Spring for some better career habits.

March is the time when many New Year's resolutions have gone flat. So maybe your shiny January routine of going to the gym four times a week did not stick, or your healthy-eating resolve crumbled in the face of February sleet. No matter – spring is here, and you can use the blue skies and the warmer days as the ultimate inspiration to refresh yourself professionally with some work organization and spring cleaning!

A spring re-boot is a great way to assess where you are, breathe a new life into a stagnant job search, and chart your course towards making this a great year for your professional growth. Here are five Spring steps to get you inspired and moving in the right direction:

Give yourself a performance review

Your manager may sit down with you once a year to go over your professional goals and deliver feedback, which is often followed by the raise or promotion conversation. Why not do it for yourself? You might even take yourself out for a nice lunch while you are at it!

Where do you start? Consider using the same format as your manager would, especially if you have the benefit of well-defined goals and metrics that you are being measured against. If your job does not offer a clear set of expectations and benchmarks, you can develop your own based on your job description and industry norms. Decide on what matters most, then grade yourself on a sliding scale. At this point in the process, it is best to be a tough judge of your own performance. Identify what you did well, what could have been done better, and what needs to change going forward.

Pro tip for those who are unemployed and in active job search mode: you might complete the same exercise to assess your networking and interviewing efforts. After all, looking for a job is your job now – and you will benefit from periodic work performance feedback. What's working? On what hard tasks might you be procrastinating? By taking an honest hard look at your efforts and results, you might just get the job search process out of a rut.  

Re-assess your salary

Most professionals do a formal or an informal assessment of salary levels for comparable positions when they are considering several job offers. Websites like PayScale, Jobstar, and Salary.com offer a great starting point to research typical salaries for your job in your geographic location. Unfortunately, few people use these resources once they are employed. I recommend turning this into an annual exercise and looking for trends as opposed to zooming in one any one number.

What you do with the information you find will depend on the results of your search and your personal situation. If you learn that you are being underpaid compared to similar positions in your area, you might begin by taking an honest look at your contributions and performance over the past year or so. Are you a superstar performer with no raise for a year or more? Consider if your company is in a dire financial situation, and assess whether you are still getting the right opportunities and prospects to grow – or if this is the time to jump ship and end things with your job.

Freshen up your resume

Another common mistake? Dusting off the resume right before you need it for an interview! That is a recipe for last-minute hassle and regrets as you realize you have forgotten to add a brand-new skill or experience that would highlight your readiness for the next opportunity.

The good news is that keeping your resume up to date does not require much time. By reviewing it once or twice a year, you can be sure to update your list of responsibilities, accomplishments and awards while they are fresh in your mind. After your resume is supplemented with current information, be sure to do the same to your LinkedIn profile and have it mirror your resume.  

Take stock of your network

Speaking of virtual and real-life networks, Spring is a great time to reconnect with decision-makers, former colleagues and industry contacts. Most professionals don't think of reaching out to their connections unless they have a specific question or request, because they feel they need a reason to say hello. There is nothing wrong in wanting to be respectful of busy professionals' time.

However, remember that a friendly touch-point “just because” can be effective and welcome. Consider sending a quick email to share personal or professional news, a handwritten note to thank them for something they did for you in the past, or a book that reminded you of them. Small thoughtful gestures can do a lot to generate goodwill!

Prune down your to-do list for greater focus

Many professionals use to-do lists for work organization, but few do it effectively. Case in point: if your list has had the exact same tasks pushed back day after day as you never seem to find the time or the motivation to address them, your list needs some pruning. Look at those perpetual back burner tasks critically. Do they matter? If so, must you be the one to do them? Ideally, you want to remove them from your list for good, delegate them, or get them done once and for all.

You might also try creating a side by side comparison of your annual goals and your daily to-do list. If the two bear only a vague resemblance to each other, you need to re-focus your daily priorities in order to have any chance of accomplishing the big-picture goals that matter. You may want to involve your manager in this process to ensure that you have his or her buy-in.

Professional spring cleaning for a stronger year

As you take a good look at your performance, resume and daily priorities, remember that no career is ever advanced in solitude! You need a change of scene and some fresh air–inspiration and motivation are sure to follow. Seek out professional associations, alumni networking events, conferences and other opportunities outside your office. By mingling with other professionals and exposing yourself to new ideas, you have a better chance of giving your career an energy boost.

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