Lisa Cook, director of career services for Walden University
With the national unemployment rate in double digits, people lucky enough to be employed are focusing on how to keep their jobs. For some, that means spending longer hours at the office, volunteering for new assignments, or enrolling in continuing education programs to gain additional skills that can add value in their current position.
For others, this is a time of deep, personal reflection about their job choice and career path. Many people are re-evaluating their careers, and they are looking at how they can make a greater impact on the lives of others.
As the director of career services for Walden University, I have been privileged to hear the success stories of hundreds of working professionals who found ways to make a greater difference in their communities. Here are three important lessons they taught me:
1. Expand your current role
The answer to making work more rewarding may be right in front of you. Before switching jobs and companies, first look inside your organization for opportunities to make an impact. With many organizations short-staffed right now, it might be possible to gain experience in a new field and shift careers with your current employer.
One of our public health doctoral students did just that. Julie*, who works in public health for a federal agency, sought projects to lead, and she became involved in two research initiatives outside her usual job description.
She updated her résumé to reflect her newly acquired skills, experiences and education, proving to her supervisor that she was qualified for a higher-level position. As a result of her resourcefulness, Julie received a promotion and a raise.
2. Spearhead a new initiative
Sometimes finding more meaningful work comes from exploring novel ways to use what you already know to make a difference in a new arena.
Maria* was completing a practicum in nursing at a local college. In conversations with the college's dean, she learned that the curriculum had not yet been developed for the college's new community health nursing course.
Capitalizing on her 20 years of experience in home health care, Maria offered to develop a syllabus and lesson plan for the course, and she was given the opportunity to do so. Her initiative paid off -- the associate dean offered her a faculty position as the community health nurse educator.
3. Share your expertise with colleagues
When I talk to students who are successful in their jobs and their lives, I learn that they often go the extra mile in their professional roles, especially in their interactions with others.
There are plenty of opportunities to make a difference for individuals within your organization. Newer staff members need more experienced advisers to help them navigate difficult work scenarios or simply to grab lunch with them once in awhile.
Co-workers in other departments may be looking to better understand the work you do -- and these connections will help strengthen ties between individuals and work groups within your company.
Check with your human resources department to see if you can sign up for a mentoring program, or simply invite a junior employee to lunch. Sometimes there is no greater reward than helping someone else succeed.
Now is a vital time to find ways to make current jobs more fulfilling, while also building skills for future achievement.
*Last names have been withheld for privacy purposes.
Lisa Cook is the director of career services for Walden University, an online university with a curriculum tailored to meet the needs of working professionals who strive for greater social impact. For more information, go to www.WaldenU.edu.