Negotiating a salary, promoting your own achievements, networking — these career-related activities aren't simple or easy. But they are necessary. Organised people often have some neat tips and tricks for staying on top of their professional development and helping them advance their careers. Here are five tech tips that I personally use.
1. Save the praise
I have a folder in my email called "Praise and Feedback" (I've also heard it called a "brag folder") where I file away messages from my boss or other people in my organisation when they tell me I've done a good job. I also like to save their emails containing critical feedback that should (ideally) influence how I work.
When it's time to prepare for my annual review, I go through that folder to remind myself of successes that I've had throughout the year. In my experience, managers really appreciate when you do a lot of the work of writing your evaluation.
Of course, the success stories logged in email are only those that other people have noticed, and probably aren't a comprehensive round-up of all the work you've accomplished in a year, which brings me to the next tip.
2. Track your work
I use a to-do list and a spreadsheet to keep track of all the work I complete. The to-do list has very clearly defined tasks, and I rely on it day-to-day and hour-to-hour. The spreadsheets, however, are where I keep a record of finished work.
Any time I need to substantiate the work that I have done, it's incredibly easy for me to create a little report using the spreadsheet data. For example, if I were trying to get promoted, I might look through my spreadsheets for evidence that I deserved it, such as being able to show that I produced 20 per cent more work than the year before.
As with saving your email praise, tracking your work gives you quick and immediate access to hard data that can be used to prove you're doing a good job.
3. Manage relationships
I'm actually pretty terrible at managing professional relationships and networking, so I rely on technology to help me in this area. Sometime around 2006, I gave up on business cards completely. They had long been a source of frustration for me — I could catalogue and digitise them to my heart's content, only to look someone up two years later and get a bounce-back email saying they were no longer with the company.
LinkedIn became my de facto Rolodex instead. My favourite thing about LinkedIn is that it's up to each person to keep his or her contact information and company affiliation up to date. Sure, not everyone does, but it is highly beneficial for them to do so. A lot of business opportunities have come my way because I have an active LinkedIn profile where people can find me and read a little bit about what I do.
LinkedIn is what I use in lieu of business cards, but there are other tools that help with real relationship management, too. Xobni, which is "inbox" spelled backwards, is probably the best example. It's a plug-in for Gmail and Outlook that gives you detailed stats and information about the people behind all your emails. (There are mobile apps for iPhone and Android as well, although they have a different name: Smartr Contacts.)
Xobni shows you the history of communication you've had with any person via email, so that it's impossible to mistake a cold-emailing stranger from someone in your network you just don't remember off the top of your head. Xobni also shows a little fact sheet on that person, including updates from her social media accounts and more.
4. Get the right salary
When it comes to your salary, every pound counts, especially at your first job. That's because your salary history functions as the ballpark for your next job's salary. If it's too low, it can seriously hinder your ability to negotiate.
Glassdoor is one of my favourite websites for getting insider information about salaries. Sign up for a free account, and you can see salaries that people have self-reported (anonymously) at different companies, for various job titles, at different experience levels, and even within certain geographic regions.
If you're applying for a job as a financial analyst in Chicago, for example, you can see the average salary of professionals similar to you, which should help you figure out your worth. Note, however, that you have to contribute to the pool of information by listing your salary before you get to see these wildly useful figures.
"Salary transparency is extremely valuable for job seekers and employees when negotiating," said Scott Dobroski, Glassdoor community expert. "By doing market research using tools like Glassdoor, you'll come to the salary negotiating table more informed, prepared and confident, which will ultimately lead you closer to the salary you desire. Don't be afraid to ask for what you know you deserve, based on research."
5. Review your review
Back on the subject of annual reviews, one of the best ways to prepare is to look over your review from last year to see what goals you had set and whether your boss asked you to try and improve anything in particular. Of course, reviewing your old review a few days before the next review doesn't exactly give you much time to act.
Instead, set a calendar reminder to go over your old review three months before the next review. If you create this as an annually recurring reminder, you'll never forget.