6 Steps to Career Longevity

Eat your vegetables. Don’t smoke. Wear your seatbelts. We all know some basic ways to help extend our lives (even if we don’t follow them). But how do we extend our careers?

It is possible to have a long, productive and fulfilling career, or careers, even when changing industries and technologies and the caprices of the marketplace threaten to make us obsolete. Career experts generally agree on six important ways to keep from going the way of the buggy-whip maker.

1. Make a plan. As the saying goes, “Life’s what happens when you’re making other plans.” But if you don’t have a plan to start with, you’ll run the risk of being bounced around like a ball in a pinball machine.

“Be specific and identify exactly where you want to be in five or 10 years and then break down the steps you need to take to get there,” says Deborah Brown-Volkman, career coach and author of “Don’t Blow It: The Right Words for the Right Job.”

2. Be flexible. Specificity is good; rigidity is not. In addition to identifying exactly where you want to be, also create a more general plan of personal values, job characteristics, income level, duties, and work environment that would be satisfying, just in case that job you want isn’t there by the time you’re ready.

“With a broader master plan that suits your needs, you will be able to take advantage of other opportunities, maybe even better opportunities, that align with your overall values and goals,” says Susan Whitcomb, career coach and author of “The 30-Day Job Promotion.”

3. Always be learning. You may have all the skills you need to do the job you have now (then again, you still might need refresher courses). But if you want to move up — or over — you’ll definitely need a broader range of skills. Career experts agree that you should take a good look at the job qualifications of the position you want and get the necessary training for it. But don’t expect your company to train you and manage your career; these days you will probably have to pay for the training you need.

4. Always be networking. Even in the best of economic times, nobody’s position or company, or even career, is 100% safe. By continually networking with people in your company, outside your company, in your profession and outside your profession, you can increase your opportunities and knowledge exponentially and seize opportunities you wouldn’t ordinarily hear about.

5. Be a better communicator. If you think you don’t need writing or social skills on your job right now, you might need those skills in order to move up (or just keep up). “People who get ahead are more outgoing, more assertive, carry themselves with confidence, and communicate well,” Brown-Volkman says. Even if you’re shy, you can still stretch yourself. A business writing class would help, and the Toastmasters organization can help you practice public speaking in front of a supportive group.

6. Volunteer for new duties. There may be new opportunities in your own organization that let you stretch your abilities and extend your skills. They may even offer on-the-job training. If you hear of a new team or a new initiative that sounds interesting, and you feel you may be able to contribute, be bold. Tell your supervisor you’re available and make a case for what you have to offer. “In addition to learning new skills, you’ll automatically be networking with others who weren’t on your radar before,” Whitcomb said.

Finally, at the most basic level, ask yourself whether you have any passion for the career you’ve chosen. If you don’t, start thinking about what might be more fulfilling. “In the long haul, if you don’t care about your career there will come a time when you say, ‘I can’t do this anymore,'” Brown-Volkman says. She urges professionals to think about the possibilities now, before they reach that breaking point.

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Career, skills