Seven steps to take now for a better job in '08

Dreaming of a big promotion or a new job come January? The time to lay the foundation is right now.

Dreaming of ringing in the New Year with a new job under your belt -- either at your present company or with an entirely new employer? Don't forget that a successful career change takes time, sometimes lots of time. If you want to bust a move in 2008, the time to start laying the foundation is now.

One logical place to start: Compare your skills against our list of disciplines that employers predict will be most in demand -- such as wireless networking, security, business intelligence and machine learning.

When IT professionals first think of trying to nab a promotion or win a new job, they often "run out and get a certification or take a training course to pad their resume," says Grant Gordon, managing director at staffing firm Intronic Solutions Group, which specializes in the IT and engineering industries.

While certification can indeed sometimes be a wise investment, there are other initiatives you can start right now to improve your job situation by 2008. All you need to get started is an investment of time, a good degree of motivation and (perhaps) a change of mind-set.

1. Talk to your manager

Gordon advises job seekers to start close to their workplace -- as close as the boss's office door, in fact. "Speaking up and telling your boss you're capable of something goes way beyond certification or training," Gordon says. A frank heart-to-heart with your supervisor often can help you get that additional responsibility, status and recognition, which is more valuable than any training course, he says.

Talk to your manager about what you need to do to take the next step, Gordon says. "People like to keep their weaknesses well hidden, but I advise them to sit with their boss and ask for more responsibility or find out why they're being overlooked," he says. "Don't always wait to get feedback -- go to your manager and ask, 'How am I doing?' or 'What's next?'"

Even if your manager is not very approachable, Gordon advises that you still seek his advice. "If you ask what professional need he has that you can help fulfill, he'll quickly become more approachable," he says. "The lesson is to leave your own agenda aside and listen to how you can help them."

If you do actually talk with your boss, you'll be one of the few who heeds this particular piece of career advice -- another plus that can set you apart from the competition, according to Gordon. "It's the most crucial advice, but also the most overlooked," he observes.

2. Lose the tunnel vision

Many IT professionals have tunnel vision when it comes to their profession, according to Nancy Moran, vice president of staffing at CCN, an IT workforce recruiting firm in New York.

To get ahead, IT pros need to learn more about the business they're in. "If you work in health care, you should learn about health care. If you work in finance, you should learn about hedge funds," she says. "If you know more about the business, you become that much more valuable to the business."

How to do this? One idea is to talk with end users (really -- they won't bite you). By talking to the people who are actually using the stuff you build or support, you'll get a good functional understanding of how the technology you create affects the business, says Sean Ebner, vice president of professional services at Spherion, a recruiting firm.

"A lot of developers look at the application they're building, and they don't see it as a link in the broader chain," Ebner says. "You should review the physical design document and talk to end users who will use the tool, which gives you a better view of the overall business."

Not only will this grow your personal network, but you'll also gradually start standing out in management's eyes as someone who really "gets" what's going on, complete with the vocabulary and insights to prove it.

Interacting whenever possible with colleagues from other departments can serve to both increase your knowledge of the business and up your corporate visibility.

For example, at the beginning of his career, Ebner volunteered to interview new hires as part of his employer's multilayered hiring process. "It got me access to HR and senior executives in the organization who were part of hiring as well," he says. "I became a common name in a much broader circle."

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