Seven steps to take now for a better job in '08

Dreaming of a big promotion or a new job come January? The time to lay the foundation is right now.

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Not only will this grow your personal network, but you'll also gradually start standing out in management's eyes as someone who really "gets" what's going on, complete with the vocabulary and insights to prove it.

Interacting whenever possible with colleagues from other departments can serve to both increase your knowledge of the business and up your corporate visibility.

For example, at the beginning of his career, Ebner volunteered to interview new hires as part of his employer's multilayered hiring process. "It got me access to HR and senior executives in the organization who were part of hiring as well," he says. "I became a common name in a much broader circle."

3. Find a mentor

You've heard it before, but it bears repeating: A mentor can be very, very good for your career.

Mentors can guide you to the next, best step in your career; they can give you perspective on sticky subjects like whether your salary is on par with your peers or whether you're advancing as quickly as you think you should be; and they can help you practice talking to higher-ups in the organization.

How to find a mentor? First find out if your company has a formal mentor program. Companies that encourage mentoring tend to be midsize to large companies that have a passion for talent, according to Elaine Weyuker, a fellow at AT&T Labs Inc. and chair of the Committee on Women in Computing at the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM).

If that's not your company, try joining a professional organization like the ACM, which supports MentorNet, a private, not-for-profit e-mentoring network for engineering and science professionals.

If none of those avenues pans out, don't be afraid to seek out a mentor on your own. "Most people are thrilled to help," Weyuker says.

When approaching someone to be your mentor, describe your situation and say in concrete terms what you hope to get from the relationship. Ask the person to help warn you of pitfalls and suggest positive steps you should take, Weyuker says.

For example, if you're new at the company, you could say, "I feel like I don't know the ropes, and I'd really value your help in getting acclimated," she suggests. If you're itching for advancement in a current job, try, "I feel I'm stuck at my current level, and I'd really value your help in figuring out the steps I should take to advance."

Flattery helps too -- as long it's sincere. Weyuker suggests saying something like, "I'd love to have someone in your position provide guidance and feedback to help me navigate through the early stages of my career."

Finally, if you're worrying about imposing on a potential mentor, drop that notion, Weyuker says. People like to mentor other people. "It makes them feel good about themselves, and they themselves learn from the experience," she says.

4. Show off your writing skills

Again and again, hiring managers emphasize the need for IT personnel to have better communications skills, but exactly how does one do that? One way to start is to write more -- whether it's writing documentation or a blog.

"There's a whole subset in the technology industry of people who translate between the business and the IT department," Ebner says. "Practicing that kind of communication is the best way to hone those skills, and being well-written is an important part."

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