Know Your Company, Follow The News, And Network

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Smart job hunters thoroughly research prospective employers. Job holders can benefit by performing similar due diligence on the firm where they work now.

John Challenger, chief executive of the Chicago-based outsourcing firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, recommends that employees follow media reports about their companies and, if it's a public firm, review its regular Securities and Exchange Commission filings. "It makes sense to know your company well, not only for evaluating risk to your career but as a way to understand your role as a representative in the firm," he says.

Among other things, examining your company with a critical eye can help you decide whether working there serves the interests of your overall career goals.

A good place to start is evaluating the corporate culture and whether it fits your style, suggests Richard Bayer, chief operating officer of the Five O'Clock Club, a career-counseling network. For example, some professionals are comfortable working in a company run from the top down, while others prefer a business that's more interactive in its decision-making.

Also, consider how well you get along with everyone in your orbit: your managers, your peers and your subordinates. Building and maintaining strong, positive relationships is among the most important strategies in a successful career, Bayer and Challenger agree. You should create strong ties up and down your organization, and throughout your industry.

"The key to success within a firm is a strong relationship with the boss and having strong relationships throughout the company," says Challenger. Relationships beyond your boss's office are important for a simple reason: Your boss might leave. In any case, "Your peers can do you in if they want to," says Bayer. "So can the people below you." Asking yourself if you're "in good stead with all these three groups ... will give you an idea whether you want to stay or not."

The World Beyond

And don't get stuck thinking you need to be loyal. In today's job market, Challenger says you must consider yourself a free agent. "Be open to new opportunities even when times are good," he says. A key to learning about those new opportunities is maintaining strong relationships beyond the walls of your company. "Stay plugged into your field," Challenger advises. "You want to be engaged with your industry, with lots of people in your field all the time, so you hear what is happening."

The most common mistake Challenger sees is people who put their head down, do their job well, and think that's enough to succeed. "It isn't," he says. "You have to build strong relationships inside the company and outside the company all the time." Bayer calls this managing your own PR. "If you're in the elevator and the big boss asks how things are going, and you say fine, you've just missed a big issue. Talk about the project you are working on and the progress you are making."

Finally are you in an area of the company that is growing? If the answer is no, Bayer suggests considering a job in another department before you start seeking a job in another firm.

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