If you’re a young person trying to succeed professionally today, you’ve probably found yourself in a career rut at some point.
Chances are, you’re in one right now.
While showing up on time and getting your work done used to be enough to gradually ascend through the ranks, today’s career-savvy professionals need to stay active. That could mean changing positions, changing companies or even changing industries.
Mostly, it just means changing something.
Before you act, you need a plan. As we approach the end of 2017, it’s time to come up with a clean, effective career strategy for the new year.
Determine your goals.
You can’t create a roadmap until you know the destination — and you can’t have a great career until you know where you want you to go. Do you want to enter the private sector after working in the public space? Do you want to advance to a managerial role? Do you want to change industries entirely?
Write down what you want your career to look like at the end of the next year. It doesn’t matter how far-fetched the goal seems, just write it down. For example, my goal is to be earning 50% more. It sounds extravagant to want 50% more money in just 12 months’ time, but that’s my goal.
Your goal will form the basis for your career strategy going forward.
Your goals should follow the SMART rule and be:
For example, it’s one thing to say, “I want to earn more money.” Someone with a SMART goal would say, “I want to be earning $65,000 annually by December 2018, and I will do so by applying to new jobs at larger companies.”
Look at the goal you’ve written down. Is it specific and relevant? Does it give you a clear set of directions or are you unsure how to put it in motion? Remember, the people who actually reach their dreams aren’t always the smartest, most talented or hardest-working. They’re the ones who have a clear sense of where they’re going and how to get there.
Identify your weaknesses.
Once you know your goal, it’s time to figure out what’s standing between you and your dream. For example, if you want to work part-time hours for a full-time income, identify what’s holding you back. Are you charging too little? Are you targeting the wrong customers? Is your workflow not efficient enough?
It will probably take some time to figure out what you’re missing, so don’t rush through this part of your career strategy. I consider myself a pretty insightful person and sometimes it takes weeks before I figure out where I’m going wrong.
Once you’ve identified your weaknesses, you can figure out the best way to fix them — and take your career strategy to the next level. For example, if you’re currently underpaid, you know that you need to negotiate a raise. But if you’re bad at negotiating and standing up for yourself, then asking for more money might be like walking on hot coals.
What should you do? Read every book about negotiating, visualize the scenario in your mind and practice with your friends. Then, you can go to your boss and negotiate for real.
Another way to reach your goals faster is to find a community of like-minded people striving for the same thing. When you’re around people who share your dreams, you can find resources and information faster than if you’re going at it alone.
If you find a community that seems too big, consider creating a mastermind group with two or three other people. You can hold weekly calls and keep each other accountable. I’m in a mastermind group with other female freelance writers and it’s been a huge comfort throughout my years of self-employment.
You can find your community online or in person at networking events. It’s probably easier to locate a group on Facebook, but don’t underestimate the power of meeting people IRL.
Consider confiding in your closest friends and family members about your situation, even if it seems like they can’t help. I often tell my friends about issues I’m having because they can offer a different point of view than what I’m used to.
Once your career strategy is set, ignore the squirrels. A squirrel can be an exciting conference or a marketing strategy that promises to solve your problems – anything that draws you in by promising the world. Usually, though, squirrels are distractions that lead you away from what you’re working on.
The simple career strategy you’ve already set is almost always better than chasing squirrels, and the more time you spend distracted, the less time you spend getting things done. When I get a tantalizing email with a catchy headline, I ask myself if it’s a squirrel.
Most of the time, I end up deleting these emails because I know I’m already on the path to success.