The French have a name for this time of year, when people get energized in a contemplative, autumnal way—very different from what we experience when crocus shoots appear in spring. The French call this La Rentrée, "the return." Children are excited about new books and backpacks. Adults can recommit to plans and goals with three more months in the year to accomplish them. At work, we're planning for 2009, hoping it will be better than this year. It's a time for reflection, and for action.
I think early fall is a great time for working people to update their career plans, and it may be especially important this year, given the turmoil in the economy. For starters, I recommend that you pull out your résumé and look at it with your best approximation of fresh eyes.
Does your résumé speak for you? Is it in need of an update, reflecting your accomplishments since the last time you refreshed it? The new trend in résumés is simple, human language. Strip out the corporate-speak and replace it with words that you'd actually use in conversation. Replace lists of disembodied "Skills and Competencies" with snippets from your most impressive accomplishments, getting rid of language like "Exceeded expected results via multifunctional process redesign" in favor of "Got our product placed on Approved Vendor List for Microsoft (MSFT), leading to $78M in new sales."
Cultivate Your Network
Next, update or create your 12-month career plan. What do you want and need in your portfolio, and how are you going to get it? Some of what's missing will come through your job, especially as you concentrate on filling in some blanks. Some will come via your own efforts with professional associations, in class, or through being mentored by more senior people. Does your La Rentrée plan include cultivating a mentor or two to help you polish your skills? If not, why not?
What can you accomplish on the job between now and Jan. 1? Buried in the weeds all day long, you may not have glanced at your long-term goals since last spring. Are you up for a Team Lead assignment, and if so, who should you be talking with about it? What projects and/or new skills should you be pushing to acquire now?
Lastly, take a look at your physical or virtual Rolodex. How is your professional networking faring? Make a list of the 20 to 30 people you view as your closest non-current-workmate associates. When's the last time you saw each of them? This is a great time for networking lunches, coffees, and after-work drinks, before the craziness of the holidays begins. Don't go into your winter cocoon without reconnecting with your crew. Cultivating and expanding your network is essential, whether your job is stable or shaky or somewhere in between.
Don't Squander the Quarter
Your résumé, your career plans, and your network—these are three high-priority areas to burnish in your La Rentrée planning. Before you know it, we'll be drinking New Year's toasts and hoping for summer. Don't squander these last-quarter weeks on your same-old, same-old routine. Invest a few hours in your career now. Imagine what you can accomplish before Dec. 31.