The Surprise Tactic That Fuels Innovation at Work

When you hit a wall at work—when the ideas stop flowing, the solutions aren’t appearing, and you’re clashing with colleagues—your instinctive response may be to keep plugging away until the situation improves. Here’s an alternative: Put your work down, leave your desk, and play.

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In work-‘til-you-drop America, play is sometimes seen as a childish pursuit that adults don’t have time to indulge in. But play is not just pointless recreation—among other benefits, it can help spark creativity, strengthen teams, and give you a space to fail safely. In short, playtime could be just what you need to improve your productivity and achieve breakthroughs that benefit your career.

Here are a few ways to make play work for you:

1. Ditch the work-versus-play idea.
In his book, Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul, Stuart Brown says that the opposite of play is not work—it’s depression. Play is not lazy. It’s essential. And it does not mean you aren’t taking your job seriously.

 Step away from the smartphone and pick up some crayons.

2. Learn about the play habits of top innovators.
Jacky Carter, community manager for Citi’s Connect: Professional Women’s Network on LinkedIn, recently published a blog post highlighting presenters from the TEDWomen  conference who have used play to make huge strides in their fields: MIT professor Dava Newman focused on fun among her engineers when designing a BioSuit for astronauts that allows for increased mobility; and Unchartered Play CEO Jessica O. Matthews created a soccer ball that generates energy the more you kick it around. If these women can prioritize play, so can you.

3. Find purpose in the purposelessness.
Play induces a state of flow in which you become focused on the present experience, not stuck in an overanalyzed past or worried about an imagined future. Being there in the moment feels much purer and more enlivening than the half-present haze that many of us live in. Step away from the smartphone, pick up some crayons, and you might just find the answer to a long-vexing dilemma.

4. Use team play to understand other points of view.
Problem-solving games are great for rallying teams, building social skills, and reminding everyone of the importance of empathy. The idea behind leading a blindfolded colleague on a trust walk is that the sense of triumph and teamwork will carry over to your workplace relationship.

5. Experiment—and fail—with confidence.
Play brings lowered stakes. You’re not negotiating a multi-million-dollar deal here—you’re just having fun and trying things out. This is immensely freeing, and allows you to take big risks without fearing the consequences. (What’s the worst that could happen if you’re terrible at origami?)

Keep Your Money and Identity Safe While You Travel

According to a recent survey from TripAdvisor, 78% of Americans will travel on a family vacation between June and August. While a vacation is always a well-deserved recharge, it may also mean unfamiliar surroundings where you’re paying more attention to fun than to safety.

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With a bit of vigilance and a few careful steps—like separating your cash into small amounts carried in different pockets, wearing a money belt, or just paying attention to your surroundings—you and your loved ones can foil a pickpocket who would otherwise put a damper on your vacation. But keeping your money safe when you’re on the road also takes some pre-trip planning and high-tech help.

There is more private, financial, and even embarrassing information on your smart phone than you ever kept in your wallet.

Lighten Up Your Wallet

The experts at MedJet Assistance, a travelers-assistance company, recommend carrying a small amount of local currency and a single credit card in your wallet. Leave extra cards and large amounts of cash in the hotel safe, along with your passport (carry a photocopy and an extra piece of identification such as a driver’s license instead). They also suggest cleaning out your wallet before the trip and at the end of each day to take out old receipts, which would give out a lot of credit information if your wallet is lost or stolen.

Pack a few envelopes. They can be useful for separating your cash, or if you need to leave cash and documents in the hotel safe they can be easily sealed in your own envelope for additional peace of mind.

Carry the Right Cards

Some banks will charge you a foreign transaction fee for taking money out of an ATM overseas, even if it’s the bank’s own. That can eliminate the advantage of taking out the cash in local currency to avoid currency exchange fees. Be sure to check with your bank about fees before you travel. You may also want to consider a pre-paid card, which you can get from most credit card companies for a nominal fee, or even over the counter at various retailers. Guard a pre-paid card carefully, however, because if you lose one, it’s like losing cash.

If you’re planning to travel overseas, consider getting an EMV chip card. EMV chip cards are standard practice in more than 80 countries worldwide and provide enhanced security when used at chip terminals by adding an additional layer of fraud protection through an embedded microchip. Some U.S. issuers, such as Citi, have begun offering cards with EMV chip technology, and will add the chip to your existing card at no cost.

Give the Kids an Allowance

If you’re traveling with children, hand out small amounts of money daily so they can pay for their own small purchases, like snacks and souvenirs. That way, you won’t be pulling out your cash for every ice cream and postcard and drawing attention to yourself. An added plus: the kids will enjoy doing their own thing, and it doubles as an opportunity to teach them about responsible spending and budgeting.

Skip the Internet Café

Public computers can be infected with software that record keystrokes and capture your passwords, so don’t perform any private transactions on them, says Alan Wlasuk, a security expert for 403 Web Security. And look out for people peeking over your shoulder for your email password—they know most of us (incorrectly) use the same one on all our accounts.

Also avoid public Wifi, which can be compromised by hackers and identity thieves, warns Wlasuk. Many hotels will give you a personal password to use on their secured network when you check in.

Keep your Smartphone Secure

“Repeat after me: It’s not just a cell phone, it’s a desktop computer that just happens to fit in your pocket,” says Wlasuk. “There is more private, financial and even embarrassing information on your smart phone than you ever kept in your wallet.”

To keep it safe, he recommends enabling the password protection feature on your phone, as well as the GPS locator and remote wipe capability. Apps like Find My iPhone and AndroidLost enable you to trace the location of a missing phone via the web or text messages. They can also wipe the phone’s memory remotely, so the thief won’t get access to any information you store there. Consider backing up all of your phone data in a safe place in the cloud before you travel, so you can download it to your replacement phone later.

Or just leave the phone at home: the experts at MedJet recommend carrying a prepaid phone card instead , especially if you’re traveling overseas where international roaming can be expensive and unreliable.

With these few tips, you can maximize your vacation enjoyment while minimizing worry about the safety of your money and personal identification. And that’s what a recharge is all about!

The Biggest Mistake People Make When Managing Up

If you subscribe to the adage that “who” you know is more important than “what” you know when it comes to career success, relationship building is key. Increasingly, women are taking heed of this fact: Female respondents to the Report survey were more likely than men to network with professionals at a level equal to or more senior than their current position, and to have a network with a more balanced distribution of men and women contacts. But sociologist Marianne Cooper points to a vast body of social research indicating that, despite such networking prowess, professional women sometimes face an uphill battle: They tend to be disliked more than men when acting authoritatively in the workplace, simply because being assertive, competitive, or forceful violates traditional gender stereotypes.

managing-up

Unfair as it may be, this double standard underscores the importance of embracing and mastering the art of managing up and managing down. Here’s how.

Don’t let who is sitting around the table change how you relate to others, especially underlings.

Be genuine with those above and below you. It all goes back to what you learned as a child: Treat others the way you want to be treated. Approach everyone at work with respect, making any notion of what they can or can’t do for you irrelevant.

In a discussion about this on Connect, Citi’s network of more than 300,000 professional women on LinkedIn, Laura Rottman, founder of Laura Rottman Consulting, offered some advice that’s particularly helpful for managing down: “Be genuine in interactions, and relate to everyone as if they are President/Owner/EVP. Don’t let the dynamics of a meeting or who is sitting around the table change how you relate to others. Listen, and count to five before you respond to let what the person has said soak in.”

Make it about them. Being a good manager isn’t about making yourself “known”; it’s about presenting your talents and ideas in a way that can be of service to others. As part of the Connect discussion, Mhairi Gordon-Preston, a career-change coach and founder of YourSeaChangeLife.com, shared the tale of a memorable female leader who held brown bag lunches for colleagues, transforming her agenda (a volunteer project she was running) into a meeting that was engaging, relatable, and inspiring.

“The overall message was, ‘This was the impact on audiences you work with. If we work together, you could increase your project’s impact, too.’ This got personnel at different levels interested and thinking about how they could contribute. It also raised her profile within the organization; her career trajectory has been very impressive.”

Create a nurturing culture. Caroline Dowd-Higgins, author and career expert, says that promoting a culture of “managing up” among your own reports is another impactful way to give them the support and tools they need to flourish so they can rise through the corporate ranks alongside you.

“Get in the habit of sending a brief monthly email (preferably in bullet-point format) to your boss listing your accomplishments and upcoming initiatives and goals,” she says. “Encourage your direct reports to do the same.”

In the Connect discussion, self-employed consultant Toyin Olowoyo opined on the importance of establishing trust when managing down: “People naturally follow leaders they feel they can learn something from. Selfless leaders are rare, but they are the kind of people you never want to disappoint as an employee.”

When you establish a culture that encourages the growth of every member on your team and provides everyone—regardless of role or title—with the opportunity to essentially “write” their own career destiny, you’re not just giving them support as a manager; you’re staying tuned in to their ever-expanding range of skills and to their future goals—which can only serve to bolster your own success in the end and make managing up that much easier.

11 Tips for Safer Online Holiday Shopping

Happy holidays? Absolutely—but keep in mind that when it comes to e-commerce, scammers can get extra sneaky during the festive season. Here are some tips to help you stay safe while online shopping.

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1. Use a trusted site.
If you’re shopping for a particular item, consider looking for it at a major online retailer rather than doing a general Internet search. The results you get from the latter can include scam sites that offer tantalizingly inexpensive prices. Always purchase from retailers that have been verified—look on the site for contact details, customer support pages, user reviews, and sales policies.

2. Make sure the connection is secure.
Before typing in your credit card details, make sure the web address starts with “https” instead of “http.” That extra “s” means the session is encrypted with a digital certificate, keeping your personal info safe. (On most browsers, you’ll also see a padlock icon in the address bar.)

3. Check transactions carefully.
Don’t wait for your monthly bank statement to see the details of an online purchase. It’s always a good idea to log in regularly to make sure there are no suspicious charges being added.

 Make sure the web address starts with ‘https’ instead of ‘http.’

4. Choose strong passwords and update them regularly.
Instead of using words and birthdates, go for a combination of letters (upper- and lower-case), plus numbers. To make it easier to remember, you could even use the initial letters of a phrase. Don’t reveal your pet’s name, birth city, mother’s maiden name, or address in publicly accessible forums—these personal details are often used for password reminders that can end up in the wrong hands.

5. Keep your browser updated.
Software updates help to ensure you’re protected against ever-mutating malware variants. Make sure you have the latest version installed on your computer and on any mobile devices.

6. Use a VAN.
Citi helps make your credit card number virtually impossible to steal by generating a random Citi® Card Virtual Account Number that you can use instead of your real account number while shopping online.

7. For auctions, check user feedback and handling costs.
If you’re bidding at an auction site, do a little research on the seller first. Avoid users who have received negative feedback, and be sure to clarify the price of shipping. Some sellers can slug you post-purchase with exorbitant “handling” fees.

8. Use a protected, private Wi-Fi network.
If you’re working wirelessly, make sure your network is secured with an encryption protocol. Avoid shopping on Wi-Fi networks that allow a lot of users to log on, such as those at libraries and schools. And definitely think twice before using a public computer to stock up on holiday gifts; it’s always wise to keep your shopping data transactions (including credit card numbers and your home address) to yourself.

9. Read the return/exchange policy before buying.
Will you be stuck with an expensive item if it’s faulty, doesn’t fit, or isn’t what you expected? Scrutinize the retailer’s rules before buying, paying particular attention to the cost of return shipping.

10. Optimize browser security settings.
Delve into the options or preferences menu of your browser and enable protection against phishing and malware. You can also choose to disallow or delete third-party cookies, which makes it harder for your Internet activities to be tracked.

11. Click carefully.
Be suspicious of embedded links in unsolicited emails and Facebook promos. Scammers can create spoof sites that mirror those of major banks and retailers, trick you into logging in and swipe your personal data.

7 Strategies to Make Your Dream Vacation a Reality

Just about everyone has a dream trip they’ve always wanted to take but assume is financially out of reach. While some ultra-luxe hotels or destinations probably are out of reach for many of us (like staying at The Hotel President Wilson in Geneva—its best suite costs $82,000 a night!), most people could probably afford their dream vacation with the proper planning.

dream-vacation

So how can you make that fantasy trip a reality? One of the biggest keys is knowing the right travel tricks and websites to use.

There are sites that send you an alert whenever a low airplane fare to your destination becomes available.

1. Use alerts.

Websites like AirfareWatchDog allow you to register your dream trip. It will then send you an alert whenever a low airplane fare to your destination becomes available.

2. Explore flash sale websites.

Flash sale websites specialize in short-term deals (usually only offered for 24-36 hours) that are heavily discounted. There are a number of flash-sale travel sites, such as TravelZoo, that offer significant savings. They won’t always have deals for your dream destination, but if you keep checking in, you might eventually see your dream trip offered at a life-changing discount.

3. Get a hotel-rewards credit card.

Some credit cards allow you to earn points towards free or discounted hotel accommodations—earn enough free nights and suddenly your dream trip may seem a whole lot more affordable. Citi® Hilton HHonors™ Visa Signature cardholders, for example, can earn HHonors™ Bonus Points that can be redeemed for free nights at select hotels and resorts in Hilton’s portfolio of 11 distinct brands.

4. Consider package-bundling options.

Online travel agencies like Expedia offer many deals that bundle airfare and hotel (and sometimes other things like theme-park tickets). Generally speaking, a trip purchased through one of these package bundles is likely to be significantly more affordable than one where you book each component of the trip individually.

5. Be flexible.

Regardless of which of the websites discussed above you use, the most heavily reduced trips are often ones that must be taken soon or within a predetermined window. But if you can’t be flexible, all is not lost—there are good deals to be found that can be used at a later date. While being flexible is a major plus, a willingness to wait for the deal that’s right for you can also pay off nicely.

6. Search social media.

If you “like” or “follow” the pages or sites of airlines, hotels, cruise lines, and other vacation-oriented businesses, you’ll have your ear to the ground, so to speak, and stay informed about their deals and giveaways. Searching hashtags (like #giveaway) is also a savvy technique. If you’re really lucky, you might even win a free trip!

7. Travel in the off-season.

Some of the best deals come in the off-season, so it’s a great time to consider traveling. Since they vary by region, check your destination to figure out the best off- or shoulder-season times to travel—but remember to look into the operating dates and hours for the must-see attractions on your trip as well. You don’t want to book a trip to your dream island at an off-peak time, only to find out that the majority of restaurants are closed until their official tourist “season” begins.

6 Tips for Managing Your College Student’s Money From Afar

Many of us look back at our college years and revel in that expensive—but exciting—bosom of self-discovery that left us with the best memories of our lives. Whether we learned how to stretch a case of Ramen noodles over a month, or balance our social lives with academic obligations, we learned valuable life lessons.

money

While we want our kids to enjoy their college years, it’s critical they also learn some basic lessons about financial responsibility and managing their money. To help them along (and make your life easier), here are some guidelines to get started.

1. Openly communicate your expectations.

You must have a conversation about the expectations you have for your student’s finances before school begins, or you’ll regret it later either when you get that first credit card statement in the mail, or a desperate call from your new freshman pleading for financial help. Be upfront, blunt and honest about what expectations are in this area. Discuss limits around spending on big-ticket items, and offer some leeway if they don’t get it right the first time. The best lessons arise from trial and error.

2. Create a realistic budget.

Now is a great opportunity to teach your child budgeting basics such as the envelope method—in which they are given spending categories and an allotment for each—or zero-based budgeting, the method that makes them account for all their spending during a certain period. Both methods teach financial responsibility and discipline, which are key to managing money responsibly.

While we want our kids to enjoy their college years, it’s critical that they also learn some basic lessons about financial responsibility, and managing their money.

3. Track spending.

Set up monthly meetings to review his or her spending habits. Discuss what went well throughout the month (paying bills on time, saving), and what didn’t. If things did not go as desired, then create a plan for your child to do things differently during the following month. Think of this as teaching your child how to ride a financial two-wheeler; you’re right behind them holding the seat until they can ride solo.

4. Go online.

There are many tools that can help you build a budget and track spending to head off any issues that might arise, such as veering off budget unexpectedly and getting charged overdraft fees. By taking charge and helping your child manage his or her account online, you can help avoid any issues before they become a problem by monitoring their activity and raising any red flags that you might see.

5. Impart discipline.

Before they leave for college, work with your child around establishing and maintaining financial discipline. This means that even if the money is in the account for that pretty party dress, paying the rent and buying course materials comes first. Remind them that proper preparation prevents poor performance!

6. Automate it and forget it.

If you’re looking for a way to connect with your kid online around their finances, Citi® Financial Tools is a free service that will allow you to track checking, savings, and credit card account balances (including those not held with Citi), in addition to your expenses, so you can create personalized monthly budgets to better balance your college finances.

Moving on to this new stage life can be daunting at first for you and your child—not to mention expensive. However, helping them learn to manage their money will give you peace of mind, and will be a lesson for them that will live on—far beyond graduation.

3 Tips for Finding the Right Role Model

When I was a little girl, I had a hard time finding the right role model. I’ve always wanted to be a writer, yet the lives of my favorite authors—Jack London, Laura Ingalls Wilder, John Steinbeck—couldn’t have been more different from my own.

right-role-model

The women in my real life weren’t viable options either, since they worked mostly as teachers and nurses. And though I didn’t consider following either of those career paths, it appears many women did. In fact, most of the women surveyed for the Professional Woman Report released by Citi and LinkedIn said that as kids they aspired to work in the educational (23%) or medical (22%) fields. That said, less than half (47%) ended up doing something related to what they dreamed of when they were younger.

I was lucky to find such a powerful role model in my own family, but the truth is, great professional mentors are everywhere.

Meanwhile, my desire to be a writer only intensified as I grew older. But it wasn’t until college, while pursuing a journalism degree, that I connected with someone who did what I wanted to do for a living. My father’s cousin and his wife, Deborah, were both newspaper writers, and she had just been awarded the Pulitzer Prize. We met up one day when she was invited to speak at my journalism school. Deborah walked the campus with me and gave me valuable career advice. Her example encouraged me to get a strong foundation in journalism by working at a newspaper before launching my freelance career, and I’ve continued to turn to her for encouragement and practical advice about making my way as a writer.

I know I was lucky to find such a powerful role model in my own family, but the truth is, great professional mentors are everywhere. Here are three tips for connecting with the right person:

1. Don’t limit yourself to superstars. While it seems intuitive that the highest achievers in any field are the best role models, research suggests that it’s better to choose a successful but not exceptional role model. Why? Researchers created a simulation to pit skill against luck and found that those who make it to the very pinnacle of success often took big risks and got lucky. The chances of someone else achieving success by following the same path is low.

2. Look beyond your field. It may be helpful to broaden your search to include women or men you admire from other walks of life, especially if you work in an industry with few female leaders, such as technology. Focus more on finding someone who inspires you, regardless of their profession.

3. Tap into your support network. Perhaps surprisingly, Facebook Chief Operating Officer and women’s leadership guru Sheryl Sandberg doesn’t recommend that women ask someone to be their mentor. Mentors select their mentees based on potential, not because they were asked, she says. But that doesn’t mean women should just sit back and wait to be discovered. Sandberg recommends forming or joining a circle of peers who meet regularly and support one another. From there, a natural mentor/mentee relationship may begin.

Who’s your role model, and how did you choose him or her? Share your experiences in the comments section below.

4 Ways to Keep Your Personal and Professional Money Straight

When you’re starting a business, you will have a number of professional challenges: writing a business plan, obtaining funds to build the business, hiring employees, finding an office or retail space to open, obtaining the necessary business licenses and permits, and so on.

money-straight

I know firsthand the financial challenges of starting a company—just five years ago, Betterment was a company of only four people. Today, we have grown to a company with nearly 80 employees.

Spending too much time on administrative tasks takes away precious energy from working on your core product.

However, perhaps one of the largest difficulties for any entrepreneur is figuring out how you’re going to manage the finances of this thing you’ve worked so hard to create.

Even if your personal and professional lives overlap as an entrepreneur (and they likely will), there are some important reasons not to let your money do the same. Namely, taxes.

To make the process more efficient for you, I am sharing some of things I considered as a startup business owner. These steps can help you avoid the financial entanglement between personal and professional life that often comes with owning your own business.

1. Segregate your bank accounts.

Even if you’re funding your own business to start out, setting up separate checking and savings accounts for your personal and professional expenses is the first step in staying financially organized.

Doing this will not only help you more easily track in-and-out expenses of your business and help you to avoid intertwining them with personal expenses, but it will also make tax time a lot easier (and your accountant happier).

If the IRS ever questions whether what you’re doing is a hobby or legitimate business (make sure you know the IRS guidelines), having a separate bank account for your company is a good place to start. Plus, whatever your business owes to the IRS come tax season won’t drain your personal accounts.

2. Streamline expense reporting using technology.

One of my core values as an entrepreneur and CEO is efficiency—spending too much time on administrative tasks takes away precious energy from working on your core product. Tracking receipts and managing expenses through innovative technology is an easy way to reduce time spent on that kind of work. At Betterment, we use a receipt management software program—it’s cut the time we spend managing the process dramatically. Now we just click “approve” and employees are magically reimbursed.

Other apps allow you to create photo receipts, expense reports, and enable you to easily import your reports to many popular types of accounting software.

3. Open separate credit cards.

Using a separate credit card for your business gives you something else to show the IRS should you ever be audited. It also makes record-keeping much more efficient, allowing you to have all expenses in one place when it’s time to pay the bill. Not to mention, if you’re carrying a balance on your business credit card, your interest is tax-deductible.

4. Determine how you plan to structure your business.

How you structure your business will affect your company’s finances—particularly taxes—so consult a financial professional or do research on the structure that makes sense for you.

If you own your own business and it’s structured as a limited liability company, or LLC, your personal finances can be protected from any financial pitfalls or debts your company may experience. For example, if your business is sued, your business assets are the ones at risk, and—in most cases—no one can go after your personal expenses. (Note: It does not necessarily protect against wrongful acts by you or your employees.)

Additionally, as an LLC member, you may benefit from pass-through taxation, meaning you can personally report your LLC’s income and losses on your federal tax return. As tax laws vary from state to state, you will want to talk to an accountant about what this will mean for you.

Other common structures include:

  • Sole proprietorship, which means you are the sole owner and operator of the company.
  • Partnership, which is a business between two or more people who share ownership of the company.
  • Corporation, which is an independent legal entity owned by shareholders.
  • S corporation, which, like an LLC, allows for pass-through taxation so owners can report income or losses to owners/investors in the business, allowing the S corp to avoid double taxation. (Double taxation can occur because shareholders can be taxed on dividends, even though the income has already been taxed at the corporate level.)

Keep in mind that there are pros and cons with all these options, and it’s important to know which structure is financially right for you. (You can learn more at www.IRS.gov.)

Betterment is not a tax advisor, nor should any information in this article be considered tax advice. If you need tax advice, please consult a tax professional.

Do You Still Love Your Career?

Regardless of your profession or the amount of time you’ve spent in it, your work has a significant bearing on your quality of life. Based on the Professional Woman Report survey released by Citi and LinkedIn, working women have plenty to celebrate. Some highlights: The number of women who say they’ve reached their professional goals increased from 31% to 37% over the past year, and 84% of women who asked for a raise last year got one. The women surveyed also feel more financially secure, too. The percentage of those concerned about owing money on student loans and credit cards, as well as those concerned about saving for retirement, decreased across the board compared to last year’s responses.

your-career

Despite these successes, many respondents noted that their career motivation has waned—or changed. As the number of women who equate “having it all” with “reaching the height of success in their field” continues to decline, the percentage of those who equate success with having a job they enjoy has risen from 64% to 73% in the last two years. Yet, the majority of respondents across all age categories think their happiest days on the job are just behind them.

Instead of dwelling on what’s ‘not’ in your career or skill set today, look at what could be.

It’s a good thing careers are long and winding: You can reclaim that loving feeling for your work and help ensure that your best professional years remain in the present. Here’s how.

Focus on connecting. Clara Piloto is an executive coach and director of MIT Professional Education’s Online X Programs, which provide lifelong learning for science, engineering, and technology professionals. She says one of the real reasons people often fall out of love with their jobs stems from a lack of connection—with colleagues, supervisors, and even the vision of the organization. (In fact, the women who responded to the Citi/LinkedIn survey named “office politics” as a key source of their workplace frustration.)

Before you start looking for another job, consider how you communicate at work, and if that method fosters connection. Do you let your words come from the heart in a way that shows people your true personality, and the passion behind your ideas and solutions? Or do you rely purely on your “head,” which can make communication feel rote and devoid of feeling, and create an environment where you’re working alongside many but “with” no one?

Find ways to connect better with your colleagues. Swing by someone’s desk to inquire about progress on an initiative or invite someone on your afternoon coffee mission.

“Show up.” Survey respondents weighed a good salary, doing what they love, and being challenged as equally important contributors to job satisfaction. Piloto says you may be able to recapture all these things—even in a career you’ve lost interest in—by simply making a conscious choice to “show up” to work each day. She explains that when you commit to being truly present at work, you make people feel “heard.” In turn, they hear you.

“Engaging others through your focus, energy, and communication is crucial for giving and receiving constructive feedback, and increasing your power and influence,” says Piloto. “These encounters might open up new and great opportunities and projects to work on—and you might just fall in love with your job again.”

Be honest about your feelings. You have different interests throughout the course of your life; it’s perfectly natural for a job that once excited you to lose its luster. If that’s your reality, career coach Jennifer Chow Bevan suggests taking a step back: Reflect on your skills, values, and interests; then consider whether they’re aligning with your current path, and how they might be “transferable” to new opportunities—whether that means a new employer, a new role, a different industry, or maybe other initiatives at your present company that aren’t related to your job description. Instead of dwelling on what’s “not” in your career or skill set today, look at what could be.

“Our careers are long, and no longer linear,” says Bevan. “Career transitions and reinventions allow you to bring a fresh perspective and life experiences to new roles.”

How to Navigate Networking with Confidence

If you want to advance your career, you know the standard advice: Go to networking events! But attending an unfamiliar event (with unfamiliar attendees) can be intimidating, so much so that many of us shy away from attending altogether. With a few tips and tricks, you can confidently approach networking events and make career-lifting connections:

internet-security

Do your homework. Some event organizers will share a guest list in advance. If so, search attendees’ LinkedIn profiles to scout out whom you’d like to meet. Reach out to a handful of people beforehand to mention you’ll be attending and would love to connect. This way you’ll know a few faces and names—and will have a much more productive evening.

Get there early. “I always try to arrive early, before people have paired off,” says Jenny Powers, founder and CEO of Running With Heels, a professional women’s networking group. With only a few people hanging around at the name-tag table, it’s far easier to approach someone by whom you might otherwise feel intimidated. And when others arrive, Powers adds, “you feel like a greeter.” You’ve already made yourself comfortable.

Do unto others… Unsure who to approach? “Walk up to someone who’s by herself. I wouldn’t want to be by myself!” admits Powers. “And everybody likes to be complimented.” (A statement necklace or great shoes are both safe topics.) Better yet, ask how the person learned of the event or if she’s heard the evening’s speaker before.

Focus on how you can help. Networking can feel inauthentic, but if you focus on how you can help other people achieve their goals it’s a lot more fun. “It’s really about listening for cues for how to continue the conversation,” explains Powers. If you’d like to connect with the person after the event, you can offer your card, or ask if you can send a LinkedIn invitation (be sure to add a note to the default invite so the person remembers who you are). If you’d like to see the person again, ask if there are other networking events she’ll be attending that you should know about. Or mention one you’re going to yourself—it’s a low-key way to lobby for another meeting.

Consider hosting your own networking event. You won’t be intimidated if you’re running the show! And the type of event all depends on what you want to get out of it:

  • You can do this on a small scale with one or more key people at a restaurant. If you go this route, make sure you choose a restaurant that is quiet enough to have a conversation and can seat you at a round table to encourage discussion. Also, since you’ll likely be the one footing the bill, communicate the price and menu options to your guests in advance so everyone knows what to expect. Bonus tip: Reward yourself for being the host by using a credit card that will earn you points. The Citi ThankYou® Preferred Card, for example, allows cardholders to earn 2X points for dining at restaurants – that’s two points for every dollar spent.
  • Another good option, especially if there’s a particular topic you’d like to explore, is to plan an event on a slightly larger scale with a little help from your community. Connect, Citi’s network of professional women on LinkedIn, has a SlideShare presentation on “How to Host a Professional Meet-Up.” You can approach local businesses and authors about speaking at your get-together, and share the guest list beforehand to build buzz.

Also consider how to break the ice for other people: “I always, always introduce a person arriving at the dinner to someone who’s already there before welcoming the next arrival,” suggests Michele Langer, Director of Brand Marketing at Summit Professional Networks.