This is the year you’re going to make more money — or take on a leadership role at work, apply for your dream job or even try a completely new career path. Whatever it is, you know you want something in your professional life to change.

Understandably, you might be overwhelmed by the prospect of making your work dreams a reality. These job-hunting tips from the pros should make it more manageable.

If You’re Just Starting to Look for a New Job (or Thinking About It)

Evaluate What’s Truly Important to You
Yes, the amount on your paycheck is important. After all, you need to pay your bills. But what else do you want from your next gig — a shorter commute? A place you can advance? Flexible schedule? Whatever it is, make the added elements of your next job part of your search to help increase the odds you’ll be happier wherever you land.

Look at Companies, Not Just Jobs
Instead of only focusing on job listings that are already posted, expand your search to find companies you think you’d enjoy working at. They may not have anything right away, but taking the step toward talking with a hiring manager about what you think you’d bring to the table may provide opportunities you wouldn’t have had otherwise.

“Make a list of the items that you like and wish were part of your current culture and compare it to future opportunities,” said Tony Gulley, managing partner of Executive Casting, a recruiting firm based in Raleigh, North Carolina. “Culture is the foundation of satisfaction and a cornerstone for employee retention, so you should not overlook this.”

Find a Mentor & Heed Their Advice
If there is someone in your field (or in your place of work) whose career, motivation, abilities or other traits you wish to emulate, tell them so and ask if they would be willing to help you become better at what you do. Don’t be shy about asking for this help. It’s not a one-way street, and the mentor as much as the mentee benefits from the relationship. Mentoring can help a seasoned professional become more cognizant of things they may do as a rote response to business situations. This will position you to advance in your current workplace or seek a better job elsewhere.

Pick Up New Skills
Eyeing a job in sales but deathly afraid of speaking in public? Perhaps it’s time to brush up on your skills. A little training or an after-work class can help you beef up your resume where you need it most.

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Revamp Your Resume …
Are you still using that resume you crafted in college? Sure, you’ve updated it along the way, but maybe it’s time to consider either starting from scratch or getting rid of some of the details on there that are taking up prime real estate. Ask yourself if those early jobs are really reflective of your skillset or where you want to go in your career. If not, clear them off and make room for other more important details.

Remember, a lot of companies and recruiting firms use software to scan resumes, so prepare yours for a digital review. Dawn D. Boyer, a Virginia-based resume writer and career consultant, stressed the importance of composing digital resumes in word-processing documents with simple, easy-to-read formats that include keywords related to the type of work you’re looking for.

… And Make Sure You Proofread It
There are enough challenges to getting a new job, so don’t stand in your own way by sending application materials with errors.

“It’s shocking how many resumes cross my desk with incorrect grammar, improper punctuation, and multiple misspellings,” said Susan McNeill, a recruiter for Back to Basics Learning Dynamics, an education company in Delaware. “A sloppily written resume is an immediate red flag.”

Network, Network, Network
Sometimes the best way to find the next step is by talking to someone who’s been there. Reach out to your alumni network, tap friends or send cold emails to start conversations.

“Cold call companies and express your interest in hearing about any future openings in your line of work” said Jana Tulloch, a human resources professional at software education company DevelopIntelligence in Boulder, Colorado. “Often there are vacancies on the horizon that just haven’t been posted, and you could be the early bird who gets the worm.”

If You’re Actively Looking

Get Uncomfortable
Growth doesn’t happen by sitting still. You don’t improve your skills or opportunities by not stretching a bit, so volunteer to take on duties and projects that you might not feel completely qualified for. The same holds true when applying for jobs, especially if you’re a woman. Men are far more likely than women to apply for positions for which they might not meet every criteria.

Find a Recruiting Agency
There are plenty of services out there that help companies fill positions with qualified candidates, and the companies using these services tend to be larger employers with better benefits and salaries (they also pay the recruiters, not you, so don’t think you have to pony up any cash). You can reach out to these companies directly to make sure they know you exist, but it’s also wise to make sure you’re easy to find on the internet. Make sure your LinkedIn profile is updated and your resume is linked to it. Also, making your profile searchable on job sites like Monster.com and TheLadders.com can be helpful.

Check Your Credit
Some employers will pull a version of your credit report as part of their hiring process, and you’ll want to keep errors or unknown missteps from hurting your prospects. You can get your credit reports for free each year at AnnualCreditReport.com and view your free credit report snapshot, updated every 14 days, on Credit.com. Got bad credit? Here’s what to do if an employer wants to check out your credit report.

Prepare to Be Googled
According to a 2016 CareerBuilder survey, 59% of hiring managers use search engines to research candidates while 60% are also looking up applicants on social media — and, yes, what they find could cause you to lose out on a position. What could cost you, specifically? Survey says provocative or inappropriate photographs and videos, discriminatory comments, badmouthing of former employers or fellow employees, and poor communication skills. What can help? Background information that supports your job qualifications, a professional image, a wide range of interests and (you guessed it) good communication skills.

Find Out What You’re Worth
Use sites like Glassdoor to find out what other people at your level in your field make. That information can help you in the job search and negotiation process.

If You’re Going On Interviews

Review Your References
You want references that can speak to your work ethic and accomplishments firsthand, not necessarily the person in your orbit with the flashiest job title. If you’re thinking of adding someone new, be sure to clear it with them first. If you’re satisfied with your current advocates, double-check that their contact information is current. They can’t stump for you if the prospective employer can’t actually get in touch with them. Plus, the hiring manager might count a wrong number against you.

Don’t Forget Interview Prep
“Don’t show up empty-handed,” Boyer, the career consultant, said. “Your carry-in list should be a paper copy of your resume, a paper copy of your list of recommendations if they ask for them, and a typed list of questions to ask the future employer.” She also recommended bringing pre-written thank-you notes so you can drop it in the mail immediately upon leaving the building.

Ask For Feedback When You Get Rejected
Use the job-application process as a learning tool. If you don’t get an interview — or if you do and they choose another candidate — ask the recruiter or hiring manager why they didn’t select you and what you could do to improve your chances for getting a position like the one you applied for.

Keep an Open Mind
While it’s helpful to have a checklist in mind, having too many requirements may hold you back. Keep an open mind so you give each opportunity the consideration it deserves.

Image: Geber86 

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