9 Ways to Keep Your Career Resolution

Quality tools are useful both on and off the plant floor. Here’s how to use continuous improvement to enhance your career.

Perhaps more than any other New Year, 2010 is riding on hope. We’re all hoping the worst of the recession is over. Recent reports from the Manufacturers Alliance help cultivate that hope. Rising consumer spending and stock market improvement reveal a light at the end of the tunnel.

But economic recovery in 2010 will be slow because it will take time to dig out of the tunnel.

And, if 2009 has confirmed anything, it is the fact that there is no such thing as job security these days, even if, like me, you have been devoted to your job for many years.

Whether you are in between jobs right now or holding tight at your current position, the New Year is a great time to reevaluate and tune-up your career.

Often, the same quality tools that improve plant-floor operations can also help manage personal and professional transitions. Here are nine process-improvement methods that can help keep your career on track in 2010.

1. Forecast. Planning for expenses is a must when cash is scarce. Use an Excel program to chart your bills six to nine months out and compare that against your checkbook balance. This will help predict when you will run out of money and may have to liquidate resources. Use the Excel file to determine if you should pay some things off right away or look for possible ways to reduce expenses.

Paying bills online helps the financial forecasting process. Paying online lets you schedule an entire month at a time and predict exactly when creditors get paid. It also saves postage and envelopes.

2. Benchmark. The other day, I stumbled on a list of 97 ways to live frugally. In the business world, we call this benchmarking. Create a list of ways to save and highlight the things you already do in green, the things you should do in yellow and the things you aren’t doing yet in red. Look honestly at your cash drain. Even if you’re still employed, embrace some thrifty methods now, just in case.

3. Resource Management. Now’s the time to purge and donate or sell items you’ve been storing for years. The tax deduction for donations is helpful, and you can also discover items you forgot you had. It will be like giving yourself a present.

4. 5S Your Life. 5S, a lean process term, stands for Sort, Set in Order, Shine, Standardize and Sustain (the orderliness). Start wherever you like and organize your life, from your desk (including paper and electronic files), to the basement and then to the garage. Being organized can only help you.

5. Use PDCA. If you’ve been laid off, it’s important to commit time each day to fine-tuning your career strategy. Plan, do, check, act (PDCA) is a fourstep problem-solving process that can help define and carry out all the steps required for your job search.

6. Do a SWOT Analysis. Write a three- to five-page career plan that includes an honest assessment of your current position. Are you happy? Is your work fulfilling and value-driven? Does it provide you with the balance you desire? Are you earning the money you think you deserve? Include a strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) analysis to analyze strengths and weaknesses and craft a vision statement that best describes what you would like your career to look like. The outlook could range from 90 days to one year.

7. Implement the Process. Think tactically about the steps to take to move toward your vision. Develop an action timeline and implement some part of it each day.

For example, one step might be to set up web queries that supply you with the latest job postings every day. They can help you decide if you have the qualifications and if you want to apply for a particular job. Another step might be to use job-search agents to sign up and receive job listings by e-mail. The major job sites have search agents, and some Web sites specialize in sending announcements.

8. Check Results. On a weekly basis, review the results of your tactics to see what’s working and what’s not. It sounds basic, but often, many of us put something in place and then just sit back and wait for things to happen instead of monitoring and adjusting.

9. Act: Make Necessary Changes. Determine where changes need to occur and then make then immediately. For example, if your resume is not getting results within a couple of weeks of sending it out, look at different approaches, such as getting outside help to redo it or developing a more customized approach with a resume and cover letter template that changes for each application.


Lou Ann Lathrop worked for GM for more than 25 years, holding engineering and managerial roles in quality engineering, manufacturing engineering, manufacturing and product engineering. A senior member of the American Society for Quality (ASQ), she is past chair of ASQ’s automotive division and current member of ASQ’s board of directors. More tips and resources are available at www.asq.org.

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