March typically marks the beginning of the spring-cleaning season, when we start to shake off the winter doldrums, open up the windows, and roll up our sleeves to scrub away the dirt and cobwebs.
But cleaning house right now may not only be good for your abode — it could also prove beneficial to your career.
And it looks like a lot of us could use a little "spring forward" when it comes to our professional lives.
According to recent Gallup research, 2014 was a bit of a ho-hum career year: Slightly less than a third of U.S. working adults surveyed said they felt engaged at their jobs.
That means the other two thirds were somewhere between not engaged and actively disengaged. And millennials were particularly susceptible to the epidemic of workplace blahs, seeing as they were more likely than any other generation to feel a lack of opportunity to shine at work.
To help you emerge from any winter work slumber you may be feeling, we asked career coaches and strategists across the country to offer up tips for top career to-dos to tackle in the spring.
Career spring-cleaning tip #1: Prune your work schedule
Forget your overgrown yard — you may need to take a weed whacker to your overly packed workday.
If you're constantly slammed by seemingly endless tasks at the office, it may be time to reprioritize — particularly if you feel like your time and energy aren't being focused purposefully in the office or at home, suggests Elene Cafasso, president of executive and personal coaching firm Enerpace, Inc.
"Most of us say yes to everything, and end up saying no to some things we really care about — even if that no is an unconscious no," explains Cafasso.
For example, taking on an extra work project because you couldn't say no may take time away from your child's ballet classes — not just because you couldn't physically attend but also because you may be stressed, distracted, and not truly present even when you are there.
The result? You're always striving — but rarely succeeding.
When you can't give anything your full attention, you'll eventually burn out — leading to feelings of guilt, anger and frustration over your lack of balance. You may even start to think about downshifting your career, Cafasso explains.
To help reset your schedule, list the top five professional priorities you want to focus your energy on. Then use "time blocking" — setting aside specific hours on your calendar for distinct tasks — to ensure that you always get to them, Cafasso says.
For example, if one of your goals is to get a promotion this year, working through lunch to respond to non-urgent emails probably isn't as valuable as taking part in an office "Lunch and Learn" that could expose you to executives or help build your skills.
"It's much more effective from a career management standpoint to do five things well than to try and do 25 things," Cafasso says. "The 25 will not be your best work, and you'll be too busy and stressed to tell anyone about them anyway — so you may not get full credit for them."
Career spring-cleaning tip #2: Touch up your résumé
Spring is usually when many of us reorganize our closets, purging old outfits we no longer love and replacing them with new finds for the season.
The same principle can be applied to your résumé: "Seasonal" updates are far more effective than putting the task on the backburner until you're ready to jump ship, says Laurie Berenson, a pro résumé writer and founder of Sterling Career Concepts, LLC.
Not only will it help ensure you have your résumé at the ready if a hot opportunity pops up, but it also prepares you for an impromptu, self-promoting elevator pitch at a networking event.
"Updating your résumé at least once a year helps you keep track of your accomplishments and wins before too much time has passed," Berenson says. "It's much harder to look back over a three- or four-year time period and recall all of your notable accomplishments."
You can keep yourself accountable by timing your resume update with an anniversary you'll remember, Berenson adds. Perhaps it's your start date, a performance review or even a holiday — some recurring date that's hard to forget.
In addition to adding or updating any professional accomplishments you may have earned over the past year — for instance, higher sales figures or new certifications — now may also be an opportune time to determine whether it makes sense to change up your C.V.'s format.
"The idea that all résumés must be one page is outdated and can do job seekers a disservice," Berenson says. "A strong resume is as long as it needs to be to tell your story." So while one page may be enough to tout the career of a recent college grad, someone with at least five years of experience will likely need two.
And if you work in an industry where visual prowess matters, an infographic-style résumé could help you stand out from the crowd.
"Infographic resumes are on-trend lately and appropriate for more progressive industries," Berenson adds. "They could be a good option for those trying to catch the attention of a hiring manager in a highly creative role."
Career spring-cleaning tip #3: Polish (and optimize) your LinkedIn profile
We all know how quickly the web moves, so there's no excuse for a musty and outdated LinkedIn profile.
In addition to making sure your profile is as up-to-date as your résumé, you also want recruiters to be able to find you when they do keyword searches.
Meg Guiseppi, a personal branding strategist and author of 20 Little-Known Insider Tips to Accelerate Your Executive Job Search, recommends regular profile housekeeping not only for search optimization, but also to tout your industry relevance to those who may stumble across your page.
Her top three SEO profile-enhancing tips:
Pad your name field. The last name field allows for up to 40 characters, including certifications. Use that extra space to tack on credentials like CPA or PhD, so people can find you by your qualifications and degrees.
Optimize your professional headline. This is the text that lies just beneath your name. Some users put their current positions here, but it's actually 120 characters that could be used more strategically by incorporating keywords.
Consider crafting it with terms you would use to search for a job, along with those you see in job descriptions relevant to the one you have — or the one you aspire to nab.
For example, instead of just Senior Project Manager, try something like Senior Project, Program Manager — Process Design, Financial Analysis, IT and Data Systems (assuming, of course, it accurately reflects your experience).
Clarify job titles with keywords. You don't want to make hiring managers doubt your truthfulness with discrepancies between the job titles on your resume and your LinkedIn profile — but titles aren't always a clear representation of your actual duties, nor are they consistent across employers.
So use the 100 characters in the job-title field to expand on your talents and responsibilities with more specific keywords. For example, Guiseppi suggests augmenting "Senior Technical & Business Project Manager" with "Senior Technical & Business Project Manager — Capital Markets Risk Management, MBS Disclosure."
This is also helpful if you've got an outside-the-box job title like "chief happiness officer" (translation: head of employee retention). The additional characters can help you standardize your title for optimal search relevance — not to mention explain what that means to profile visitors.
Career spring-cleaning tip #4: Get some professional fresh air
Feel your skills are getting a little stale? It may be time to breathe new life into them by stepping beyond your own corporate walls.
"So many professionals get so caught up in the day-to-day planning and execution of their jobs that they lose touch with current events within their industry — but making the time is critical to long-term career success," says Scott W. Ventrella, an executive coach and author of Me, Inc.
You could do this by joining a professional society to expand your network and get some visibility in your field. "Ideally, this should be a national or international organization with local chapters," Ventrella says. "And don't just be a spectator — get involved by chairing a committee or organizing speaking events and workshops."
Ventrella also suggests attending at least one industry conference a year to stay plugged into your field's trends, best practices and continuing education — and with spring the precursor to the busy travel season, now may be as good a time as any to hop on a plane for a little professional getaway.
Career spring-cleaning tip #5: Dust off your networking list
Although social networking has made it easier to know what's going on with professional colleagues, nurturing those relationships requires active effort — not passive online stalking.
Sara Sutton Fell, CEO and founder of FlexJobs, recommends taking the time to reconnect with your contacts — not because you're seeking out a specific favor, but simply to let them know you still value them.
"Reach out to the people who might be able to impact your career this year, but don't ask for anything — just send them a quick note to say hello and see how they're doing," she says. "Ask about their jobs, their kids, their hobbies."
Since the outreach is no strings attached, the simple touch base takes very little of your time or effort. But it keeps the lines of communication open if you need, say, an introduction to a hiring manager or want some career advice later in the busy fall hiring season.
"Those little check-ins will do wonders to put you at the forefront of people's minds who could potentially impact your career," Sutton Fell says. "Then all you need to do is ride the conversation as it happens organically — no pressure."