Ever wish you could pencil in “get to the next level at work” on your calendar the same way you schedule doctors’ appointments or auto tune-ups? Here’s the next best thing: Our year-long guide breaks down one important professional to-do to tackle each month so that you can reach your career goals this year.
JANUARY: SET CLEAR CAREER GOALS
By now, your company has already communicated its top goals and priorities for the year ahead, so follow their lead and make a list of two or three professional milestones you want to reach for yourself. Then write down all the action steps you’ll need to complete in order to accomplish each goal, whether that’s to score a promotion by year-end, return to school or change jobs entirely. Place this plan on a sticky note or bulletin board somewhere to serve as a reminder of what you need to get done in the coming months to make those goals happen.
FEBRUARY: UPDATE AND ORGANIZE YOUR RESUME
The first quarter is usually busy job-search season. Even if you aren’t actively looking, it’s still a good time to update your resume to reflect your accomplishments from the past year. That way, you’ll be ready to jump on any new opportunities that come around.
Many recruiters now use applicant tracking systems to identify which job candidates are best-suited for a given position, so keeping your resume tech-friendly will work to your advantage. Keep formatting simple, use a standard font like Arial or Times New Roman and save your resume as a Word document.
Then when you’re ready to apply for a job, incorporate keywords and phrases from the job description into your resume. If you want a social media manager job, for example, use that terminology on your resume (although avoid overkill — no more than two times is ideal) to increase the chances that your application gets noticed.
MARCH: UPDATE YOUR DIGITAL PRESENCE
Now that you’ve updated your resume, beef up your LinkedIn profile (and your digital portfolio, if you have one) to make sure anyone who comes across it finds the most current information. Here’s what to focus on:
Your headline. It should succinctly describe what you do in “layman’s terms” beyond just your job title. Stumped? Ask a colleague to share her perspective on your skills. You may see yourself as a “marketing director at a small packaged-goods company,” for example, but a colleague might see you as “a creative communications and marketing lead in the health and wellness industry.”
Your summary. It should describe your skill sets and passions, in paragraph form.
Your accomplishments. Update this section with your most-recent awards received or courses completed. If you know some colleagues that would be willing to provide a recommendation, reach and out and see if they can add a sentence or two for you.
APRIL: TAKE ADVANTAGE OF CAREER-BOOSTING COMPANY RESOURCES
Take a moment to see whether you’re maximizing any employee benefits that can help you boost your skills. For instance:
Does your company offer tuition assistance or reimbursement for career-related classes?
Does your employer help you get certifications that would look great on your resume?
Are there mentorship opportunities or special employee groups that give you face time with top execs?
MAY: CULTIVATE YOUR EXISTING CONNECTIONS
Spring may be a good time to reach out to potential employers because companies might want to fill positions before summer vacations begin. So take a moment to reconnect with former bosses or co-workers with a brief but cordial email suggesting a catch-up over coffee. You never know who might be hiring, and this small gesture reminds those who have made an impact on your career that you value and appreciate them.
JUNE: MASTER TIME MANAGEMENT
If all your efforts to multitask or keep detailed to-do lists have actually left you less productive, it may be time for a new approach. Try scheduling your daily tasks to accommodate your natural energy levels (as much as you can, anyway). If you feel most energized and focused in the morning, for example, tackle projects that require a lot of brain power first thing. Do you get hit with a mid-afternoon slump? Schedule that time to catch up on email, type meeting minutes or tackle some other mindless but necessary task. Assign a start and stop time to each task to resist distraction, and set alarms so you know when it’s time to move on to the next priority.
JULY: DO A MID-YEAR CHECK-IN
How did the first half of the year go? What progress have you made on the goals you set in the beginning? What challenges might you need to overcome that you didn’t foresee? Adjust your action plan as needed to stay on track and finish the year strong.
AUGUST: GO BACK TO 'SCHOOL'
While things might be slow at work, think about what types of skills you’d want to acquire — even if they aren’t directly related to your job — that could make you more well-rounded. Do you love learning how to DIY things? Have you been wanting to take a cooking class but never found the time? Dying to start training as a yoga instructor? Anything you do to discover new passions can only help you in your career. And you never know — you just may find yourself a new side gig.
SEPTEMBER: PUT YOURSELF OUT THERE
Not a fan of traditional networking? Change your perspective and volunteer your skills, time or insight to forge new connections. Maybe that involves joining a professional organization, acting as a mentor, or forming a new committee at work. Whatever the venue, getting in new groups can help you meet like-minded professionals and stay engaged and excited about your career.
OCTOBER: ASK FOR INFORMAL FEEDBACK
You’ve worked hard all year — but what do your colleagues think? Before end-of-year reviews roll around, get an informal temperature read on your progress. Ask your boss, a peer, a vendor or client what they think you’re doing well, and what they think you can do better. This should be an informal conversation, so don’t overstep or expect to take up too much of their time — you’re merely trying to take a pulse to see how you can finish the year strong.
NOVEMBER: BRUSH UP ON YOUR INTERPERSONAL SKILLS
The approaching holiday season means lots of social time. Whether you’re totally at ease with crowds or more of an introvert, it never hurts to improve your body language, speaking and listening skills. Could you make more eye contact? Uncross your arms? Listen more than you speak? Eliminate verbal fillers like “um,” “well,” or “you know?” Whether your future plans include interviewing for jobs, jockeying for a promotion or simply forming deeper connections with coworkers, small shifts in your interpersonal skills can make a big difference in how you’re perceived professionally.
DECEMBER: PREP FOR YOUR YEAR-END REVIEW
This is it: The culmination of your year of hard work. Which means it’s time to show your boss what a star you’ve been. Prep for your year-end review like you would a job interview and get ready to outline how you’ve been an asset to the company in the last 12 months (don’t assume your boss has been keeping tabs). Here are some things to bring with you:
Letters of recommendation or praise from clients you’ve worked with
Copies of your past (amazing) evaluations
A summary of all the new projects you owned, plus feedback on their success
A list of coworkers, both in your department and others, who can vouch for your hard work and positive professional attributes
Being prepared not only helps you make the case for a raise or promotion, it also serves as a good reminder of what you’re worth — and hopefully help you end the year ready for the next level.