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Grab your career by the horns

You can't rely on others to manage your career. It's up to you to mold it and make it what you want it to be. Michelle LaBrosse outlines some ways to get started.

Michelle LaBrosse, founder, Cheetah Learning
Michelle LaBrosse, founder, Cheetah Learning

Is your career a little stale or are you at the top of your game? Regardless of which camp you fall into, you're the person with the ultimate power when it comes to your career.

Too often, people feel their career is in the hands of others who may or may not see how truly deserving they are of success and growth. Reality check: Your career is in your hands, and if you are not molding it, shaping it, nurturing it, and launching it, then you need to grab your career by the horns and yank it in the right direction.

Here are few ways to get started.

Network with the "big wigs"
Whom in your industry do you admire and want to be more like? What do they do that inspires you? Are you quietly watching them from the sidelines wondering how they got where they are?

One of the greatest things you can do to breathe some life into your career is network with successful higher-ups. People love to talk about their successes, and you can really learn a lot from listening to them. It's also a great platform for you to promote your own successes and put yourself on their radar for future projects or considerations.

Surf the job postings
Successful people often reinvent themselves and evolve their talents. You can do the same by researching job postings in your industry and seeking out any buzz words or new trends in preferred skills.

If there are hot topics in your industry that you feel are passing you by, look into taking classes, going to seminars, or reading up on the subject. That will enable you to speak intelligently when making your case for a promotion or if you are interviewing for your next move.

Protect your reputation
Your skills will take you pretty far, but your reputation will take you even farther. Word of mouth can be a powerful tool or weapon. If you are being considered for a new role in your company or a position outside of the organization, the employer will seek out any additional information about you to determine whether you deserve a shot.

Remember, it's never too late to change a perception. If you go into work late, start going in early. If you never volunteer for extra projects, take the initiative and manage your team's next philanthropic effort. Treat your reputation like the gold that it is.

The future is technology
Since you are reading, I'm assuming that you are ahead of many others in terms of being tech-savvy. While each industry varies in the level of intelligence needed, you need to make sure you know the top software applications in your field. Even better, know what the pain points are and how you can use your skills to solve them. Your dialog will position you as a visionary leader always looking for the next best thing. It also demonstrates your ability to change and be productive in many settings. For example, if you are a road warrior who lives and breathes with your Blackberry or laptop, then strut your stuff and use the technology that you've mastered to your advantage.

Career resources
Application security careers have bright future

Skills for entry-level software testers

How to specialize in performance testing

Ten skills of highly effective software testers

Make a statement
Don't make the mistake of thinking that only marketers or communication people need great communication skills. We all need them. How you present your information makes a statement about you as an individual. You could come across as knowledgeable and confident or you could state that you are unorganized and insecure. If your presentation skills are troublesome, take a course and hone your skills to perfection. Many jobs are won or lost based on how people present themselves.

The great debate
Often people incorrectly think only lawyers or major league coaches need negotiation skills. Anyone who wants something should know how to negotiate. These skills should not be developed during mission-critical moments. Build the muscle first when it doesn't count, such as in a classroom or while taking an online course. Don't wait until the negotiation is critical to see how you fair.

Negotiations can help you with anything from getting a higher salary to buying a home or even getting children to clean up their rooms. Developing your negotiation skills is like building a fully loaded computer with every bell and whistle. Can you imagine the possibilities?

Find time
Do not let the fear of time prevent you from taking a class or getting training. The wave of online classes provides users with the flexibility and freedom of learning what they want, where they want. Have laptop will travel!

I know people who take classes while commuting by train to work, during their lunch break, or early in the morning before the rest of the household is awake. Many courses can be completed in about 20 hours.

Passion with a purpose
Believe it or not, your personal interests are also a part of your resume. A common interest between you and your interviewer can be a great way to build a positive connection. Do you travel or snowboard? Are you an avid gardener or a fanatic about a certain TV show?

It's a great way to ease some stress on your end if you feel nervous about interviewing.

What's your story?
Your resume should serve as a timeline of what you've been up to. It should tell a story about your growth and experiences since your first real job. Look critically at your resume and make sure it weaves a story that sets you apart from others in your industry. What is your unique selling point? Is it that you are a programmer who also worked as a stand-up comedian? That could communicate that you think fast on your feet or you can diffuse situations by using humor. Whatever your story is, make sure it showcases your confidence in being at the top of your game.

Ready, set, grow
Wherever you are in your career, there's always the need to improve your skills and position yourself for the next opportunity. Don't wait until it's "go time" to get your resume and talents in tip-top shape. Make sure you always have your eye on the prize and are ready to pounce on any perfect opportunity that presents itself. The future is yours!

About the author: Michelle LaBrosse is the founder and Chief Cheetah of Cheetah Learning. An international expert on accelerated learning and project management, she has grown Cheetah Learning into a market leader for project management training and professional development. Additionally, the Project Management Institute selected Michelle as one of the 25 Most Influential Women in Project Management in the World, and only one of two women selected from the training and education industry.

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