Updated on 09.15.14

What You Can Do Right Now To Help Your Career

Trent Hamm

Most career advice you receive focuses on the big picture: how to get ahead, how to “win,” and such things that are on a much larger scale than the daily grind that most of us face. In fact, it is that day to day grind that pulls down many of us – we go to work, come home exhausted, and often feel as though we’re just spinning our wheels.

If you want to get ahead in your career and in your life, you need to start small and look at the immediate things you can do to help out your situation. If you’re sitting out there at your desk, tiredly wondering if there’s something better that you can be doing with your life, start with these fifteen tips that you can start executing immediately that will lead you down a path towards a better career.

Fifteen Tips to Improve Your Career

Make a list of all of the things you did today/this week/this month

Whenever you have a few spare moments, make a list of all of the things you are actually doing at work. Date them and provide specific examples. When you’ve made this list, drop it in a folder and let it sit there until your next performance review – or the next time you ask for a raise or a promotion. I do this regularly, which has allowed me to build up extensive positive documentation about my career.

Send a thank-you note

If you’ve recently been assisted in your career or personal development by someone, spend a few moments and send that person a handwritten thank you note. The respect, kindness, and personal touch of a handwritten thank you creates an indelible positive mark in your favor in the recipient’s mind, which can do nothing but help you out in the long run.

Work on your writing skills

For me, The Simple Dollar is actually an active part of improving my own writing. Starting a blog related to a work-related topic that interests you is a good way to practice your skills. Don’t be lazy with it, though; focus on writing strong material that will engage others, because without it, you’re not really improving your skills at all, merely regurgitating facts.

Design some classy business cards for you

I have a small pile of business cards that are just for me (actually, they’re for The Simple Dollar), not for any firm I represent or work for or anything else. I drop these regularly, as envelope enclosures and in face-to-face opportunities. These cards are a reflection of me and what I wish to represent to people, and by getting quality ones, I create a positive impression on the recipients. Don’t go for the office store perforated ones, either; get them professionally done and in a high quality.

Send a quick contact email

Got any professional contacts that you haven’t touched base with recently? Send them an email letting them know what you’re up to – and ask them what they’re up to. By this, I don’t mean clients – I mean professional acquaintances in the same field as you (contacting clients should be a regular part of your workflow). A quick email to the people you met at conferences last year can be a very good thing, as you never know if they might have a great opportunity available that could really help you out.

Suggest a solution to a persistent workplace problem

This is especially true for smaller things, not necessarily big enterprise-wide issues. Are people always complaining about the printers? Spec out an additional printer and ship a proposal for a new printer by your boss. Workplace tensions between two people? Figure out how to most discreetly move them far apart from each other, write it up, and ship it off. The key is to make the solution as complete as possible, so that the boss can tell you saw a problem, looked into how to solve it, and came up with a solution on your own.

Pick up the phone and make a call

Keep in touch with what’s going on in the organization as a whole so you can be more informed when meetings occur. Pick up the phone and give someone else a call to see what you can learn, or take a stroll through different parts of the workplace to find out what others are up to. Don’t make a nuisance of yourself, but be aware of what is going on, how it can affect you, and how you might be able to leverage that to get ahead.

Work on your language skills

Are you a non-native speaker of the language in your workplace? Spend your spare time working on the finer points. I find that listening to audiobooks and podcasts is an incredible way to pick up on the nuances of a language given that you already know the basics. If you don’t know the basics, seek out some audio courses on that language and get started. For myself, I’ve found that a great way to pick up a foreign language is to read a translation of a work I’m already very familiar with, such as Harry Potter.

Make yourself more presentable

It always helps to have a clean, fresh impression. I keep a few hygiene products in my traveling bag at all times: underarm deodorant, toothpaste, a toothbrush, some mouthwash, some facial cleanser, a comb, and some cologne. I make sure to clean myself up at least once a day, and often twice a day, when I have a few free moments. That way, I look freshly scrubbed at the 3:30 PM meeting – and having just washed my face vigorously, I feel more awake.

Polish your resume

There’s never a bad time to give your resume a bit of a touch up. Make sure it has plenty of action words and documents specific results that you’ve produced. In fact, your personal work documentation is a great way to look for ideas to spiff up your resume.

Read on topics you plan to be facing in the future in your career

Don’t waste your time reading PerezHilton (unless you work for People magazine or something); instead, find resources that are related to your job and focus on those. If you spend your spare time at work browsing the web, at least spend that time browsing items that can potentially further your career.

Prepare some comments in advance for your next meeting

Got a meeting later? Instead of dreading it, look at it as an opportunity to shine. Look at what the meeting agenda is and prepare some notes and thoughts that you can present during them. If you’re going to sit through someone’s presentation, find out what it’s going to be about and do some preparatory legwork in advance so you can ask a few astute questions.

Work on your public speaking skills

This seems like it would be difficult to do right now, but it’s not. Merely listen to the work of great public speakers on the internet, burn yourself a CD or two of speeches that really inspire you, then play them in your car on the way home and practice speaking along with them. You’ll learn a great deal about how to enunciate words to get your points across and influence others.

Clean your work area

Not only will this create a better impression of you in the eyes of others, you may also come across important materials that you thought were missing or lost. It’s also good to start (or enhance) a document filing system when you do this, so you can quickly find materials.

Figure out where you want to be in five years – and create a plan for getting there

Spend some time visualizing where you want to be, then think about what it’s going to take to get there. From there, keep breaking down each piece in the process until the pieces are things you can do quickly – and start doing them. Every mountain climb is just a series of steps, after all.

Loading Disqus Comments ...
Loading Facebook Comments ...
  1. Pingback: Lifehacker
  2. MeTheGeek says:

    Great article!

    I found it through lifehacker:

    I would add another tip: change jobs. Among other reasons, you usually get more recognition when you have several jobs on your resume than when you work a long time in one single place. I call it the “No prophet is without honor, except in his own organization” syndrome. http://www.methegeek.com/?p=11

  3. Mark Mathson says:

    These are great suggestions. Some items I can definitely focus on to help…

  4. Glenn (Customer Service Experience) Ross says:

    Excellent list. I continue to recommend Toastmasters to anyone wanting to improve their speaking, leadership, or coaching skills. Find a club near you at Toastmasters.org. I’ve been a member for 2.5 years and have really benefited from it.



  5. MeTheGeek says:

    Great article!
    I found it through lifehacker: http://lifehacker.com/software/career/15-ways-you-can-help-your-career-238153.php

    I would add another tip: change jobs. Among other reasons, you usually get more recognition when you have several jobs on your resume than when you work a long time in one single place.

    I call this the “No prophet is without honor, save in his own organization” syndrome: http://www.methegeek.com/?p=11

  6. Kyle says:

    How about “make the money, and make sure they know it was you who did it.”

  7. MeTheGeek says:


    It is not always easy. Look at this excerpt from the article 32 Reasons Why Geeks are Severely nderpaid at The Negotiation Institute:

    “Sales brings home the bacon. So measuring their success is easy, and their impact on profit is immediate. Technology’s profit impact is neither immediate nor easy to measure. Geeks can’t do much about this – sorry.”

  8. John Jackson says:

    Start your own business. So you can set the rules and control what you do

  9. NEDM says:

    Not mentioned in this article is how your co-workers will assuredly ostracize you from the group for being a brown nosing piece of crap.

  10. Vince says:

    Excellent article! I do a few of these items already but there were some new things in there too. I especially like to keep a record of major accomplishments throughout the year. We have quarterly reviews at work and its nice to have some ammo readily accessible about the good things I did.

  11. Chad says:

    I think a good one to add for any aspiring mogul is to start a part time business on the side doing something you love.

    Build it up little by little until hopefully it matures to a stage where it replaces your 9-5 income or you feel comfortable enough to jump. The real money to be made is not found working for someone else. Kiyosaki Style.

    That is what i did.(I love Myspace)

  12. Pamela says:

    Great list in promoting personal development. It’s exciting to read new ideas on helping your career. I hope that more readers will benefit from it.

  13. John says:

    I start by tracking everything I do each day in Outlook. I pre-schedule things I need time to do and fill in the gaps with what I actually end up working on. I’m not required to do this, but I find it helps me see how I spend my days.

    Weekly, I send my manager an update of the major projects I’ve worked on or completed during the past five days. At the same time I send this, I open up my log file. This is a Word document formatted in a two column table. Left table for the start date of the week. Left column for the details. I copy and past the bulleted list I’m sending my manager into the proper cell for the current week.

    Come review time it’s easy to look over this one document to see all that I’ve done. I sometimes also note items in this log that don’t merit being on the weekly update, but might fit on the review. I know this sounds more complicated than it is. Once you’ve done it for a while, it goes quickly.

  14. Hunter Arnold says:

    These are great suggestions! I’d make sure emphasize that these are steps taken with a genuine interest in furthering your career and contributing to the company as a whole. Still, it’s important that we remember that there are small steps we can take every day that will make a big difference when it comes time to take the next step in our careers.

    A few things I’d add:

    – Not wasting time at work reading unrelated material is important for time management, but I believe firmly that you learn from everything you read. Take time to pick up any book that piques your interest. You’d be surprised at the amount you learn, even if it’s not business- or career-related.

    – Passion is contagious, so find people in your office or organization that inspire you and ask them to lunch. This isn’t brown-nosing; rather, it’s a way for you to see what makes other people tick at work and to get inspired by their viewpoints.

  15. Nice suggestions!!! I am very sure that I can benefit from most of them. This also reminds me of where I went wrong in few of my basics. Will definitely practice most of them to go places.

  16. Great article….while juggling a 9 to 5 that I love and a music career that I adore, I can see how the 15 above mentioned recommendations will help increase the productivity in both of them.

  17. Ambrish Kochikar says:

    Very thoughtful tips. Practicing even half of these (the right half is different for different people, so that will work itself out most times) is probably a good way to make progress right away. good job!

  18. gordon says:

    I think it is very important to look like the person you want to become. I went to a fund raiser that was connected to a top ten MBA program and a med school. It was assumed, because I was well dressed, that I was an MBA student. BAM! I was halfway to having a degree from a well respected MBA program.

  19. Janaki says:

    Great Article,

    I am sure I will definetly try and implement at least 8 of these suggestions.

    Thanks Trent! VERY inspiring Article.

  20. Good post.
    I just don’t agree with the don’t waste your time reading PerezHilton. Even that Im not his fan, I still see as important for a profesional to have some easy talk ready to go.
    It’s important for relationship. In a cocktail party, birthday, etc, I still think the best way to approach someone is still the classic Hi/Hello – brief introduction and some easy talk, not just business.
    Lucio Dias Ribeiro

  21. Amber Yount says:

    Great article! What about some tips for the self-employed?

  22. Alex says:

    Interesting that you have business cards for The Simple Dollar. Do you have any articles about what should go on a business card?
    It’s odd that I’ve worked as a graphic designer for 8 years and had no problem doing cards for other people, but rack my brains as to what to put on my own!

  23. Ron Taylor says:

    All well and good. but why all the effort to make money at a job? You would be better off to put the same effort into building your own business. Read over 45 articles on this subject at my website.

  24. Raymond Lee Quijano says:

    great tips! we could post this article in our office bulletin board so all of us would be enlightened. ^^

  25. Andrew says:

    I liked most of all a tip to plan one’s life and imagine who and where you will be in 5 years time

  26. Aakash says:

    Impressive article! But I am not sure how many things you follow regularly by yourself. Is it that hard?

  27. Jason says:

    This article was a great help! Great topics to focus on!

  28. Abbas says:

    Awesome article. I landed on one of your articles from reddit.com yesterday. You have a great set of articles. On this particular article, I would appreciate any suggestion on English language/communication skills. I am a not a native English speaker. Any books/audios/courses?

    Thanks a lot!

  29. This is all great advice. I especially like the advice about not wasting time with gossip blogs and such. You’d be surprised how much of a time waster that is!

  30. Great post, I’d add- perform beyond your own and your employers expectations, as often as possible.

  31. -hgn- says:

    Talking about public speaking,

    I believe one of the best examples is Steve Jobs, Apple CEO. Look him on Youtube and try to catch on some of his presentation skills.

  32. kevin devoto says:

    I just don’t agree with the don’t waste your time reading PerezHilton. Even that Im not his fan, I still see as important for a profesional to have some easy talk ready to go. – kevin devoto
    Nice suggestions!!! I am very sure that I can benefit from most of them. This also reminds me of where I went wrong in few of my basics. Will definitely practice most of them to go places. – kevin devoto

  33. Kiran says:

    Hey I agree with some of these, some of the most simple by effective points. Will take time, but you will get there.

  34. great article, helps to break out of our comfort zone.


  35. jewellery says:

    Great pointers, here. Thanks for these. I find that you don’t really need a hand-written note, but a good e-mail or even typed out letter (one that’s honestly written) is actually a great idea. I like to do this, especially because I’m REALLY thankful for a lot of the things people have done for me, and how many have advised me. I’ve taken the plunge and started my own business; something I’d recommend!! When the right time comes, of course. But you have some great pointers here, even for me (and, I wish I did a lot of these things when I was working for someone else!)

  36. Midagedman says:

    Doesn’t this leave out the most important one? Namely, work hard at doing your job better? Until you do that – for which there is no 15 step plan – the rest is not bad, but a bit beside the point.

  37. Cheryl says:

    I’m not sure most people have time to take a shower in the office bathroom sink. That’s a little weird…

  38. garry says:

    Lots of great pointers, I feel too many people nowadays struggle to even get the basics right. I would also add punctuality to the list; I hate people that are late on a regular basis.

  39. One thing that I would like to add – No matter how busy you are, always find time to read. Reading the newspaper before starting your work for the day could perk you up. In addition, reading can keep you updated about the latest in your field and about other related fields.

  40. Troy W says:

    Great article – simple ideas that can make a real difference! I’ve bookmarked your website.

  41. John says:

    Work on your writing skills, that is so important

  42. Pushing30 says:

    I’m so glad you linked to this again. It was great inspiration for my job/salary review later this week. Thanks for the great tips!

  43. Great ideas! You are always working for yourself even if you are working for someone else at the moment. These ideas help polish your skills and I bet if you follow them you will be rewarded. (whether it be monetarily or improving your self confidence!)

  44. Great list in promoting personal development. It’s exciting to read new ideas on helping your career. I hope that more readers will benefit from it.

  45. TB says:

    Great article, especially relevant now!

  46. Nice suggestions!!! I am very sure that I can benefit from most of them. This also reminds me of where I went wrong in few of my basics. Will definitely practice most of them to go places. Thanks Monica

  47. Great suggestions! I will be implementing most, if not all of them.

    Thanks for the post :)

  48. This is a great list things people can do right now that will make a big difference not only in their careers, but in life!

    Its amazing what what good public speaking skills can do for your career. You could be the most unproductive person in an organization and still have a successful career if you have powerful communication skills!

  49. Kevin Devoto says:

    This is all great advice. I have used most of it and now I am at the top. Also, learn how to use the socialmedia sites, like linkedin, to network with other professionals.

    Thanks for the post.

  50. honeymoons says:

    How about marrying the boss’s daughter :)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *