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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How to evolve from writing code to writing business-friendly material? Volunteer to be part of the design team and let your documentation writing skills shine. (As always, if you make the team, make sure your grammar, spelling and formatting are of the highest quality, Ebner says.)

Blogging is another way to hone your writing skills, says Allan Hoffman, technical jobs expert at Monster.com, and it's also a great way to develop community and make contacts. In the interest of career development, blog about an area that's of technical interest to you, not about your pet parrot, your vintage video game collection or whatever cool band you saw last night.

A programmer, for instance, might focus on Asynchronous JavaScript and XML and related technologies, while an information architect might follow Web 2.0 trends, Hoffman says. Most important: You want your enthusiasm to come through in your blog, so be sure to write about something that you're passionate about, almost to the point of obsession. "If you're not enthusiastic about it, then don't bother," Hoffman says.

5. Be a joiner

It's easy to sit in your cubicle, but getting ahead means being proactive and demonstrating that you have an understanding of the business environment, says Monster.com's Hoffman. A great way to do that, he says, is to get involved with an IT-related organization, such as a local chapter of the IEEE Computer Society or ACM, and seek to participate by organizing events, contributing to conferences or managing the local chapter Web site.

"By doing that, you'll make contacts and improve your ability to work with others," he says. "It also demonstrates that you're enthusiastic and serious about [technology] as a career."

Another good move is to join an alumni network, a community group or a professional organization in your company's line of work, any place in which you are likely to come in face-to-face contact with senior manager types, from your company and other firms, in a relaxed environment. "If you have the opportunity to have a personal conversation with key decision-makers outside of work, it breaks down the hierarchy," Ebner points out.

Such groups may also give you an opportunity to try out public speaking, something with which few people are comfortable without practice. "It's not easy for anybody, but you can get better at it with practice," Ebner says. Why is this important? "It helps you become more comfortable framing conversations in professional terms."

6. Work for free

Employers want experienced people, but how can you get that experience outside of your job? One good way is to gain it through volunteer work.

If your knee-jerk reaction to that suggestion is "I don't have the time," you might want to think it through a little more deeply. Volunteer positions that help advance your career can be powerful motivators indeed. "I knew a person who volunteered to develop a Java program for Make a Wish in Chicago," Ebner relates. "When her employer said it needed a Java person, she had something to point to -- she could present the applications she'd developed."

Another idea is to contribute to an open-source project, which shows your willingness to learn new things while providing you with experience in that arena.

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