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The best career advice of 2019

© Getty   Islamic republics' businesswoman working at the office

By Marco Buscaglia, Tribune News Service

As 2019 comes to a close, it’s time to focus on making some big—and some not-so-big—changes to your situation at work. We’ve listed 11 of the strongest pieces of advice we received in 2019 with the hope that active and passive job seekers can use one or more tips to improve their current gig or land a better job in 2020.

1. Target creative companies: If you’re looking for a career with potential, focus your job search on those companies that prioritize innovation. “You should be asking about what the company is doing to stay on top of customer trends, attract diverse talent and keep pace with fast-changing technologies and competitive maps,” says Amy Radin, a former executive with Citibank and American Express and author of “The Change Maker’s Playbook: How to Seek, Seed and Scale Innovation In Any Company.” Look for indications of collaboration, experimentation and openness. This has little to do with whether there is an open floor plan and is more about talent and culture, where resources are being invested, how fast things happen, how decisions are made and whether the business accepts that failure is to be expected as a necessary part of what it takes to iterate a concept and achieve market success.

© Westend61/Getty Images   Business meeting in conference room.

2. Consider manufacturing: John Morehouse, director of the Center of Innovation for Manufacturing for the state of Georgia’s Department of Economic Development, says high school graduates shouldn’t be so quick to discredit manufacturing jobs. “Everyone thinks manufacturing is important to our country and to our economy but there's definitely not as much support for those people who want to go into manufacturing,” Morehouse says. “These are well-paying jobs and you can build a future with them. There’s a demand for workers with a complex set of skills, a combination of technical skills, soft skills, creative thinking, critical thinking, communication, advanced problem solving and more. We’re talking about rewarding work that doesn’t have to come home with you. And you can earn a good salary—money to buy a house, go on vacation—if you can see through the old perception and instead look at these jobs for what they actually are—strong, interesting, stable jobs that can provide a person the means for a great life.”

3. Move beyond online networking: If you’re looking for a job, don’t rely solely on online networking, says Marty Gilbert, founder and CEO of the NorthShore Executive Networking Group in suburban Chicago. While Gilbert understands the importance of sites like LinkedIn, he thinks some job seekers think their networking begins and ends with an online connection. “Use your contacts wisely. Find out who your connections are connected with and then try to go to the source,” he says. “Go to the people that have the power, the influence, the money, and the position to make a decision.” 

Gilbert warns against over-relying on friends and family. “Those are people who know you really well—in most cases, too well. They may not feel comfortable mixing their professional and personal lives if a job comes up in their department that would be an ideal fit for you,” he says. “It's usually better to use those contacts to introduce you to other contacts. You can use them to grow your network.”

© Yagi Studio/Digital Vision/Getty Images   Senior designer working in the office.

4. Expand your skill set: Today’s college seniors looking to enter the workforce upon graduation should know that they may have impressive academic records and quality internships but if they lack the soft skills needed to succeed at work, they may have to settle for a lesser first job. The same goes for experienced workers looking to improve their careers as well. “Soft skills are the differentiator between people getting many job offers and maybe just a few,” says Paul McDonald, senior executive director of staffing firm Robert Half. “You can have great university training, you can take the right technology courses, but I urge all students to branch out into public speaking, to take writing courses, to take courses that will make them more emotional-awareness-type courses. And don’t let your soft skills suffer once you start working. You’d be surprised at the number of people who’ve advanced their careers because they took the time to learn—and I mean, really learn—Microsoft Excel.”

5. Don’t assume you’re a perfect fit for the job: What if your personality rubs a job interviewer the wrong way—or more likely, doesn’t fit in with your desired company’s culture? Amanda Augustine, a New York-based career coach and resume writer for TopInterview, says most times when that happens, it’s to the benefit of the job seeker. “Whether or not you’re hired is going to come down to the key stakeholder, which is ultimately the hiring manager—the person who’s going to be directly in charge because they’re the ones who know what type of person works not only with the culture of the company but also for their team,” she says. “If a company has a very clear mission statement, it has very strong leaders who are helping promote and cultivate that culture from the top down, as well as from the bottom up.”

6. Get past the “chipple:” In a recent episode of the podcast “Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend,” guest Tina Fey brought up her love of O’Brien’s invention of the word “chipple,” which he urged staff members to use when they would preface a complaint about writer and performer Robert Smigel—the voice of Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, among other noteworthy comedic projects—by telling O’Brien how much they loved Smigel and appreciated his comic genius. “They would say ‘Robert’s a genius and he’s fantastic and he’s the most prolific comedy writer I’ve ever encountered,’ and they would go on and on for five minutes and they would say ‘but the studio’s on fire … .’” After tiring of listening to the usual preamble to the problem, O’Brien suggested using the word “chipple” instead of the “Smigel is great” intro and then getting right to the “but” portion of the conversation.

“It’s a super, super useful word in any workplace,” said Fey, who recommended that people use it in their own workplace situations. So the next time you want to tell your boss that you really respect Paul from marketing and you know how hard he works and you appreciate his great ideas … but he’s been stealing your lunch, skip the “really respect” part, offer up a “chipple” and get right to your complaint about your missing leftover eggplant parmesan.

7. Remember, failing is an option: Tim Bono, author of “When Likes Aren’t Enough: A Crash Course in the Science of Happiness” (Grand Central Life & Style, $25), and the assistant dean in psychological and brain sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, says today’s employees shouldn’t be afraid to fail. “People who overcome adversity do better in life because they learn to cope with challenges,” Bono says. “Failure is a great teacher, helping us realize what doesn’t work so we can make changes for the better.”

8. Consider a mentor: Jesus Bravo, assistant professor of management at the Carson College of Business at Washington State University in Pullman, Washington, says finding strong mentors can help employees prepare for the future. “Mentors can give you valuable career information, expand your social networks and help with honing professional skills,” says Bravo, adding that there are benefits to mentors within and outside of your organization. “Internal mentors can help with organizational issues and opportunities while external mentors can offer insights into larger career issues. Goal setting, career planning and role modeling are all ways that mentorships can help open your mind to new opportunities and experiences you may have not otherwise considered.”

9. Calm down: Feeling a bit on edge before your job interview? Take a few minutes to settle yourself down before meeting with your interviewer. If you don’t, prepare to be judged by everything but your skills and experience. “People play with their pens, rub their hands and tap their feet without even realizing what they’re doing and that’s a problem. Constant movement isn’t the way to an employer’s heart, that’s for sure,” says Paul C. Green, author of “Get Hired! Winning Strategies to Ace the Interview”. “If you find yourself fidgeting during the interview, take a deep breath, place your hands on your legs for support and focus on sitting still.”

10. Basic decency applies in all settings: Spending time with co-workers away from the office—whether at company events or casual, after-work get-togethers—doesn’t mean you no longer have to follow the behavioral guidelines you use inside the workplace. Stephanie Davis, an attorney with Maynard Cooper Gale’s Labor and Employment Division in Birmingham, Alabama, says harassment of a co-worker in a restaurant or bar is often less obvious than it is at work, which can make it difficult for women to come forward. “Inappropriate behavior in a quiet office is going to be amplified if the right people are present. In a bar, it may just sound like part of the scene, part of what happens. But it’s not. Ever,” Davis says. “People say ‘hey, that was on our own time.’ Fine, if that’s your defense, fine. But don’t think you won’t be held accountable. Don’t think the women you say lewd things about or the women you lock into extended hugs or the women you casually, jokingly touch as they walk by are assuming it’s OK. Because they’re on their own time, too. And they don’t choose to get harassed on their own time. That’s you. You made that call. And you should suffer the consequences.”

11. Walk it off: Does your brain feel a little cloudy during the workday? Step away from your desk and take a brief walk. According to scientists at the University of California Irvine Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, as little as 10 minutes of exercise can result in increased memory and problem-solving skills, meaning a quick walk around the office or up and down the stairs can help shake free some of the workday cobwebs. If you’re looking for additional benefits, as well as a quick mood boost, try a vigorous 20-minute walk, suggests Michelle Paulson, a personal trainer in Concord, California. “It’s one of the obvious aspects of life that we don’t really put into practice,” says Paulson. “Whenever we exercise, we get a small rush of endorphins. People think they have to work out for 60 minutes and hit a jacked-up heart rate to achieve any sort of chemical change in their bodies but in reality, it varies from person to person.”

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