you were working hard to get a promotion. Being a model employee is still very important, as it will lead to references and business contacts for when you want to look for something new.

If you start to turn in lower quality work, your managers and co-workers will not want to recommend you to someone else. Becoming a bad employee or co-worker writes off your entire time at the company. If you’ve been working in your position for two years and then leave on a bad note after a few months of poor quality work, you’ve basically wasted two years of your professional life, as you’ll leave with no references or contacts. Make sure when you decide to leave your job, that you figure out how to quit your job the right way.

Give Proper Notice

It’s very romantic to think about walking in, telling off the boss and walking out, but this will burn all bridges and leave you in a worse place than when you started at your current position. If you’ve already talked to your manager about your lack of satisfaction in your job, steps have been taken to try to improve your time at the company, and still you want to leave, let your manager know your plans, and come up with an exit strategy together. Typically, two weeks notice is the minimum that you are supposed to give, but if the hiring process is quite long or you’re working on an important project, giving a longer notice will help out the company and leave them with a better impression of you. In the end, it’s all about using your experience and contacts at your current workplace to get a job you’ll enjoy, so the more you can help them on your way out, the more willing they will be to help you get a new job.

The Bottom Line

Your career is a big part of your life. Whether you are trying to find the right job, asking for a raise, making a plan in case of a lay-off or quitting your job, it is important that you make decisions that will be favorable to your professional life.