You know that financial security hinges on good habits, like saving regularly, keeping your spending in check, and not doing anything stupid with your investment portfolio. Still, it’s equally important to manage your career. Decisions you make at work can, arguably, have the biggest impact of all on your future comfort.
Here’s advice to help you max out your earnings whether you're just starting out or hitting your peak.
Earlier in your career…
Be socially savvy. You probably know that a strong profile on social media sites goes a long way in helping your career, now that the majority of employers use Linkedln, Facebook, and Twitter to find talent. Make it easy for hiring managers to find you and be impressed by your accomplishments. LinkedIn has found that a complete profile greatly increases the likelihood you'll be contacted about a job; a photo in professional context helps too.
Play the numbers. Professionals who don't negotiate their salaries early in their career can lose more than $500,000 in income by age 60, according to Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever, authors of Women Don't Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide. Start by putting a number on the table to sway the final offer. Find out what's reasonable by talking to peers in your field—including, ideally, someone who works at your target company—and check salary data sites like Glassdoor.com and PayScale.com.
Stay in the game. Taking time off to care for kids can be a big blow to lifetime earnings because of lost wages and career momentum. In one Harvard study, female MBAs who took 18 months off earned 41% less over their careers than male colleagues. Before you quit outright, see if you can negotiate flextime, work part-time, or freelance.
Don’t lose touch. If you quit your job, do "strategic volunteering"—something that dovetails with your career and can be added to your résumé. And keep up with co-workers. "When you're not working is exactly when you need to keep those connections strong," says Carol Fishman Cohen, co-author of Back on the Career Track.
Dazzle the higher-ups. People with senior–level mentors earn $7,000 more a year, according to workplace researcher Catalyst. So create situations where you'll stand out: Seek assignments that allow you to interact with top brass and join industry groups favored by movers and shakers.
Get moving. People who exercise at least three times a week earn 6% to 9% more than those who do not, according to research by Cleveland State University professor Vasilios Kosteas. He cites growing evidence that fit employees are more productive and manage work-related stress better, which can lead to faster career advancement.
Later in your career…
Give your résumé a facelift. You're 40% more likely to land a new job with a professionally crafted résumé than a DIY one, found job site The Ladders. Via an industry association, find a résumé writer who knows what works in your field. Been working for while? Lop off everything but the last 10 years. Decades of experience are nice, but employers care more about what you've done lately.
Hit up your contacts. Half of job openings aren't advertised, says Duncan Mathison, author of Unlock the Hidden Job Market. Tap connections to ask about opportunities where they work.
Be tech savvy. "Bust the myth that older workers don't have the most up-to-date skills," says HR expert Martha Finney. Have a strong social media presence and be able to discuss how the latest technological trends affect your industry.
Build your brand. At Yola.com you can create a professional website free; for $10 a month you get hosting, Facebook, and mobile-publishing support. Showcase your work, posting articles, presentations, speeches, and client testimonials, and add new examples regularly. A blog can bolster your rep too. Says CareerXRoads CEO Mark Mehler: "The blogs with the most readers are the ones with the most frequent updates."
Protect your paycheck. High earners are vulnerable in a cutback and slower to rebound. A vice president over 50 takes 20% longer to get rehired than a 41- to 45-year-old, recruiter ExecuNet found. So add skills constantly, even if they're not a perfect fit with your current job. "Companies often seek out hires who can bring new thinking," says author and restructuring adviser Duncan Mathison.
Adopt a colleague. Managers with protégés earned an average of $25,075 more a year than their non-mentoring peers, workplace researchers Catalyst found. "The ability to develop talent is highly valued," says Catalyst's Anna Beninger.
Answer this question to get more financial advice tailored to your place on the Road to Wealth:
Which best describes your financial life?