Published January 2001

New Year’s resolution: focus on recharging career

Q. Entering 2001, I am noticing several signs of a business slowdown. My department’s budget is stagnant; replacement hiring must be approved at the senior management level; and the possibility of staff reductions looms if sales remain flat. As a middle manager, perhaps this is the time to look at my job, look at the company and determine whether my career can survive this new era of uncertainty. What questions should I be asking?

A. You are very perceptive. Once rock solid where growth was the only option, the economy today seems to have the stability of a sagging tightrope: One false move and it could go tumbling back to the dreary days of the early 1990s.

That’s why this is the time to focus on career development. By recharging your career, you can be prepared to take advantage of coming opportunities while also being ready to survive any sudden economic downturn.

Think of your career as a battery. Here are steps that can jump-start it:

Treat your career as a business. Every successful business has a plan, a mission and goals, and so should you. At minimum, draft a personal mission statement that defines your career purpose. Set personal goals, then write a plan on how to achieve them. Each month, take time to note your progress.

Find a career mentor. Ask a trusted friend, preferably away from the workplace, to listen as you relate the challenges, frustrations and aspirations you face in your career. Do the same for your friend. A little creative “venting” can shed light on what previously seemed like an intractable problem.

Destroy clutter. Nothing can derail career progress like a critical document that gets buried in the bottom of a never-completed “to-do” pile. Don Aslett, author of “The Office Clutter Cure,” suggests placing loose paper in one of four boxes: “out”; “route,” which goes to somebody else; “doubt” (give yourself two weeks to decide its fate); and “sprout,” where all the notes, leads, sources and ideas that have some value go to live.

Be meeting and e-mail savvy. Attend only meetings that have a clear agenda, where your input is required and the outcome of which directly impacts your job or staff. Inform staff and fellow managers that you will only accept e-mails that directly affect you or your department.

Develop a Plan “B.” Devise a plan on what you’d do if your job ended tomorrow. If you would look for a similar job, go through the preparation process now. If going into business appeals to you, consider starting it now on a moonlighting basis.

Train, train, train. Company-provided training is offered usually to benefit the company. Since you are your own “company,” it’s your responsibility to constantly upgrade your skills.

Conquer conflict. If you have a poor relationship or continuing dispute with anyone, resolve it now. Gently ask that person to listen to your problem and ask him or her for suggestions on how to resolve it.

Avoid burnout. As part of your personal “business” plan, establish guidelines to achieve a reasonable work-life balance. Failing to deal with the stress of overwork can lead to illness and fatigue.

Perform your own quarterly job evaluation. Keep a personal log of your accomplishments, including travails encountered and vanquished. It will be invaluable at performance review time or when time to take a new career path.

Eric Zoeckler operates a marketing communications firm, The Scribe, and writes “Taming the Workplace,” which appears Mondays in The Herald. Contact him at 206-284-9566 or by e-mail to

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