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Downturns, upturns, wrong turns, unexpected turns, turns for the worse, turns for the better — whatever turns you may face in your career, it is up to you to be ready for them. This does not mean that you have to read tarot cards, become a clairvoyant or otherwise predict the future. It is a matter of effectively managing your career so you are prepared to respond quickly and strategically regardless of whether a great opportunity arises or an unforeseeable event forces you to make a change. No matter whether you are currently employed or unemployed, seeking a new position or not, you can take steps to control your career as much as possible. Career management is often neglected for many reasons: You do not know where to start. You are so busy at work that you have no time for it; you cannot get out of your office. You are not interested. You think it is too hard. You believe it is not worth spending time on it since your career has gone well so far. You feel that you have no say in what happens anyway, so why bother. You know it is important but procrastinate since there is no immediate need. The whole idea is just too overwhelming or depressing or confusing. A FEW SIMPLE STEPS Enough excuses. By following a few simple steps, you can take charge of your career, rather than leave it to chance or circumstance. If you are employed and do not foresee any immediate changes, you can set career goals to accomplish over time. Give yourself a reasonable amount of time, but not so much that you do nothing. If you are now actively engaged in, or about to embark on, seeking a new position or career, you have no time to waste. Your first, and most obvious, task is to maintain an updated resume. It is very easy to let this slide and throw something together in a panic at the last minute. This often results in your using material that has been on your resume for years and just adding your most current job. An effective resume requires more thought than that. Review and edit your descriptions of previous positions so that you emphasize matters that relate to your search. Avoid the pitfalls of overlooking relevant skills and recounting issues that you no longer recall sufficiently to discuss in an interview. Do not allow these jobs to take up more space on your resume than they warrant. With regard to your latest job, you may be so immersed in your day-to-day activities that you are at a loss to describe them. This part of the resume is often the weakest simply because you are so close to it. Stay away from generic descriptions that could be applicable to anyone. Step back and examine what you do that makes you uniquely qualified. Write it all down, every detail, so that you can select specific material to include on your resume. (For a fuller discussion of resume writing, see my earlier column “How To Craft a Winning Resume”.) Next, network. I cannot stress this enough. The best way to progress in your career is to develop, maintain and continually expand your network of contacts. When you network properly, you establish ongoing, reciprocal relationships where your contacts can turn to you for advice, information and referrals, just as much as you turn to them. These relationships require attention. This should not be an unpleasant chore. It is a process of gravitating toward people with whom you have a natural affinity — common professional or personal interests — and whose company and conversation you enjoy. There is no rule as to how often to connect with the people in your network. Each relationship will probably be different. Some of your contacts may become close friends with whom you stay in touch on a regular basis; others may remain acquaintances with whom you occasionally share a cup of coffee or have a catch-up telephone call. The only rule to follow is: Do not let too much time elapse so that you feel awkward about re-establishing contact and, especially, do not wait until you are looking for a new position. BENEFITS OF NETWORKING Many benefits derive from active networking: First, you can broaden your social and professional circles. Your circles may even overlap when your business associates become the friends with whom you spend your off-hours, or your friends become your work colleagues. Second, you can expand your prospects. When people know where you are, what you are doing, what skills you possess, and what interests you, they are likely to tell you about opportunities that you might otherwise miss. The more people you know, the more opportunities can come your way. This is true regardless of whether you are actively seeking a new position. Third, you can develop business. The people in your network have gotten to know and trust you. They can bring business to you themselves or recommend others to you. Fourth, you can use networking conversations to practice talking about yourself in a positive way. It gives you a chance to sharpen your interviewing skills, even though you are not in an interview situation. Lastly, you can ask people in your network to serve as references, especially if you have worked with or for them. Again, they know your abilities and will be able to provide an enthusiastic endorsement. While one of my clients was networking to generate more business, he was offered a new position and members of his network volunteered to serve as references for him. There are two other areas where you can prepare ahead of time. The first is simply obtaining and keeping handy copies of your law school and undergraduate transcripts. The second is more of an ongoing project — maintaining one or two current writing samples. Do not leave this until the last minute and then scramble to find something appropriate because you did not save very much of your work. Make sure that you have permission to use the writing sample and redact it, as needed, so a client’s confidentiality is not violated. Your samples should be approximately 10 pages long and demonstrate your drafting, analytical and legal research skills. By taking all these steps, you are ready for whatever turns you may encounter along your career path. You may even decide to instigate some changes on your own. There is no need to wait for your career to happen to you. Take charge. Linda E. Laufer is a career consultant. She can be reached by e-mail at [email protected]

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