At the turn of the new year, it’s easy to fall into the New Year’s Resolution mindset, i.e., think about what you’ll start doing (or do differently) to achieve your goals in the coming year. The classics are all too familiar: exercise more, eat healthier, sleep better etc. Professionally, common goals include kicking a job search into gear, networking on LinkedIn, joining professional associations, seeking a promotion/raise etc.
The key with any resolution, commitment or goal is to define it clearly and make reasonable and attainable plans to achieve it.
If you’re considering a professionally oriented resolution in the coming year, these tips will help increase the likelihood of success:
1. Don’t give into the calendar and commit to a resolution you’re not quite ready for.
This can’t be overstated. If you want to pursue a new job, make sure the timing is right for you. Looking for a new position requires time, energy, effort and planning. January 1st isn’t optimal for everyone; be realistic in what you can commit to and when. If it’s a very busy time for you (e.g., because of a product launch, new system rollout or acquisition), consider waiting until you can dedicate the hours needed for a job search. However, if you’re always busy, don’t use that as an excuse to put it off indefinitely – instead, decide on and commit to a start time. (And if you’re unsure when “it’s time” or not, consider these 8 signs it is time for a job change.)
2. Create a realistic goal.
Giving yourself three months to get a new job sets you up for a stressful process and (most likely) a disappointing outcome — especially at the senior level. Remember, a job search requires significant preparation (like updating your resume and LinkedIn profile) and research, followed by concentrated networking efforts – and that’s before interview rounds, waiting for an offer and negotiating a compensation package.
Depending on your target roles, companies may not have ideal open positions within your tight search window either. Moreover, it’s common for a company to have a lengthy hiring process, and you don’t want to miss out on a great opportunity because the decision timeframe deviates from what you’d prefer. It’s also important to be careful with how you communicate. Acting in an overly aggressive manner with your network or potential employer (due to your self-imposed deadline) can result in a lost referral or job opportunity. (See more on managing job search expectations here.)
3. Develop an action plan with short-term, achievable tasks.
Creating a long list in which everything is due in 4 weeks is not nearly as productive or effective as breaking down action items into separate steps, each with its own due date. Crossing off tasks also creates a sense of accomplishment and motivates you to keep working toward your overall goal.
For example, if you want to increase professional visibility, selected items from your plan could include:
- Due week 1. Update LinkedIn headline and summary.
- Due week 1. Email trusted colleagues for headshot photographer recommendations.
- Due week 2. Engage with LinkedIn content at least 2 days. (Recurring weekly item moving forward.)
- Due week 2. Review recommendations and schedule appointment with photographer.
- Due week 2. Email 3 clients (or vendors) to set up calls or Zoom chats in the next 4-6 weeks.
- Due week 3. Identify and RSVP for 3 virtual events next month (can be industry, professional association, alumni and vendor events).
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4. Cultivate your network continuously.
If you’ve neglected to build your network outside of your immediate professional sphere, making up for it in a month or two is a tall order. Relationships take time to develop. Proactively grow and nurture your network as an ongoing part of your everyday professional life, so it’s in place when you need it. Reactionary networking can be transparent (i.e., it’s clear to others that you want something) and often less effective as result.
5. Don’t join just to check a box.
Paying professional association membership dues doesn’t equate to involvement, nor does it yield the same benefits as getting involved. Even if the organization is all-virtual currently, you can participate in events, meet new people (and follow up with them thereafter), volunteer to help a committee etc. These are signposts of real engagement. (Check out these tips for choosing the right association to join too.)
6. Research before asking for a raise.
If your resolution is to ask for a salary increase or promotion, dive-deep into all available resources to know your worth. Check out helpful websites (Salary.com, Payscale, Glassdoor, LinkedIn etc.) and read industry analysis by search firms and consulting firms. Reach out to knowledgeable contacts who may have insights into how your company/department/job compares to its competitors and the market (while adjusting for geography, industry, job function, seniority level etc.). Make a list of accomplishments and ways you’ve helped the organization directly. The more information you arm yourself with, the stronger a case (and better shot at success) you’ll have.
Making a professional change and moving your career forward are popular New Year’s resolutions. If you’re considering the idea, do so with a realistic action plan (unless you want to end up in the camp of people who abandon resolutions by February). Ambitions don’t turn into achievements on their own. Be honest with yourself about your available time, interest and stamina. Outline clear and reasonable short-term goals (for which you must hold yourself accountable) that will help you achieve the end goal.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in 2018 and updated in January 2021.