New Years Resolutions for Your Career

It's resolution time again. Instead of making the same old difficult-to-stick-to promises, like losing weight or quitting smoking, use the New Year to take stock of your career.

Addressing career concerns might make you more fulfilled on a daily basis. If you make the resolutions wisely by setting small, achievable goals, you're likely to feel particularly rewarded.

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The first step: Consider what your career goals are and examine whether you're on track to meet them. "Are you happy with your job and your career," asks Wendy Enelow, a career consultant in Virginia who has written several books on résumés. "I'm not saying 'Are you making money?' But are you happy? Do you enjoy going to work on Monday mornings?" The time to ask this question is the last week in December or the third week of January--because nobody wants to go back to work after the holiday break.

If the answer is yes, that's great. But you should still be at least a passive job-seeker. Update your resume and pay attention to your industry, so you're not totally blind-sided if there's an economic downturn or some other major change in the job market. Also, this makes it easier to fully hop into job-seeking mode if you suddenly need to look for a new position. Have a general sense of who is hiring and what jobs are open.

Also, everyone should have a long-term career plan. This will help you figure out where you want to be in the next few years, so you can start thinking about how to get there. What do you have to learn, and who should you meet to fulfill the goal? Also, recognize that things change, and so should your career plan--it shouldn't be stagnant.

If you're not happy at work, ask yourself: What is it that my job lacks? What is it I actually want to do?

Your dissatisfaction might stem from the fact that your job doesn't allow you to do anything else. Enelow encourages clients to consider where on their priority list work fits in. For some people, work is the top priority; for others, it's third or fourth. If you want to spend more time with family and friends, but your job is all-encompassing, it might be time to rethink your job choice.

Whatever the reason, get in touch with your professional network. Use the New Year as an excuse to touch base via e-mail or by sending a card. Send a less formal note asking how your contacts' holidays were. Then say, "I had time over the holidays to think about my career, and as such, I've confidentially decided to explore new opportunities. I wanted to know if you know of anyone in the industry who I might want to know."

Enelow recommends sending a cover letter and resume to headhunters specifically in your field. "If a recruiter has an immediate opportunity, they will get in touch," she says. "For passive job seekers, it's a way of getting into the system, because recruiters will scan them into their database. They're in the system if an opportunity arises."

Those that are content at work should still consider their next step. Ask for honest feedback from your supervisor, peers and subordinates. This is an ideal way to hear what you're good at and what you need to improve on. "It's called '360 feedback,' and that's where the true results really come," says Stephen Harap, a management and leadership coach at Deloitte and Touche.

Know where you need to improve, because working on your weak points will actually help you get to the next level. "The time to get good at something is before you get that next role," says Harap.

Perhaps you don't know what that next level is. That's when it's time to chat with your supervisor for input. It's as simple as saying, "I'd love to have a conversation about what my career goals are. Am I on the right track?"

This is also a good tactic because you can ask your manager to become a partner in getting a promotion. He or she can suggest the necessarily skill sets and ways to master them, such as the books to read, online training or even classes.

Like any resolution, the key is moderation. After you've assessed your career, select one or two goals to achieve. As you check them off, add new ones.