New year, new you? The beginning of a new year brings the hope of personal transformation. If you want to make positive changes in your work life, here are three workplace trends that merit attention.  You can improve your value in your current job, as well as your marketability for a new job or career. Little changes can bring a huge return on investment!

Three Career Trends Worth Following

In 2011, employers will place increased emphasis on:

1. Personal branding:  Your "personal brand" is the professional image you portray through your personal marketing materials that showcases your particular strengths and assets. The things that make you special are the components of your personal brand. For example, what do you do well? What are your most marketable skills, and how can you "prove" them? What knowledge or experience do you have that are advantages? What personality and character traits do you have that distinguish you from others in your field?

Management expert Tom Peters is credited with coining the term personal brand in his 1997 article, "The Brand Called You." In that article, he stressed the importance of knowing what makes you different from others:

Start right now: as of this moment you're going to think of yourself differently!... You don't "belong to" any company for life, and your chief affiliation isn't to any particular "function." You're not defined by your job title and you're not confined by your job description. Starting today you are a brand….[A]sk yourself…: What is it that my product or service does that makes it different?

You may need some help identifying your personal brand. You may find it difficult to see your strengths objectively. Often what we do best comes naturally to us, and we may therefore take it for granted, thinking, "That's not so special. I bet most people can do this." Get some outside feedback from work associates, friends, or a professional career coach to help you identify what makes you valuable to an employer.

2. Social media in the hiring process: Recruiters and employers will increasingly use social media sites such as LinkedIn to find job candidates. With more than 65 million professionals on LinkedIn, it is a rich source of potential employees. When employers evaluate prospects' profiles, they look at such factors as the completeness of the profile, recommendations, and group memberships. They may also look for connections whom they could contact for a more personal referral. All of this may happen before you are even contacted for an interview. (See our article, Use Social Networking to Find Your Next Job, for more tips on using LinkedIn to your advantage.)

3. "Soft skills": Soft skills are personal attributes that enhance a person's interpersonal interaction and performance on the job. (In contrast, hard skills tend to be task-specific.) Your hard skills may get you an interview, but it will typically be your soft skills that will get you the job (or enable you to keep your job).

Soft skills include such qualities as effective communication skills, empathy, leadership, charisma, good manners, optimism, responsibility, a sense of humor, integrity, the ability to manage your time, and self-motivation.

The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) 2011 Job Outlook Survey found that verbal communication skills head the list of skills employers are looking for in new college graduates. In addition, employers want college grads to have a strong work ethic, teamwork skills, analytical skills, and initiative. All job seekers, regardless of age, would benefit from highlighting these types of soft skills in their marketing materials and interviews.

January 14, 2011