Dear Matt: I was unemployed and took a job that was nothing more than a lateral move to help pay the bills and make ends meet. I’m ready to move forward in my career but have not achieved anything major in this position that will help me stand out. What can I do to show the next employer I can succeed at a higher level?

Matt says: There’s nothing wrong with taking a job that helps make ends meet — not every career move will be the one that propels you into that dream job or promotion, or come with that large salary increase we all covet.

And now that you are employed, it may be best to not rush the process. Even though this job isn’t where you want to be, it’s still a job and still pays the bills. So think long-term by preparing in the short-term, says Vicky Oliver (vickyoliver.com), an award-winning author of books on career development.

“Taking that first step to make a plan and put it in place can improve your outlook and increase your prospects,” says Oliver. Do that by following these tips before starting a new job search:

1. Polish your online profile. Update your LinkedIn profile and extend your social media reach.

2. Take incremental steps. Attend some networking events. Reach out to industry leaders before you truly need them.

3. Meet with a recruiter. Share your intention with someone who can evaluate your skill set and provide honest feedback on what’s needed to obtain a new position.

Then, look internally. Is there truly nothing more you can accomplish in your current job? Are you sure you can’t take on new projects, ask for added responsibilities or learn new technologies in this role? Have you discussed this with your boss?

“When it seems the door is closed on making any upward progress, schedule time for a heart-to-heart talk with your supervisor or department head,” says Oliver. “Find out if there’s a way to move through these closed doors.”

Read descriptions of jobs you would like and do a skills gap analysis. What’s missing? Can you learn these in your existing role, or did you do something related in a previous role that you can highlight on your résumé?

Next, ask for recommendations on your LinkedIn profile that speak to your ability to perform the key skills needed in your industry/field, says Certified Career Coach Hallie Crawford (halliecrawford.com). Add those recommendations as quotes in a cover letter or on your résumé. Those are powerful messages that stand out to employers. But remember, the next employer is going to look at your overall body of work throughout your career. A steppingstone job may not be where you want to be, but to get to where you want to be, focus on your overall career successes, not just your most recent job.

Contact Matt at jobslink@startribune.com.