The Art Of Setting Realistic Career Goals

2013 career goals, resolutions

By Debra Auerbach


At the start of each year, New Year's resolutions are made. Some goals are kept, while many more are forgotten. Yet making resolutions can be beneficial if they are realistic, they allow for some flexibility and a plan is put in place to achieve them.

The same thinking applies to making career resolutions. While it's good to set career goals, not all career resolutions are created equal. Some will help you get what you want, while others will leave you frustrated, complacent or not where you thought you'd be in your career. "My personal view is that any resolutions, particularly those dealing with your career, must have a good balance between flexibility and specificity," says Lauren Still, founder of strategic career-management company Careerevolution Group. "A good resolution will allow someone to measure whether they're making progress on it. ... A bad resolution is entirely dependent on actions of others, is too broad to be actionable or is unclear as to whether the individual achieved it."

Here are some good career resolutions to make this year, and some bad ones to avoid:

Good: Get feedback on an ongoing basis.
Patrick Sweeney, president of human capital management firm Caliper, says that a smart career resolution is to continuously work with your manager on development goals. He suggests doing periodic check-ins throughout the year to get constructive feedback and ensure that you're on the same page with how you're performing. "By taking the reins and showing this initiative with your manager, it shows that you care about your position, your company and helping your manager achieve her goals too," Sweeney says. "Companies look for and want to keep people who are committed to long-term growth, and this helps to cement your place."

Bad: Get feedback during performance reviews.
Most people don't enjoy getting feedback on their weaknesses, even if it's constructive. So you may tell yourself it's better to wait to get feedback from your manager until performance-review time. That way, you can hear it all at once, and you don't have to worry about it any other time of the year. But doing so may set you back in your career. Without knowing what's working and what's not on an ongoing basis, you'll essentially be running in place. Also, if you're not asking for feedback regularly, your manager might believe you're not that invested in advancing your career.

More: 5 Ways To Pump Up Your Career Muscle

Good: Maintain a better work/life balance.
Did 2012 leave you feeling burned out and stressed? Try doing some things to better your personal life, and a better work life will follow. If your long hours at work have made going to the gym tough, try waking up an hour early to go to a fitness class or taking a power walk during your lunch break. While you don't need to push yourself to set specific fitness goals, just getting your heart rate up or some fresh air will help clear your head and make you feel better all around. Haven't seen your friends in a while because you've been chained to your desk? While it may take a lot of energy to meet up with friends after a long day, it's a good way to get your mind off of work, and it can help put things into perspective.

Bad: Get more recognition, no matter what it takes.
You may vow in the new year to show your boss that you're committed and that you have what it takes to get to the next level. While that's a positive goal, be careful about how you achieve it. If you work late nights and weekends without having a real reason to do so, or you take on more work than you can manage and don't ask for help, you may set yourself back instead of moving forward. There's a difference between working hard and overworking -- the work you're doing should be meaningful if you really want to impress your boss.

More: Is Working Hard Working For You?

Good: Repair damaged relationships.
"If you left a job on bad terms or you have been out of touch with key people from your old company, you need to catch up with them," says Roy Cohen, career coach and author of "The Wall Street Professional's Survival Guide." "At the very least, you want to determine what they will say if called for a reference. That should never be a surprise or a last-minute activity. Time is a great neutralizer of frayed edges and unresolved issues. ... They may also have interesting ideas regarding opportunities and volunteer to serve as references."

Bad: Be ruthless.
No one is denying that it's a competitive world out there, but working your way up the ladder by pushing others down isn't the way to win. Taking credit for others' ideas, ratting out a co-worker without talking to him first, holding important client meetings without inviting others who may benefit -- you may think these actions will lead to success. But chances are you'll get caught, or you'll lose credibility in the eyes of your boss. Honesty, integrity and teamwork are what will make you stand out for the right reasons.

Good: Take on more responsibility.
Cheryl Palmer, owner of career-coaching firm Call to Career, says that if you want to position yourself for a promotion, you should resolve to take on more responsibility. "You might ask your boss to be cross-trained so that you are more valuable to the organization, or you might state your availability to act in your boss's stead when the boss is absent," Palmer says. By challenging yourself, and handling tasks above and beyond your duties, you're showing your boss that you're ready for the next step.

Bad: Get a promotion.
While striving to get promoted is a positive thing, making it your career resolution won't necessarily get you anywhere. And if you don't get one, you might deem yourself a failure. Try instead to set attainable goals that will help you advance your career, such as take on more responsibility, attend industry conferences or obtain a new certification. By building up your arsenal of skills and experience, you'll be a ready for that promotion -- whenever it happens.

Debra Auerbach is a writer and blogger for CareerBuilder.com and its job blog, The Work Buzz. She researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues.

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