As the saying goes, "it's not what you know, it's who you know." And in the matters of career advancement, it's half true. While stellar knowledge that applies specifically to your job is great to have, it's equally important to grow your knowledge beyond the workplace. Here are four ways to ensure you'll continue to put your best foot forward to stay on top of your game and career. (For more, check out 4 Career Networking Tips That Work.)


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Volunteer
Volunteering is a great way to expand your knowledge and find a venue to experiment with new ideas that you may not have the ability to apply in your "paid gig". It can also build your resume, and perhaps most importantly, grow your professional social network. Regardless of your profession, it is nearly guaranteed that your skills have a place in a non-profit organization. And, the boost to your ego it provides can also boost your career. Studies show that people who volunteer feel better about themselves. This self-esteem jolt can give you the confidence you need to take on leadership roles, and suggest new ideas and unorthodox methods that will make you a stand-out in your career endeavors.

Get Involved in the Trade
Trade organizations in your field, or the field you ultimately wish to be in, are a great way to make industry contacts and grow your knowledge in a specific discipline. Not only will this keep you at the forefront of changes in the industry, but you'll meet people who could become valuable resources down the road.

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Distance Yourself
When you spend 80% or more of your week working, it's easy to become siloed in the tasks related only to your job, or within your company. As a result, you fall prey to doing what you know is expected, thus sacrificing valuable creative thinking.

Recent psychological studies on the construal level theory (CLT) of psychological distance indicate that simply separating ourselves from a problem can lead to greater creativity. The distance can be literal (like taking a vacation), but a mental separation is just as effective. Just as you schedule business meetings, schedule time to revive your mind and spend time doing activities that leave you feeling rejuvenated and energized. Whether it is exercise, painting, listening to music, or just curling up with a good gossip mag, giving your mind a mental break from work pressures will ultimately leave you more creative, and better equipped for peak performance on the job. (For more, see Downshift To Simplify Your Life.)

Become Your Own Brand
Just as you would take time and effort to start a business or new product, you should dedicate a certain amount of time to building and promoting the best brand you know: yourself! The best part is, you don't have to be a marketer or branding guru to do it.

Start by asking your peers, both personal and professional, for their perception of your strengths. Then think about your own unique skills. These likely have nothing to do with your school or work history. Often what will set you apart in your career is leveraging the unique combination of complementary, and hard to find traits, that you possess. For example, an accountant who has great people skills. Now that you have a focus of your personal brand, devote time each every few weeks to fine tune a strategy, and begin implementing it.

The key is to ensure that your message in all channels that people might encounter is consistent with where you want your career to go. Become active on tools like LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook to create the professional image you want. You can share articles of interest that relate to your career, or even start a blog that focuses on a topic related to your profession. All of these actions will not only keep you abreast of the latest in your field, and demonstrate your awareness and passion to others, but you'll begin positioning yourself as a subject matter expert. (For more, check out Sell Your Skills, Not Your Degree.)

The Bottom Line
Advancing your career can take as much work, if not more, than landing the job itself. But investing time into your career after hours through non-traditional work activities can give you a refreshed outlook on current projects, and pave the way for continued moves up when opportunities arise.

For the latest financial news, see Water Cooler Finance: Ghosts Of Economies Past.

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