Happy with Your Job? Don’t Become Complacent

Most career articles talk about landing the perfect job, giving pointers on your rÃ?©sumÃ?©, interviewing tips, etc. Once you’ve gotten the job, its assumed that you’re riding off into the sunset, your Blackberry or video phone slung over the back of the white horse that will carry you into Job Never-Never Land, where we all live happily ever after.

Right. Well, life doesn’t work that way. Layoffs arrive with no warning. Rumors of reorganization fly in every company, profitable or not. Acquisitions change corporate culture overnight. Whether you start a new job tomorrow or go back to the same position you’ve held for 30 years, there are some things you should be doing to ensure your continued happiness. Think of these tasks as preventive medicine for disastrous career events, just as you periodically go to a doctor for a check-up.

If you aren’t already, start keeping a job diary. In the diary, keep two main pieces of information. Keep a running description of major accomplishments, key projects and other type of “brag book” information. This is invaluable when it comes to performance review time and your boss is wondering why a raise should go to you and not to someone else. Also, make a note of any promises made to you by your supervisor, and a detailed account of any discussions you had with your supervisor relating to your job performance. The word “diary” is key. Don’t share anything from this with your colleagues; use the information to boost your raise at review time, but don’t go into detail with your supervisor.

“But I do the same thing day in and day out; there’s nothing spectacular.” Great. Write it down. Note that you turned in the project on time, that you helped your colleagues solve the budget forecast problem, or that your boss gave you even more duties to perform. Whatever happens in your day, write it down. Another reason for keeping this (which hopefully you will never face) is to assist you if you face any employment-related litigation. Your diary will serve as an accurate reminder of the series of events.

The next set of tools are the contacts you have. In your personal contact manager, be sure you have a category for “references” or “possible references”. List the contact information of people you work with who can comment favorably on your work. Should your job suddenly disappear (or revert from heaven to hell overnight), this information is invaluable.

It is important to keep your diary and contacts as up-to-date as possible – ideally, on a daily basis. As a last resort, on a weekly basis. If sudden layoffs or political tumult hits your company quickly, you might be called into an office, told of the sudden storm and escorted out within minutes. You won’t be given an opportunity to obtain notes or data. Also, be sure to keep this information at home. Your employer will probably lay claim to any information you have at work.

This may go without mentioning – but always, always, always keep your resume up to date.
Take it out at least once every six months and update it. If you have been with your current employer more than 3 years, try to break up the information by position or project. You want to de-emphasize that you have stayed with one employer for awhile, as you can come across as unable to adapt to a new company. (Yes, some employers still worry about prospective employees who “jump around”, that is changing into concern over employees who aren’t flexible or just can’t keep up.)

Keep other job-hunting skills up-to-date also. Send out your resume several times during the year. Go on at least one or two interviews – even if they are informational interviews – annually. “Why?,” you ask. “I’m happy with my job.” This exercise does several things. First, it keeps your job-hunting skills up to date. Secondly, interviews help you compare your current employer to what else is available. This information may give you ideas to implement at your current employer, or provide impetus when asking for a raise. (Although you should never, ever ask for a raise with an “or else I’ll work for so and so”. Present the information in a non-threatening way, such as “I’ve heard that ABC Company offers . . .”). Informational interviews are also a great way to build contacts.

At least once a year, analyze your current position as if you were just about to start work. List the actual number of hours you work (including unpaid overtime and work from home) and divide by your annual salary to obtain your actual hourly rate. Estimate how much each benefit you receive is worth. What would it cost you to obtain health insurance through a trade group rather than your employer? How many vacation days are you granted each year? It should add up to look something like this:

Base salary40,000; according to diary, worked 2,500 hours

Hourly rate = 40,000/2,500 = $16/hour

Deduct the cost of any items which are not reimbursed by the company (e.g. supplies, weekly donuts, software).

Health insurance: $250/month (through professional group)
Vacation: 10 days ($16/hour x 80 hours = $1,280)

The above shows that our “sample employee” is working for $16 an hour. It also shows the person that if they worked for $17 per hour or more on a temp or contract basis and working the same number of hours, they would be making slightly more than they are now.

In conjunction with your actual earnings breakdown, think about the non-monetary aspects of your career: Do you enjoy your work atmosphere? Do you look forward to going to work? Does your employer offer you ways to expand your skills? Do you feel challenged?

The answers to these questions, combined with your earnings breakdown above, will give you a pretty clear picture as to whether you should be seriously looking for another job. Remember that you are more valuable to a potential employer if you are working.

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