Are you feeling stuck at work? Is your job search taking far longer than you expected? Have you missed promotions or pay increases?

For at least two decades I have regularly talked with people who were unemployed for months longer than they expected and with those who wanted a new job, but were not taking action.

These are tough situations to be in for anyone.  These people were competent and had the performance reviews and references to prove it.  Many saw the stagnation signs in their current work but felt too busy to find a better option internally or externally. Most thought they would have a new job – internally or externally –  with only a couple of phone calls. Others lost a job where they had been for many years and found their skills lacking for jobs in their field.

Excuses are easy, but how do you move forward and avoid the worst issues?

Tip 1. Keep Your Network Active 

Talk to people you know regularly – go out for coffee or call people you respect and see how they are. Post a little something regularly on your LinkedIn or other social media account – just to remind people you are an active, interesting professional. Send an old friend a card or a link to an article of interest or just a note to say ‘how are you’. Connect two people you know who you think might interest each other. Keeping up your relationships with other people enhances your knowledge of what is going on in your industry, the market, and the likelihood they will be responsive when you need some help. Far too many people just reconnect when they need a job – and that works maybe once before the chatter about you turns negative. Worse, many mature workers tell me that everyone they knew who could help has retired – as if they have no contacts under 60+.

Get more active in connecting. Find people you have lost. Go to professional meetings in your field and those adjacent, join relevant online groups, and make connections.  If you are in job search mode: join a job club, talk with people at events and job fairs you attend.  Ask your current contacts for introductions or names of people that they think might help you learn more options.

Tip 2. Keep Learning

In all career fields, the changes seem to be coming ever faster. Disruption is the ‘name’ of many new businesses. Once companies trained people throughout their 20s and 30s. Now, in many organizations, you are lucky if they give you a link to a cheat sheet for some major new software before they expect you to be proficient in it tomorrow.

Your career is in your hands. This means you need to be watching what the trends are and what is happening in your organization for clues. It means you have to create your own professional development program. Maybe your boss will support it, maybe not. But YOU have to make the time and pay the costs to keep yourself current, to learn new things – because it is your future and your career that will get hurt otherwise. Talk about your efforts to contacts and recruiters and hiring managers during your job search and show how you are keeping up with new technologies, market changes, appropriate certifications, or whatever is most important in your field.

Tip 3. Change Your Job Search or Internal Job Growth Tactics

We all know that job search has changed a lot in recent years. But when you are looking for a new opportunity, are you assessing your job search regularly to bring your best game to bear?   And yes, you need to do this internally as well if you want to grow and develop with your current company!

Ask yourself:

* What aspects of my job search are working well?

If you are getting contacted about jobs then your resume is probably pretty good. If you are getting screening calls and then interviews, that says you are pretty good at the basics of applying for the right jobs and selling yourself on the minimum requirements. Look at your entire search and figure out what is working and what needs to work better.

Internally, do you know people in other departments and functions?  Have you talked with your manager and maybe even HR about a career development plan?  Volunteered for company teams or cross-training?  Kept up with the skills needed for the company’s future plans and figured out how to add some to your toolkit?

* How many new contacts am I making per week?

There are a variety of ‘right’ numbers depending on the work you do, the level of position you seek, and the expert you read. But the minimum is probably 3-5 in job search and the same monthly in career development. Only those which are 1:1 and include follow-up count, although they can be in real life or online.

* What am I doing to stay in front of my target audience?

Start with the simple stuff. Update your resume when appropriate. Post an update to LinkedIn at least 3-4 times a month and update your profile with new achievements or certifications regularly so that you are ‘visible’ to your connections in case they learn something of use to you. Better yet, work your way through your network asking specific questions and reminding them what you are looking for. Attend professional meetings to learn and to network. Consider building an audience on Twitter or another social media venue. Or write a letter to the editor of a trade journal. Or volunteer in a way that supports your career and job goals.

* What am I doing to demonstrate what I offer that is valuable now?

  • How do you talk about yourself?
  • What specific achievements can you talk about to give a potential boss insight into what you can do immediately?
  • What are you excited about?
  • What goals can you discuss that show how the a specific job, promotion,or the next contract fit with your desired future?
  • How do these show up on your resume and in social media to help build your ‘brand’?
  • What questions are you asking your boss or potential employers?

All of these are critical to showing a potential boss what a valuable, committed and enthusiastic employee you would be. Talk with some of your contacts about this and ask what they hear when you talk, what they think of your answers to common questions – and learn.

Focus on what you can do to have the job you want to match your career goals now. Then focus on your next steps once you have that job and have begun to master it!