3 Small Career Interventions With Big Payoffs

Last Updated May 31, 2011 7:15 AM EDT

Often here on BNET we debate the value of expensive career interventions like getting an MBA or other degree. The conversation can get heated, but whatever your opinion on the value of a college degree, it's clear that plenty of people either don't believe the hefty upfront costs are worth or it or simply can't afford them. So if you're unsure of the return on investment of an expensive career move like college or unable to muster the cash, are there other interventions that you can afford that will improve your chances of getting ahead?

Yes, says popular personal finance blog Get Rich Slowly, where writer April Dykman recently reminded those hung up on dramatic or expensive career moves that sometimes thinking big is a bad idea -- there are plenty of small actions you can take to improve your career that provide a big boost for only a few bucks. What does she have in mind? Here are three examples:

  • Read an industry-related book. Staying abreast of your industry shows that you take initiative and have a deep interest in your career. It also helps you to bring new ideas to the table, something any good boss appreciates. Every few months, read a book that relates to your career and brainstorm five ways the information could be used to improve processes or develop new programs at your company.
  • Invite a mentor out for lunch. Wondering how to break into management or a more exciting department? Considering a new career path? The best $20 you'll ever spend is taking a mentor out to lunch to pick his or her brain about ways to advance your career. Ask her for advice and how to avoid missteps, and spend the majority of the time talking about her. (And don't forget to send her a handwritten thank-you note!) Not only will you pick up some great tips, but you're also networking. Who knows when an opportunity might arise and your lunchtime interviewee will recommend you for a job opening or promotion?
  • Keep a brag folder. This is a tip I learned from a supervisor: keep positive notes, e-mails about a job well-done, and kudos from your boss, and file them away in a folder. As an employee, I felt uncomfortable "bragging" about myself, but unless you work very closely with your supervisor, your boss may not be aware of all of your accomplishments. Bosses are too busy to keep up with every employee's triumphs and certainly won't remember all of them come review time. Thanks to my former supervisor, I eventually realized it's not bragging, it's actually helpful for supervisors when employees keep good records. My boss wanted to include as many positives as possible in her evaluations and providing them made her job easier. It'll also make your life easier when you have to fill out a self-evaluation or when you're preparing to ask for a raise. Rather than racking your brain to remember what you've done for the past year, you'll have a folder ready to go.
Check out Dykman's post for more great tips like these. Her list is a solid reminder that before you spend thousands on a class, certification or website redesign, for example, it's worth considering whether you've left any small but effective interventions on the table. Would joining an industry organization help you meet people and hone your skills? Would a simple piece of tech -- maybe a web cam or a productivity boosting app -- make you more effective? Would outsourcing some of your household chores free up time to work on a side project that brings in more than your outlay for the services?

Have you made any other relatively small investments in your career that have paid off big time?

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    Jessica lives in London where she works as a freelance writer with interests in green business and tech, management, and marketing.