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Jump, don’t slump! How to stop your career from going to sleep over the winter.

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January may be a way off yet, but as we start to head towards the holiday season, I thought it would be worth raising the subject of new-year career planning so that anyone reading this has time to reflect on it and, perhaps, implement some of my suggestions.

People tend to slow down in their job searching and career planning at this time of year. After all, it’s an exciting time for many and, let’s face it, there’s plenty to think about and prepare for without having to worry about career woes.

Then along comes the New Year and suddenly people are back in the office, often a little off the pace, suffering from winter blues. Those who aren’t happy in their jobs tend to really feel it at this time and, with a sense of inevitability, recruiters everywhere witness the annual frenzy of job applications in late January.

So reliable is this trend that it has given rise to the idiom, “new year, new career”. And yet, though serious career planning is the last thing on people’s minds at the start of winter, the winter break provides a perfect opportunity to get ahead. Furthermore, those individuals who come back to work with a clear career strategy are at a distinct advantage: the competition will be hunched over their work, trying to kick-start their brains into action, wishing they were anywhere else.

So here are some things you can do NOW and over the next few weeks to ensure you don’t lose ground over the winter months.

Refresh your CV 

How long has it been since you brought your CV up to date? Now’s a great time to give it a bit of maintenance and ensure it reflects your ambitions. And while you’re at it, why not make a new habit of updating your CV regularly with key achievements, projects and promotions rather than waiting until you change job? It’s a pretty sizeable task to write a good CV from scratch, or just to remember your significant achievements in your last role. Continually update yours so you’ll never have to.

Be sure to check that your LinkedIn profile is aligned to your CV, too. A lot of candidates fall foul of mismatches between the two, which cries out to a prospective employer that something’s up!

Network

Nearly all really successful people are good at finding the value in their network. If you’re thinking of making a move into a different sector, going for a promotion or targeting a specific employer, make a note of people who could help you and start to enlist their help. You might ask for a strategic introduction, a chat to learn more about a company’s culture or what a particular hiring manager likes to see in prospective employees. You might want to attend a business forum so you can meet particular individuals or start to make a name for yourself in a new sector. There’s no end to what you can achieve by intelligent networking.

You can review your network, too. Think about who in your network is important to you, who inspires you and why. Do you know anyone from whom you can learn new and valuable skills? Does someone at your workplace set an example you’d like to follow? What can you learn from these people? Can any of them mentor you? Who have you not touched base with for a while? Message them to ask if you can catch up in the New Year.

Clear out your desk

Imagine the scene: you return to work, tired and a little worse for wear in early January, and open your desk drawer. It’s at this point you remember that it is crammed full of things you wanted to ignore last year. Imagine instead the quiet satisfaction of coming back to an empty, clean, tidy workspace. It really helps.

Stay healthy

I’m sure many people will indulge over the holidays – I know I will! But where possible, eating healthily, continuing with your normal exercise regime and staying hydrated will help you to return to work energised and feeling positive.

Start a career journal

A career journal can be a powerful tool, because once you have a plan, you can start to put it into action. A career journal can help you develop and implement this plan.

Here are some examples of the kind of things you can note in your journal:

If you’re looking to change career, make a list of things you enjoy and don’t enjoy in your job - and start to log those achievements I discussed earlier, so that you can add them to your CV.

Note your personal and professional goals for the next one, three and five years, and make a plan to achieve them.

What do you need to do make yourself more successful or work, or more happy?

What are your strengths and weaknesses? What are the options in your current place of work to address these? Coaching? Training courses? Learning from others in the workplace who are more highly skilled? Can you sit down with them and ask them how they do what they do?

What do you want to achieve over the New Year? What are the resources that will help you to do this?

Keep a gratitude list

Make a list of the things you’re grateful for in life. In the day to day stresses and challenges of life, it can be easy to forget how lucky we are. A gratitude list can help you to stay positive and remind you of the things you enjoy about your job, career, family, friends and life.

Set up job alerts

Now’s a great time to create relevant job alerts with job boards and aggregators, and steal a march on the competition in your chosen sector or role.

Get writing and reading!

If you get a few spare hours over the holidays, why not write a few different cover letters, register your CV with a good agency or two (start with Gerrell & Hard, by all means!) and researching the market by looking at relevant roles on job boards. You can, of course, also review the careers sections on the websites of any employers you want to target, and even write personally to their HR or relevant manager or director (if you can identify them) stating your interest, telling them why you want to work for them, and giving a potted (relevant) history of your career and interests.

Make an end of year to-do list for your work – but keep perspective!

At work, you’ll be tempted to try to get all the things done you don’t want to come back to in the New Year. You could work yourself into the ground doing this. Instead, prioritise the big things, and remember that the imminence of holidays shouldn’t be a reason for you to unduly pressure yourself about getting all your work finished.

Regardless of any particular cultural significance, no holidays are a hard stop – they’re just a break. Don’t stress unnecessarily that absolutely everything must be done in December just because there’s a national holiday coming. The work will still be there for you when you return.