Your One-Year Plan for a Better Career

It’s January, a time when many of us are setting new goals for the year ahead. In my dealings with people and in my own experience, I’ve found that when we successfully reach goals in one area of our lives – social, physical, or spiritual, for example — we’re empowered to do the same in other areas – areas like relationships, wealth, or career.

We’ve all seen how a friend or colleague who loses excess weight decides to earn an extra degree, or someone who learns a new skill expands her social circle.

May I suggest that career goals are a great place to start.

Whether you want to change jobs, change careers, or simply get more out of your current job, the first step is defining the goals. You need a plan.

Step One: Take Stock

To figure out where you’re going, first look at where you’ve been. The exercise I’m suggesting can take as little 20 minutes.

Here are some questions to ask yourself.

  • What am I most proud of this past year, both personally and professionally?
  • What went right for me this year?
  • Did I receive any awards or recognition this year?
  • Did I take on any additional responsibility this year? If so, what?
  • How did I take initiative in my job this year?
  • Have I learned any new skills?
  • Did I earn any certifications or licenses?

Record this information in a success journal. You choose the style. It can be a Microsoft Word file on your computer, a note in Evernote, a series of emails you send to yourself (be sure to use email tags so you’re able to find the emails again), or a simple paper journal.

The idea is to gain perspective on the past year, but also to create an easy way to assess the coming year as it progresses. You can enter answers to the same questions in the coming year, making notes of your accomplishments. Why wait until the end of the year? These revisits will serve as reminders of what’s important for your particular career advancement.

Step Two: Articulate Your Goals

Decide what you want. Describe your ideal job. Add to your success journal answers to the following questions. Think about the person that you want to be, and imagine the possibilities.

  • Who is my ideal employer? Specify the size, industry, culture, location, and structure.
  • How much does my dream job pay? Be realistic here, based on your own research about your industry or profession.
  • What are the most important benefits, other than salary, that would prompt me to go to work for a new company?
  • What does my ideal job look like? What is my job title and what are my responsibilities? Who would report me, and to whom would I report? Would it involve travel? Do I want to work independently, as part of a team, or both? Do I like short-term projects or long-term projects?
  • What do I want my next job to do for me that my last job didn’t do? Is there anything that I do in my current job that I don’t want to do in my next job?

Step Three: Make a Plan

“If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.” Author Lewis Carroll, in Alice in Wonderland

Next, identify two or three goals you want to tackle. Use the S.M.A.R.T. goal system to articulate your goals. This system demands that goals should be “Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely.”

You’ll need to prepare a game plan for how you will reach these goals. But don’t use planning as an excuse to procrastinate. You want to get to Step Four as quickly as possible, because actions create momentum.

Take each of your two or three goals and write down the steps under each of them that you need to take to reach that goal. The more individual steps you can map out, the easier it will be for you to reach your goals. The steps should be practical tasks necessary for you to succeed.

Sometimes it helps to start at the goal and work backwards. If you can define what would have to happen for you to step up to the final goal, you can then define what has to happen before that.

Here are some steps that are typical for career advancement.

  • Research job postings for entry-level jobs when changing careers to determine what skills, education, and experience are required.
  • Join an association for your chosen profession or trade, and attend a virtual event, such as a webinar, or a traditional convention or conference.
  • Enroll in an online course that focuses on the skills where you need improvement or updating.
  • Identify a volunteer opportunity to put new skills into practice, either in your current job or with a community organization.
  • Decide what skills are transferable from previous positions or interests or education.
  • Work with a professional résumé writer to create a résumé targeted to your field.
  • Join some industry-related groups on LinkedIn, and follow successful companies in your field that have company profiles on LinkedIn.
  • Look for people in your network who can act as references for you.
  • Using LinkedIn, connect with two or three contacts at desirable companies in your area.
  • Identify possible employers and submit your résumé to each.

Step Four: Take Action

One common mistake people make when setting goals is to ignore milestones. If you don’t give yourself wayposts along the path to measure your progress, you won’t know when you’re on the right track. So, be specific when writing milestones.

These wayposts need to spell out dates and scenarios. Instead of writing, “Ask for a raise before the end of the year,” write, “In July, ask for a raise that brings me up to current industry standards.” Or, instead of writing, “Beef up my LinkedIn profile,” you could write, “In March, hire a professional to give my LinkedIn profile a makeover.”

Once you have listed your goals, the steps to achieving them, and your milestones, you have a nifty game plan for action. You may need to add or modify the steps, but you have a helpful checklist to guide you.

Over the months ahead, as you work your way through the checklist, consider the actions you are taking. If you’re taking the right actions, you should be seeing results.

If you’re not getting the results you want, change the plan, not the goal. Re-examine your tasks to see what could be off target, not specific enough, or too big a step.

If you aren’t reaching the milestones you set, you might want to get feedback. I’ve always found it helpful to have an accountability partner when I’m trying to stretch my skill set or achieve a new goal. Your accountability person could be a friend, family member, coach, résumé writer, or therapist. It should be someone you trust who can add some perspective on how you’re doing. Just knowing that someone will be asking about your progress, pushes you to stay on track.

Step Five: Measure Your Progress

Whenever you’re on a self-improvement journey, it’s crucial to periodically check all your mirrors and the road ahead to make sure you’re heading in the right direction at the right speed.

So, it’s a good idea to schedule a monthly check-up or a quarterly review, when you can re-examine your plan and make any necessary adjustments. Check to see if you are meeting milestones, and if your goals still look realistic and desirable.

The adjustments you make might be eliminating some steps, combining them with other plans, changing the timeline, drafting more specific goals, or even doing a major overhaul of your plan!

If you don’t take charge of your future, you may find your career wandering off onto detours, or stuck in a dead end. Instead, you can create the career you want for yourself. What it takes is seeing the big map, knowing what your destination is, and then making a plan to get there step by step. The important thing is to start. Now.

Author: Mir Garvy

I’ve written resumes for 2,000+ job seekers just like you—and helped my clients land jobs with companies like Amazon, SAS, Google, Duke University, Travelocity, Cisco Systems, GlaxoSmithKline, Expedia, and IBM.