A new year is approaching, but before you start listing the ways you’re going to dominate the next 12 months like the powerhouse you are, you need an accurate picture of what your career looks like right now. Conduct a sort of job evaluation: Where are you positioned for growth, and where do you have your work cut out for you?
“Taking stock at year-end gives you an opportunity to [focus] and help you to adjust your approach to work,” says Juliet Murphy, an executive career coach in Orange County, California.
To help with your career evaluation, ask yourself the following five questions as you look back over the past 12 months and ahead to the new year.
What career goals did I accomplish?
No doubt you set some challenges for yourself last year—good job!—but the more important part was that you acted on them. Did you lead a project that gave you more visibility? Did you get the promotion you were hoping for? Or did you just kind of go through the motions of your job and not really progress anywhere?
Make a list of your accomplishments, whether it was something large like getting a pay raise or even as small as updating your resume. “When you see what you’ve done or half done, it gives you motivation,” says Caroline Stokes, founder of Forward, an executive search and coaching firm in Vancouver, British Columbia.
Whatever you achieved, the important thing is that you made progress and weren’t just spinning your wheels.
Did my skills get sharper?
A sure sign of professional growth is to compare the size of your skill set at the beginning and end of a year.
“Think about what you did this year to increase your expertise and learning in your position and industry,” says Jessica Hernandez, president of Great Resumes Fast in Callahan, Florida. Whether you were able to practice leadership or master a new company process, you should be able to point out how you’ve improved.
Did you attend conferences, take classes or get online training, earn new certifications or keep up with industry trends? These are all things that can sharpen your skills.
If you’re not sure where your skills have improved, ask your boss for some feedback, Murphy says. Your boss can tell you from an outside perspective where you’ve added new value.
What is one thing that happened at work this year that I would change if I could?
If there’s nothing you’d change about the past year, you need to share your secret to career perfection with the rest of the world. But realistically, with the benefit of hindsight, there was certainly something—a mistake or missed opportunity—you wish you handled differently.
Acknowledging your mistakes or regrets is the first step to not repeating them. The next step is making small changes to avoid going down the same path, Stokes says. If you missed a chance at something, how can you set yourself up to take the next great opportunity that comes your way? And if you messed something up, you should now know how to avoid that mistake.
“Once you know what you would have changed last year,” Hernandez says, “you now know what to focus on changing this coming year.”
Was I happy doing my job?
If the answer to this question is yes, dig deeper to find out what in particular makes you happy. Are you passionate about your work? Is it the people? Is it the challenges?
“Whatever makes you happy in your job, be aware of that and keep that in mind as a key driver as your career grows,” Murphy says. “Not everything will make you happy at work, but always keep an eye out for some components that create a happy work environment for you, and be sure they are included in your work now and in the future.”
If, on the other hand, the answer to this question is no, figure out what you’re unhappy about and if there will be a chance to change that in the coming year. “Know that you have the power to change things,” Murphy says. “Once you figure out the reason, take some time to think of what needs to change and how.” And remember, that just might include looking for a better job and leaving your current employer behind.
What do I want to accomplish career-wise in the coming year, and how will I set myself up for success?
There’s no point in looking back if you’re not going to learn the lessons and make changes now. Complete your year-end career evaluation with a plan to make the next year great.
Hernandez suggests writing down three to five goals and breaking each one into quarterly, monthly and weekly goals. “As you check goals off,” she says, “you’ll see your growth and be more inclined to persevere.”
Once you have your goals written down, talk to the right people about them—your boss, your family, your partner—and put together a plan, Stokes says. Sit down and work out what will make you happy.
If your current employer isn’t in a position to help you achieve these goals, know that there are other companies out there that are looking for someone with the kind of drive and commitment that you’ve got in droves.