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As the fates of Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch have just reminded us, one of the most important realities of the 21st century work world is that we have to be the CEOs of our own careers. No longer can we rely on a company to have a plan for our development — or even to exist a week from now.

Scary? Kind of. But it’s also empowering. Here are 5 tips to start taking the reins on your career today, so you’re ready for whatever happens tomorrow:

1. Be the first to know everything. Set up free keyword news alerts for companies, industries, products, events and people (including yourself!) related to your industry. This will ensure you’re the very first to know about — and then spread the word about — new products, new management and new business opportunities. People want to know people in the know.

2. Be a leader. Not advancing fast enough in your current position? Then create your own leadership track someplace else. Raise your hand to lead a committee for a trade association or a nonprofit board. Leadership in any organization or group adds to your experience, connections and reputation.

3. Don’t ignore the most obvious networking opportunity. College and grad school alumni networks are among your best lifelong connections. Attend reunions and events, offer to speak on panels, join online networks and send news to your alumni magazine.

4. Take a writing class. Wonder why the "I Judge You When You Use Poor Grammar" group on Facebook has almost 300,000 members? Even in the days of IM, texting and Twittering, writing and speaking skills still matter. Being a great communicator is like being the best dressed person in the room: it commands instant respect and admiration.

5. Be your own publicist. Success is not just about who you know; it’s about who knows you. Whenever you receive a mention in the media, win an award, get a promotion or close a major deal, announce it on LinkedIn or other professional social networks. Post your announcement with a great professional headshot and the news will spread even faster.

What are your tips for taking control and being the CEO of your own career? Please share!


Lindsey Pollak is a career advice author and speaker based in New York.