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With the year being still relatively new, this is as good a time as any to make a plan for how you will improve your career by the end of 2013. Think about it — when New Year’s Eve rolls around next December and people are discussing whether this year was a good or bad year, how do you hope to feel about where you are in your career?

If you want anything to be different that night than it is right now, let’s look at some ways you can make it happen.

1. More Pay or Different Job

Would you like to earn more money? That’s a silly question — of course everyone wants to make more money, right?

But this is actually an insightful question, and here’s why: Some people feel their compensation from their current job is lower than it should be. If that is true for you, then your goal should be to take the steps necessary to convince your employer to increase your compensation to a fair level by the end of the year. To do that, you’ll need to:

  • Figure out how you can show your employer the value you provide to the organization. This might require you to create a presentation showing all the things you’ve accomplished and/or all the daily tasks you do to keep your office running smoothly. This may be especially necessary if your job duties are more intangible, or if you have a boss that doesn’t pay attention to the good things you do.
  • Take time outside of work to learn good negotiation techniques. A quick Google search of the phrase “negotiate a raise” will give you plenty of tips to work with. Above all, remember to put yourself in your boss’ shoes and understand what he or she wants to see from you and what type of arguments will be persuasive to him or her.
  • Schedule a time with your boss or compensation director; when you go in to the meeting, stay calm and relaxed, look down at your prepared notes if you need to, and be confident in the fact that you provide real value to your organization.

What happens if you do all of the above and you still don’t get a raise — or if you’ve already tried the above steps? Depending on how confident you are in your ability and how much you like your current job, it might make sense to look for a new job (see below for more on this).

On the other hand, if you feel your current job’s compensation is fair but you still want to make more money, there are some great options for you, too! One way is to add new skills to your repertoire…

2. New Skills and More Confidence

If your goal is to boost your career this year, then it makes sense to add new skills that make you even more valuable to your company or that open up other opportunities for you. These skills might be very specific to your industry (such as a certification or training program) or very broad (such as improving your writing or typing ability). If there is a training program applicable to your job, your employer might even pay for it!

As for learning new skills outside of work, most of the time, it helps to think about what you enjoy doing — in other words focus your energy on things you have a real interest in because your passion will drive you much further to master these new skills than anything else.

The Internet has become such a driver of commerce that building skills to help companies hone their online presence can be financially rewarding. You can learn copywriting, learn how to build websites, become an expert in SEO, start working as a virtual assistant, or get really good at WordPress. The great thing about any of these skills is that you can do them part time for a bit of extra income.

And these days, there are plenty of ways to find freelance opportunities online. Which brings us to…

3. Career Refresh Time

Now we’re finally at the crossroads question. Are you happy with your career? If so, congrats! If not, then maybe this is the time to make a career transition. Would you like to look back on December 31st, and know that you took the first steps to finding a career that fulfills you? If you think carefully and understand how to know when to quit your job, you’ll do great.

How to Make the Transition

There are a few things you need to do in order to be prepared to switch careers. First, you’ll want to get your finances in order as much as possible. It will help to have a strong financial foundation to build your new career upon. If you have debt, try to get it paid off as quickly as possible. Or if you must leave your steady job before you’re debt free, then you will have to work with your creditors to come up with a strategy to deal with your debt while unemployed.

Second, you will want to reach out to some people who are already employed in the type of job you are hoping to get. If you can develop friendships — or at least acquaintances — with them, you will have an insider’s perspective on how to get those jobs. If you’re lucky, you may even get a mentor who can help you get hired when you’re ready.

Third, you will need to develop your skills as discussed above. Identifying the particular capabilities that hiring managers will be looking for is key to being able to get your dream job. If you prepare and show that despite coming from a different industry you know what the new job requires, you can definitely convince your new employer to give you a chance.

If your dream career involves working for yourself, then that’s one less hurdle you need to clear. But you will still need to find clients (as a freelancer) or find customers (as a small business owner) or find patrons (as an artist or chef). In this, the Internet will be invaluable. Sites like Elance and Odesk make it easy to find freelance jobs.

No matter what path you choose, keep your head up and remember that it may take some time to get where you want to be. There will be serious challenges along the way, but you can and will overcome them. And hopefully by the end of the year you’ll be well on your way toward a more satisfying and/or lucrative career.

Image: Creatas

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