With the unemployment rate at 9.7% and top-paying jobs shrinking like 401(k)s, it's hard to stay positive - especially for recent college graduates, or others in a less-than-dream job. The message is clear: be glad you have a job at all. So how do you survive this career doom-and-gloom? Here are 10 ways you can get the most out of your current job. (Sometimes a one-week vacation isn't enough. Learn the pros and cons of an extended break, in Rejuvenate Your Life And Career With A Sabbatical.)
IN PICTURES: 6 Hot Careers With Lots Of Jobs
- Find the Benefits
What does your current job have to offer, beyond the paycheck? Do you have a good dental plan, flexible hours or other perks? Write these down, even if you don't have much to list. Are there any benefits you don't know about, like a management training program or other career advancement possibilities? Check with your human resources department, and get as much information as you can on benefits you may not be aware of.
- Dare to Dream
Where do you want to be five years from now? It's a cliché interview question, but it's a good one to ask yourself. Even if you're unable to make a job move at the moment, it's important to know where you're headed, so you're not just hiding in your cubicle, waiting for the job market to pick up. Are you looking to promote within your company, elsewhere or to a different industry altogether? Define your dream job, so you can plan for ways to get it. (Certain careers can be prestigious and lucrative, but there are always costs. Find out if they're worth it, in Is Your High-Profile Job Worth The Price?)
- Look for Opportunities to Shine
Maybe you hate your job, but you still need to focus on keeping it. Find new projects you may be able to take on, or think of new ones to take to management. Go the extra mile and take on those tasks that others shy away from – you'll get noticed for it. It'll help you keep your job, create opportunities for you within your company and give you something to mention on your resume. Now is not the time to complain about your job, but to create your own success, regardless of your current position.
- Find a Mentor
If you find that dream job you want, find someone else who has it and can be your mentor. Ask this person out for lunch and pick up the tab; you can pick his brain on how he became successful, and ways you may be able to position yourself to do the same. Make it clear that you admire this person's work. Not only will you gain good advice, you'll have a chance to network for your future dream career.
Not everyone likes to volunteer, but volunteering can be a huge boost to your resume. Find holes in your skill set, particularly if you're a college grad, and look for volunteer positions that give you the experience you need. Volunteer positions don't have to take a lot of your time, and many require corporate-type skills.
- Get an Education
Does your job have education benefits? If so, use them to boost your skills, and maybe even add a degree. If your company doesn't pay for classes, think of taking some anyway, if they get you closer to your dream job. There are many college grants and low-interest student loans available, so find out more at your local college. (Education and training benefit not only the worker, but also the employer and the country as a whole. Find out how, in How Education And Training Affect The Economy.)
- Find Your Entrepreneurial Spirit
How about striking out on your own? You don't have to quit your day job to start a business - in fact, the best way to survive the early stages of business growth is with steady income. If want to learn more about being your own boss, check with your local SCORE chapter for small business mentoring and training.
The best jobs are found through someone you know - so network away. Join online groups in your industry or local chapters; talk to your friends and family and let them know you're looking for different work. Be positive, and don't harp on how much you hate your current job. Emphasize that you want to advance your career. (Incorporating these steps will help your business thrive in a competitive market. Find out more, in In Small Business, Success Is Spelled With 5 "C"s.)
- Keep Score
All that extra work you're doing, those classes you're taking and that volunteer time are extremely beneficial, even if they do not directly pertain to your career path. Update your resume with these achievements. It may be a while before your work pays off, and seeing the results on paper will show your motivation and diversity. Plus, your resume will be ready when the right job comes along.
- Set Benchmarks
Remember that dream job? Now that you've figured what you want, set some goals. Maybe this year you plan to take a class or get some volunteer experience. Setting goals will keep you motivated while in a stagnant career.
Don't Give Up
It can be hard to see the silver lining, if you're stuck in a job rut. Keep a positive attitude by making the best of today, but plan for your dream job of tomorrow to ensure you're ready when opportunity knocks.
If you're still feeling uninformed, check out last week's business highlights in Water Cooler Finance: Auto Hope, Bubbling Oil and Obamanomics.