Photo: Mark Bonica via Flickr
A new year offers a clean slate to refocus, redefine, and recreate your professional footprint. But when it comes to far-fetched resolutions that have you doubling your salary, moving to the penthouse, and founding a new company all in a calendar year — you set yourself up for major disappointment. Instead of a sweeping goal that is more aspirational than accessible, career experts and coaches suggest taking a more micro approach. “By breaking your goal down month-by-month, you create smaller steps that are measurable and achievable,” explains founder of Rowan Coaching, Colleen Star Koch. “These steps embed repetition so that change becomes more lasting that builds up over time. You learn new skills that go into your toolbox, and can pull them out as you advance down the road to your ultimate goal.”
Here, mini monthly goal suggestions for the rest of 2018:
February: Give yourself — and your LinkedIn profile — a second look
Chances are high you’ve been advised to give a ‘compliment sandwich’ when providing feedback, so you have the right ratio of criticism and praise. While January might have been when you went a little easy on yourself — bringing yearly goals to life and getting your resume in order — February is when it’s important to be more specific about the targeted strategies you’ll use to reach the top of your year-long climb. “Make sure you are attending to both the tactical, logistical steps it will take you to get from here to there and the steps you’ll need to take to become the person who can level up in the way you want,” Koch recommends. “For example, if you need to improve your comfort in social situations, come up with practical strategies to help you improve in this area. Don’t just say, ‘network more,’ without attending to the personal changes you’ll need to make to succeed in a networking environment.”
The same tactic should be applied to your public facing career profiles, like LinkedIn. If it’s been so long since you’ve logged in that you have to reset your password, career coach Cheryl Palmer says it’s time to give it an analytical makeover, ASAP: “You need to have an effective profile that generates interest from potential employers. Updating your profile means not only making sure that it is current, but also giving it a fresh look if necessary.
“It may be time for a new photo or a new headline that is more eye-catching,” Palmer shares. “Revisit your profile with a critical eye, putting yourself in the employer’s shoes to see what needs to be changed.”
March: Design your ideal weekly schedule
As you skate into the last month of the first quarter, you might think back and wonder how time is passing so quickly. It’s the same song you likely sing every year, but this time, Koch challenges you to use March to improve your productivity by determining your working style and the times of the week where your brain capitalizes on creativity, instead of getting lost in a web of funny Instagram meme accounts. This can also be a time when you start to prep for your annual review, meaning it’s even more important to be armed with research to back any asks you have. Perhaps you’ve determined you reach your highest potential when you can work from home on Fridays, or when you block off three hours of meeting prep and cleaning out emails at the start of the week. The more you can fine-tune and stay committed to your personal, ideal work week, the more successful you’ll be throughout the year — and in meeting your goal.
April: Transform your language
If you’ve ever been to therapy before, you’ve likely learned the vast importance of using positive language to speak to and about yourself. Because the words we use often shift our universe, as you start the second quarter of the year, Koch and Palmer both suggest a much-needed pause to check in on your mindset. Are you actively encouraging yourself toward your end goal? Are you mostly optimistic about your abilities and your future? Or, are you constantly coming up with reasons — and thus, developing roadblocks — for why you won’t get to where you want to be? “Shift your mindset from negative to possible. Stop priming yourself for failure by saying to yourself, ‘I’m bad at [insert your personal challenges here].’ You are deciding the future and manifesting it,” Koch explains, “Instead, try replacing that thought with something along the lines of, ‘Well, it’s been awhile since I tried something like that. I’d like to see how I could improve!’ Or if that feels like too much of a stretch, start with something as simple as, ‘I’m not good at Powerpoint, yet.’ ”
May: Prioritize your confidence by practicing interview skills
Now that you’ve spent the month of April turning “I can’t” into “I got this” — it’s time to practice what you preached. Even if you’re not ready to jump ship at your current company just yet, brushing up and improving your interview skills is a life skill that extends far beyond the workplace. Koch says to begin this process by zeroing in on what makes you feel more confident and what decreases your sense of self. When you are aware of external and internal factors, you will be better equipped to improve them when you’re on the job market.
Then, it’s time to set up those informational meetings with companies you lust after, professionals you admire in your field or with an experienced recruiter who will give productive feedback. Not only is the practice beneficial in itself, but it could lead to a career opportunity down the line. “You won’t be asking for a job during the informational interview, but you want to make a good impression with people who are in a position to hire so that when something becomes available, you are top of mind,”Palmer says. “If, for example, you are trying to make the leap from being an individual contributor to a management role, you could set up an informational interview with a manager to ask questions about how to best position yourself for such a move.”
June: Practice a real work/life balance
For most industries, the beginning of the hottest season of the year provides much-needed downtime, allowing for summer Fridays, long weekends and after-work happy hours. During this month, follow the lead of the sun and invest in the “life” half of work/life balance. As Koch explains, even the most successful of professionals know how to prioritize time used to disconnect and relax. “Put a plan together for the rest of your summer that allows for professional progress as well as plenty of leisure time. If you’re not having fun, you’re doing it wrong,” Koch says. “Remember that play is productive – in fact, it’s one of the best ways to brainstorm and develop new ideas! So get out there and have a blast.”
July: Take time for a gut-check
You’re at the halfway mark! How are you feeling? No matter if you thought you’d be further along on the road to a promotion or settling into a new gig in another city, Koch says it’s time for a genuine, real gut-check that will inspire how you approach the remainder of the calendar pages. “Where are you succeeding, and how can you bring more of that good stuff into the rest of the year? What are your growth areas, and how do you want to tackle them? Take some time to re-calibrate, and set new monthly goals through December that will get you where you want to go,” she suggests.
Since this is also a time of year where some companies schedule review check-ins, Palmer also recommends using July to determine where your salary falls on the scale for someone at your level and with your expertise. “You don’t want to find out the hard way that you are underpaid and go into the salary negotiation process with low expectations,” Palmer shares. “On the other hand, if you are overpaid, you need to know that because you may need to adjust your salary expectations when going to the next job.”
August: Spend some time on a passion project
Before you head into the sprint to the end of the year, the scorching month of August is your open invitation to spark a personal passion. Even if your career is your actual dream come true (lucky you!) — everyone has a special place in their soul for a side gig that brings them joy. Perhaps this is an Etsy business, an app idea you haven’t fully explored or a blog you’ve been meaning to start, but haven’t gotten around to it. Koch says to ask yourself a simple question to discover your passion: “What do you absolutely love to do?” The answer might give you the extra boost you need to see where your pet cause could take you and your career aspirations. “Create some serious space to explore your passions. Having trouble staying accountable to fun exploration? Find a collaborator, and pick a passion project you’d love to do together,” she adds.
September: Focus on developing new skills
Ready to grind? You better be, as the mad dash to December will only speed up as the days creep on. Since you might already be tempted to eye the new year and all of its possibilities, Koch recommends bringing your focus back to your unique skillset, where you can pinpoint any areas of improvements instead. “Decide how you want to level up as a professional before the year is out, and invest in some meaningful professional skill-building,” she shares. “Take a look at the continuing education opportunities at your local college or university, or find out what General Assembly is offering. Even the YMCA often has lots of useful courses. Get lost in a bookstore, or follow your interests down a Wikipedia rabbit hole. However you learn, make a commitment to improving in the direction of your ideal career path.”
If you’re not sure how to determine where the holes in your resume fall? Palmer says a smart place to tour are job boards, where you carefully reading job descriptions offer a glimpse: “Stay abreast of what employers are looking for by reviewing job postings and paying special attention to the requirements. You may find that some postings say that certain skills are preferred. If they are preferred today, they will be required tomorrow. Researching this type of information can show you where you need to update your skills.”
October: Think about your personal brand
Remember that LinkedIn profile you updated earlier this year? Have you touched it since? Taking stock in your personal brand across all digital platforms is a practice you should exercise regularly, but if you haven’t made the time yet, let the chilly weeks of October be your month to audit. Dissecting the face you show to the Internet — and thus to the world — becomes that much more vital for success, especially if you’re actively job searching, networking and interviewing. As Palmer explains, “How do people perceive you? Does how you are perceived align with your own self-perception? And are your resume and online presence presenting your brand in a manner that will be attractive to employers? Is there a conflict between your resume and your LinkedIn profile? If so, take steps now to reconcile the two.”
November: Assess what worked and what didn’t
With only a handful of weeks — and a truckload of holidays and celebrations — left in the year, you might feel like you’re running out of time to meet your goal. Though this isn’t exactly true or false, Palmer says often, November is a time for self-reflection. If the goal you made for yourself in January hasn’t come to fruition, or you haven’t taken any small steps to get closer to it, ask yourself why. “Do an assessment of how the implementation of your monthly goals has gone. Did you accomplish all that you set out to do? If not, why not? And what can you do better next year?,” she explains. Instead of having a pity party though, be practical about why you didn’t achieve certain goal markers and do what you can to determine how to make it next time. That’s where Koch says to utilize an attitude of gratitude — what went great that you’re thankful for? And what could have gone better, but you’re still thankful for the experience? By using this lens, you keep yourself from dwelling too much on the over- and short-shots, and instead value the lessons.
December: Invest in relationships
Repeat after the career experts: Not everything has to be work. Especially during the alcohol-filled, last month of the year. Here’s when investing in relationships becomes the priority. “Use the holiday time to reconnect with your network and expand it. It’s very easy to slack off in terms of your career development during December because it is holiday season. But instead of slacking off because of the holidays, you can use the holidays to your advantage. Use holiday parties to reconnect with people and meet new people at the same time. It’s always good to have a robust network.”