New Year, New You: Keeping Your Career Resolutions

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“This is the year I’m finally going to start eating healthy.” “This time, I’m really going to stick to that cardio routine.” “Look, 2013 is the year that I finally master jazz banjo.”

We’ve all been there. The new year rolls around and you’re bursting with grand designs for improving your waistline or finally cleaning out the garage. But resolutions aren’t all just beach bodies and organized closets. Career improvement is one of the most popular resolutions in the US, but it’s just as hard — if not harder — to stick to than quitting smoking or dropping a dress size.

Roughly 60% of those who make New Year’s resolutions will eventually break them, and it’s not hard to imagine why. Many resolutions are difficult to attain or simply unreasonable. Getting a major promotion without having a plan in place is equally is unlikely as dropping three dress sizes by swimsuit season.

Common Career Resolutions…

  • Get a Raise Perhaps the most common resolution, getting a raise is something almost everyone dreams about. After all, who doesn’t believe that their tireless work and ceaseless dedication is worth a considerable pay bump? Unfortunately, few people take into consideration just how much planning needs to go into the salary negotiation process. It’s fun to imagine barging into the boss’s office and demanding a raise, but the reality is that you should be collecting your best work and preparing a convincing pitch well in advance of having The Big Talk.
  • Get a Promotion Much like getting a raise, getting a promotion ranks highly on most folks’ list of career resolutions. It also carries almost all the same cautions as the getting a raise. You need to plan and be prepared to make your case. You might need to sharpen your PowerPoint skills, as well.
  • Find a New Job While finding a new job is a common daydream, especially when the boss is being particularly overbearing, there’s a great deal of planning and strategy that goes into landing that next gig. Networking, resumes, and social media also play a huge part in scoring a new position, and they each take no small amount of work to get right.
  • Learn New Skills It’s more important than ever to keep adding arrows to your professional quiver. Every year, new technologies enter the marketplace and demand mastery from those who are looking to take that next step. Many companies offer skills development initiatives. But if yours doesn’t, that’s no reason to wait. Find a class and enroll, ASAP.
  • Change Careers The granddaddy of them all. “I’m tired of Accounts Receivable. I’m going to open a Bed & Breakfast.” This could be an article in and of itself, but suffice it to say that the operative words here are “baby steps.”

…and Why They Get Broken

So what do all of the above have in common? Work. Lots and lots of work. Each item in the list above requires effort, tenacity, drive, and considerable wherewithal. That’s why, when listed as New Year’s resolutions, they’re likely to go unfulfilled. People frequently underestimate the amount of work and strategic planning it will take to land a new job or score a big raise. As a result, they get frustrated and quit. The same goes for losing weight, or quitting smoking, or learning the samba.

The key to keeping your career resolutions is a relatively simple one: be patient. It’s not going to happen all at once. The boss isn’t going to suddenly appear at your desk and offer you the Vice President’s job and a 50% raise. You have to earn it, and earning it comes slowly.

Start with your year-end review. Collect your best work and talk it over with your supervisor. Determine where you stand in your organization’s hierarchy. If you’re in a good position to ask for a raise or a promotion, set a three-month timetable for yourself. If you’re not there yet, give yourself nine months to a year. These things take time, and expecting them to happen overnight is the quickest way to frustrate yourself right out of success.

In short, resolutions can be a great method of goal setting. They’re fun, they’re timely, and they’re easy to track. But they also have to be realistic and come with attainable timetables, or else they’re going to end up collecting dust, just like that treadmill from 2008.

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