Career Strategies for Women


Check out these smart strategies for building long-term career success.

By Jennifer Berry

Over the last few decades, we have seen dramatic changes for professional women in the workforce and higher education.

In fact, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, the amount of women earning their college degree has practically tripled since 1970.

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However, when it comes to women's wages, there have not been such bold strides. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), women only earned about 80 percent of their male counterparts' salaries in 2008.

The good news is that there are strategies that women can use to help achieve career success.

We recently spoke with Dr. Katharine Brooks, a career services director at The University of Texas at Austin. Also the author of "You Majored in What? Mapping Your Path from Chaos to Career," Dr. Brooks had some insightful career strategies to share.

Career Strategy #1 - Make Sure You Have the Right Credentials

When it comes to long-term career success, education has the potential to pay off.

According to a 2010 report from the U.S. Department of Education that looked at average income for high school and college graduates, people with a bachelor's degree earned 53 percent more than high school graduates who didn't go to college.

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But in today's competitive world, it's not enough to simply "get educated". You need to ensure you get the right education.

"Education and careers are intertwined," says Dr. Brooks. "In some cases a specific degree or educational path is required to enter a career field."

"Research the career field you're interested in to determine the best education path to pursue," Dr. Brooks suggests.

If you're interested in nursing, for example, know that you'll need to earn a degree in nursing and get licensed before you can start pursuing registered nurse positions.

Similarly, aspiring financial gurus might be best served by earning a bachelor's degree in a related subject like finance or accounting.

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Career Strategy #2 - Determine the Best Career for You

"Look at where career fields are going, not just where they are right now," Dr. Brooks advises.

Some key things to think about: job growth, average earning potential, and long-term stability.

Health care, for example, is a solid field with growing opportunities. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, employment of registered nurses, medical assistants, and home health aides is projected to experience substantial growth through 2018.

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Outsourcing is another thing to think about when trying to settle into a career with stability. If you think a job can be easily done elsewhere, this is a warning sign for future issues, says Dr, Brooks. "Build skills that can't be performed by a computer," she advises.

Career Strategy #3 - Be Positive and Proactive

For long-term stability, try this for a career strategy: Be positive and proactive.

"Focus on the job at hand," says Dr. Brooks. It's easy to get overwhelmed when you have a lot on your plate. Take on one task at a time, and devote your whole attention to it. You might be surprised to find that you can accomplish more - at a higher level of quality - when you can focus your efforts.

"Do everything well." While no one should ever expect perfection of themselves, that doesn't mean you should ever do something half way. Treat your responsibilities seriously; take pride in your work; and success should follow.

"Stay positive…" advises Dr. Brooks. Take a hard look at how you act at work and put a stop to negativity and start engaging in more proactive, positive behaviors.

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Career Strategy #4 - Go the Extra Mile

If you want to stand out at work, you can't simply perform the tasks assigned to you. You have to bring more to the table.

Approach your career with a "How can I serve?" attitude. "Think about your customers, clients, supervisors, etc.," Dr. Brooks suggests. "How can you make them look or feel better? What one thing can you do today to improve something at your workplace?"

For example, "If you enjoy social media and your company doesn't have a Facebook page yet, offer to create and manage it," suggests Dr. Brooks.

Taking the initiative and offering to solve problems that aren't strictly in your job description demonstrates that you're thinking about the company, not just about yourself - and that can help you stand out.

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Career Strategy #5 - Get Noticed for the Right Reasons

"Focus on what is important to your company or organization. Then strive to improve that area," Dr. Brooks says.

"If customer satisfaction is a valued commodity in your office, for example, how are you going the extra mile to ensure that? What do you do that is different or special? How are you applying your key strengths every day at your work?" asks Dr. Brooks.

From there, find ways to make sure those above you are aware of what you're doing. This could involve something as simple as sending a quick email when you've finished a task and noting what results you achieved.

Getting on your supervisor's radar - and making sure they're aware of your accomplishments - could help you reach your goals.

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Statistics on women in the workforce is from the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment and Earnings, 2009 Annual Averages and the Monthly Labor Review, November 2009.

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