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10 ways to make a change at work in 2017

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Vicki Pond of St. Louis Park, Minn. networks with fellow job seekers during the Job Transition Support Group at Wooddale Church in Eden Prairie, Minn.
Jeffrey Thompson | MPR News 2014 file

Labor market conditions point to 2017 being a great year to make a change at work. 

Career coach John Tarnoff and business journalist Bobbi Rebell joined Marketplace economics editor Chris Farrell to answer listeners' work and career questions — from asking for a raise to changing companies.

A good definition of a healthy economy, Farrell said, is one in which firms chase workers, rather than workers chasing jobs. That, he said, will likely be the theme of 2017 — which opens the door for workers to really think carefully about what makes them happy and what pays the bills. 

"There's a lot going on that's in favor of the employee," Rebell said. That means this will be a very good year to be thinking about making a move.

So: How do you figure out what to do next? How do you search for the job that gives you both purpose and a paycheck? How can you find work that offers meaning and money? 

Rebell, Tarnoff and Farrell offered a few suggestions:

1) Be an entrepreneur.

  Tarnoff said the experience of involuntarily losing his job — more than once — taught him a lot about choosing your job: You have to be adaptable and entrepreneurial.

Be willing to "not take things too personally, to rebound quickly from a setback and to learn the lesson of how to change your story a little bit when you go out for the next job," he said. 

That lesson came from working in the entertainment industry, and it applies far beyond that field. Because of how the economy changes so quickly these days, an entrepreneurial outlook applies across the board, Tarnoff said.

Workers are best served, he said, when they bring a "beginner's mind" to their work — and to the process of determining what might be next.

That is: Perceive an area of value, then go for it. That could be in a side hustle or even within your own job. People tend to rely too much on the work they've been assigned — and feedback from the people around them, Tarnoff said. 

So, instead: Take what you're good at and what you're interested in, and apply those things to a need that you see. Fill a gap, whether within your company or somewhere else in the world. Be cognizant of the trends within your industry, for instance, and you might find yourself reinventing your current job from within.

"Regardless of whether you're getting a W-2 at the end of the year or a 1099 at the end of the year" — whether you work for an employer or you work for yourself — "you need to think of yourself as a consultant providing value to a client rather than" as an employee taking direction from a boss, he said.

And that advice applies across the board: He offers it to baby boomers who are near the end of their time in the job market and millennials who are on their way in.

2) Make an appointment with yourself.

Set aside a little bit of time, every day, to work on your future, Tarnoff said. 

"We can all find a half-hour a day to work on something that's this important," he said — particularly if it's about the direction of the rest of your life.

Tarnoff's new book, "Boomer Reinvention," focuses on older workers as they rethink their careers — but the advice is applicable for any worker considering a change.

This applies especially to the group that Tarnoff calls "the working worried" — people who might be heading toward retirement but who might not be financially ready for it, thanks to planning, other financial obligations, caregiving, etc.

If sitting and thinking about what might be next — for a half an hour every single day — puts you in a panic, Tarnoff suggests keeping a diary.

Do it every day, at the same time each day, he said.

Write about "everything that's coming up," he said. "It's almost like a stream-of-consciousness." 

Once you start, Tarnoff said, all sorts of things will arise: Satisfaction (or dissatisfaction) with your job; reflections old dreams and whether they're still viable; lists of people you could talk to for feedback about what you want to do. And on and on.

Writing without rules gives you the opportunity to refine your thoughts on what you enjoy, what you don't enjoy and what you're looking for — and offers some next steps for moving toward that reinvention.

3) Create a side hustle.

As you explore the things that you might like to do for work, test them out in a low-risk way: Volunteer at an organization whose values you support; take on freelance copy work; sell that thing you've been making just for fun. 

For her book, "How to be a Financial Grownup," Rebell talked to people who found new life in their side hustles. 

"[It] can be a way to gain new skills or just enjoy another interest," she said, and when a side hustle is just that, it takes the pressure off the process. If it doesn't work, falls through or isn't worth your time, you haven't pinned your entire financial future on it — it was just a side hustle.

And when it does work, she said, it offers you more options to pivot. Your side hustle can be a way to learn a new skill that you can apply to redefining your job or getting a new one — or it can be an option unto itself at some point in your career path. 

And don't pin yourself down. There's an enormous demand for workers in skilled labor markets. 

"Expand your horizons outside the white-collar world," Farrell said. Be open to options in manual labor, manufacturing and artisanal work that you might not have otherwise considered. 

"Dip your toe in the water and try new things," Rebell said. 

4) Meet people.

It's often described as "networking," but both Rebell and Tarnoff flinched at the word, with its connotations of networking events with name tags and Sharpies. 

"Networking just means talking to people throughout your entire day," Rebell said. It's really about building relationships, online and offline — in places as obvious as LinkedIn and as unexpected as yoga class.

"Make plans with people in person; don't hide behind a computer," she added. You might have met the person in a Facebook group or on LinkedIn, but once you've connected, meet for coffee. 

And when you do: Don't have an agenda. Get to know the person. Do this often.

"It's all about connections," she said. "Make the connections when you don't need anything." 

Network before there's an urgency, she said — and always offer to help other people. "Give to other people before you ask them to give to you," she said. Always give.

5) Have an elevator pitch.

And if you do find yourself at a networking event, Tarnoff said, be prepared. Have a 30- to 45-second pitch for what you're after.

It's not about asking people for anything, he said, despite the fact that networking events are typically set up so that everyone in attendance wants something from you and from each other. 

The elevator pitch, by contrast, should be something of a mission statement, about who you are and where you're going:

• Who you are
• Where you are (in your career, in your exploration, in your education)
• What you want to do
• What your process is for getting there

Write it down, Tarnoff said. Rehearse it with family or friends. Try it on like a new pair of jeans — and be able to call it up whenever you need to. It takes some getting used to, he said, but it helps you focus, and it helps people better understand where you are — and how they might help.

6) Sell yourself — but don't.

Just as an elevator pitch might be uncomfortable until you've worn it in a little, so can "selling yourself."

Lots of people find the whole notion of self-promotion awkward and unfamiliar, Tarnoff said. 

But here's the thing: Don't see it as selling yourself, he said. "Think of it as being of service."

Most people are looking to be useful in their work, he said — so instead of self-promotion for your own benefit, think of ways that you can be of service for what you do and what you want to do.

Apply that framing to the idea of your "image," too, Rebell added. 

Image is important, she said: Be on social media channels. Become a voice in your industry. Share articles and insights that are useful and make your peers and colleagues think. As you do it, you build a reputation, but you also build a network.

And, though it may feel as awkward as the notion of "selling yourself," make sure your social media photo — on LinkedIn, on Twitter and in other channels — is professional and sends the message you want to send about yourself.

It should be "a beautiful headshot that shows you on your best day ever," Rebell said. "That's the image you want to put out for your future employer" and your future clients.

7) If you're asking for a raise, have an exit strategy.

Because the mantra of management has been to "do more with less," Farrell said, the question of how to ask for a raise in 2017 will likely come up a lot.

The first question to ask yourself, Rebell said, is this: "Do you want a raise, and do you need to stay at your current company?"

That's because one way to get a raise is to leave.

But if you decide that you do want to stay, do your homework before you make your pitch, and "have a path to yes," Rebell said:

• Make your case for yourself.
• Know what your peers at other organizations are making.
• Have a backup plan.

If your company won't give you a raise, can you ask for something different? What about a better title or more vacation? Have in mind something that will be valuable to you, and counter with that.

Another approach, Tarnoff said, is to ask: "What would it take for me to get a raise? What would you be looking for me to do? Is there something I could be doing that I'm not already doing that would bring along additional compensation?"

Or, he said, you could kick-start the process by asking for a review.

Go to your company's human resources department, and request a formal process. It will help you as an employee get a better sense of how your company sees you. It will offer you a sense of what the benchmarks are and where the goal-setting resides — and how you fit into that picture.

By going through that process, Tarnoff said, you might find that there's an attractive place for you, long-term, at your current company. Or it might clarify for you that it's time to think about getting another job.

No matter which approach you take, Farrell added, be sure to have an exit strategy.

If your company isn't willing to grant your salary or other requests, do you want to press hard for it? If you do, have a plan for moving on if it doesn't resolve as you hope it will.

This will be a good year for people taking that kind of risk, Farrell said, because it forces you to ask yourself if you're satisfied with your situation — and if the answer is "no," then it will also be a good time for moving on. 

8) If you're applying for a job, don't rely on your resume.

"You're not going to get the job by applying and sending out resumes," Farrell said. 

People ask about standing out in applicant pools, but Farrell said that's not the right way to think of it. "Chances are poor that you're going to stand out" in a sea of resumes. 

In fact, most jobs don't happen that way, he said, which is why it's crucial for job-seekers to create networks and connect with people affiliated with the companies and fields they're interested in. 

That's especially crucial for people who are returning to the workforce after taking time off, Rebell said.

Find out everything you can about a company you're interested in — and use social media, such as Facebook groups or LinkedIn connections, to find people who know people there. Make a connection, and find a way for that person to walk your resume to the person making the hiring decision.

And don't feel bad about getting in touch with people who you haven't talked to in a while, she said: People understand that you sometimes need to slow down and ramp up in your career. "It's not always the same velocity," she added.

9) If you've lost your job, recognize that there's no shame in that.

Millennials entering the labor force, Tarnoff said, do so with the understanding that they may have four or more careers in their working life. And in a dynamic economy, some of those changes might not be voluntary.

"Getting fired does not have to be a shameful experience," Tarnoff said. "In an economy that's moving so fast, fit is going to be very fluid, and someone's appropriateness for a particular job may be short-lived. This is just the way it's going."

The key is to let people know. You'd be surprised at how many people in your community want to help — and want to connect you with other people they know who might help.

"The stigma of losing a job is really going away," Rebell said. These days, it's becoming more and more a fact of life.

10) Be patient.

A lot of people think reinvention needs to be radical and needs to happen overnight.

But it doesn't have to be — and shouldn't be, Tarnoff said. Take it slow: Figure out what you enjoy doing, what you find fulfilling and build up your understanding and expertise before you pivot.

"This ... can be a gradual process, and I think particularly if you have a day job, still, and you've got an income coming in, now is the time to really get into this," Tarnoff said. "You don't want to be in a situation where all of a sudden that rug is pulled out from under you and you really have to hustle."

Farrell agreed. When you make a shift, he said, you open up new opportunities, meet new people, and broaden your world a little. When it's gradual and thoughtful, the stakes are low. That way, you don't have everything riding on each connection, learning opportunity or risk you take as you explore other options.

These things — establishing your side hustle, meeting the right people, learning the new skills — will always take longer than you expect them to.

Click on the audio player above to listen to the full conversation.