When it comes to our careers, we can often get so wrapped up in our busy lives that we don't take the time to reflect on where we are heading. If we aren't careful, the year will unravel before our eyes and you may find yourself stood on the very same rung of the ladder on which you found yourself this time last year.
Here are 5 simple steps to help you get ahead this year:
Be clear about what you want
This may sound obvious but really take the time to consider what is important to you in your career. Not just now but also in 5+ years' time. Taking a longer term view as to where you are headed versus where you want to be may help you focus on what you should be doing right now to get there.
You may find that moving sideways in your existing company is the right thing to do rather than finding a new employer. Or you may find that you are in the wrong job all together and decide to do something about it.
Are you motivated by money? Job title? Career growth potential? Work/life balance? Make sure to ask yourself these questions and don't just look for the obvious answers or the answers you feel you should be finding; you might just surprise yourself.
Plan, but be opportunistic
Whilst it is important to know what you want from your career, there will be many different ways of getting there. Having a detailed career plan suits some whilst others will take a more fluid approach to their career, doing what seems right at the time when an opportunity arises. There are no right or wrong answers as to the best approach.
Having a plan will help give you a sense of direction and focus but don't ignore opportunities and chances when they present themselves. If an opportunity arises that doesn't quite sit within your original framework for how you plan to progress, reassess. Your career is unlikely to go anywhere without taking a few calculated risks at one time or another. Part of your plan should always be to remain open to new ideas and a change of direction where required.
Career advice can come from many directions. Make the most of a mentor if you have one. If you don't, seek one out. This may be through an official mentoring programme if offered by your employer or it may be your manager or someone you used to work with. It may even be someone you respect professionally in general terms or a person of influence in another industry.
Having a sounding board amongst your peers may also prove invaluable. Participating in a forum where you can share aspirations and any concerns you might have will help you gain perspective and feel supported.
Lastly, be aware of who directly influences your career as it currently stands and ask for advice. This may not just be your immediate manager. This may be a collective of individuals within your organisation and if so, not all may have the same opinion on how you can achieve your goals. The more advice you seek from different sources, the more perspective you can gain to then choose what steps you must take next.
Not everyone is a natural 'networker'. If you have ever been in the position at a conference where you are anxious about the pending 15 minute coffee break given its disguise for what it really is - a 'networking opportunity' - then you'll know what I am talking about! However, networking involves skills that can be learned. The more you network, the better you will become at it.
If you are unsure where you can network, LinkedIn and/or Twitter can provide a good platform for finding professional groups within your own industry as well as online trade publications for local events. Social media is a good way to ease into networking but it is no substitute for actually getting out there and meeting people.
When networking at an event, try to remember what people look for: knowledge and contacts. Don't be afraid to make your knowledge known early on in the conversation and be assured that name-dropping is totally acceptable behaviour when networking. You are likely to establish mutual acquaintances in this way which will consolidate your rapport with your new contact. Always remember to give out your business card or contact details and don't forget to follow up with a call or email after the event.
Take time for R&R
That stands for Reflection and Re-evaluation in this case; although a decent break from the daily grind in the traditional Rest and Recuperation sense is the perfect chance, if you have the opportunity, to make space in your mind for the reflection and re-evaluation your career deserves.
Reflect on what you have achieved to date and how you got there. Take note of any important meetings or conversations that took place within your working week and measure how you think you performed. If nothing else, having the ability to reflect and develop a learning mind-set like this are highly regarded skills within business generally speaking so practise observing your own professional abilities, identify your skill gaps and keep a check on how you use that insight.
You may find that by doing all of this you are constantly re-evaluating your priorities but don't be afraid of change. After all, no-one got anywhere standing still.