It’s that time of year again when many of us begin thinking about New Year’s resolutions and the positive changes we’d like to make in our professional lives. December is a great month for reflecting on the past year, and for identifying important goals for the following year. Because strategic communication is such a dynamic and evolving profession, it’s critically important that we engage in ongoing learning and professional development.
For those of you who share my annual ritual, here are my list of New Year’s career “to-do’s”:
Update your résumé and/or CV. Having an up-to-date résumé is absolutely essential; this is the most important career document that you will use, so make sure it’s current, professionally written, and nicely designed. You should have an electronic, parse-able version and an attractive hard copy version as well. And don’t be misled by the antiquated “1-page” rule; your résumé should reflect your experience and tell your story – and that will very likely require multiple pages.
I like to review and update my CV every 6 months – in June and December. I recommend keeping a weekly (or bi-weekly) “accomplishments log” throughout the year which will enable you to quickly update your résumé and highlight your major successes. Also, make sure your references (and their contact information) are still current. I recently checked references for a potential employee, and discovered (sadly) that one of his references had passed away – four years ago.
Refine and update your personal brand. Your personal brand says absolutely everything about you. It is reflected in your expertise, demeanor, skills, personality, communication, work quality, personal style, and wardrobe. In essence, your personal brand is tied closely to your overall image. If you have never retained the services of a professional image consultant, December is an ideal time to do so. Image consultants are skilled professionals who help their clients manage perceptions by developing a polished, professional visual presentation, as well as refined communication and etiquette skills.
Additionally, your brand should convey your positive differentiators, i.e. the attributes, qualities, and talents that set you apart from your competition. If you’re unsure of your positive differentiators, ask your friends, colleagues, supervisors, clients, and others whose opinions you respect to give you an honest appraisal. If you want to take your career to the next level, you must identify and perfect your unique brand.
Update your social media sites. Many employers and potential clients use social media sites to search for and pre-screen strategic communication practitioners, so it’s very important to maintain a current LinkedIn profile, Facebook and Instagram pages, and a personal or business website. It should go without saying that your personal information and activities must be kept private, preferably on separate sites reserved solely for friends and family. Public sites are just that – public – so consider what information you want the world (and employers) to see.
Update your professional portfolio. If you’re contemplating a job change in January, you will certainly want to have a current portfolio of your work. Consider having both online and tactile versions; employers may view your online portfolio prior to meeting you, but they will also appreciate the opportunity to view a hard-copy version during the actual interview. Your portfolio should artfully showcase your best work; it should also present examples of a wide array of projects to demonstrate your range of skills. Examples of portfolio materials include: news releases, media advisories, screen shots of website designs, social media campaign messaging, brochures, flyers, SWOT analyses, crisis communication plans, employee newsletters, advertisements, public service announcements, proposals, reports, social media analytics charts, white papers, and blogs.
Plan your continuing education and professional development activities. Today’s marketplace is exceptionally competitive and, while college degrees are absolutely essential, they must be augmented with real-world, up-to-the-minute learning. Webinars, seminars, certificate programs, and conferences should be fully integrated into your annual professional development plan. Your goal is to become an invaluable knowledge worker, “learning worker,” and thought leader in your organization. In order to achieve this stature, you must actively seek learning opportunities whenever possible. Many communication organizations offer informative webinars, workshops, and intensives that are designed to provide the latest information and tools for strategic communication practitioners. By December, most professional associations have their next year’s conferences and conventions scheduled, so it’s a good time to plan your 2018 travel and conference calendar. In my second blog this month, I’ve provided a list of suggested conferences for strategic communication professionals.
Find a mentor.If you do not already have a seasoned, expert mentor, I strongly encourage you to make this a priority in 2018. No one is singularly successful. Every highly successful communications professional has (or has had) mentors and advisors to coach and support them on their journey to the top. Your mentor could be a supervisor or manager, a trusted colleague, a former employer, a business owner, a well-known executive, or an experienced friend. The key to finding the right mentor is knowing that this individual is emotionally invested in your future, and in your success. A great mentor will (a) provide meaningful coaching and professional guidance, (b) introduce you to his/her contacts, (c) identify career-building opportunities for you, and (d) hold you accountable for achieving your goals.
If you’ve been working with the same mentor for a long time, you might consider developing a fresh mentoring relationship with someone who will challenge you in different ways, and offer new opportunities for career growth.
Debra Davenport Ph.D. is a member of the online faculty of Purdue’s online Master of Science in Communication degree program. The program can be completed in just 20 months and covers numerous topics critical for advancement in the communication industry, including crisis communication, social media engagement, focus group planning and implementation, survey design and survey analysis, public relations theory, professional writing, and communication ethics.
*The views and opinions expressed are of the author and do not represent the Brian Lamb School of Communication.