You go to your doctor once a year for your annual checkup (or ought to), so why not do the same for your career?
A New Year’s review will reveal if you need to take steps to make yourself a more valuable worker or job candidate — or just happier. If you determine you’re not quite where you ought to be, you can then take the steps I note below to get there.
2014 could be an especially good year to make a job change, if you’re so inclined or you must. Economists in a recent Wall Street Journal said they expect the U.S. to add nearly 198,000 jobs a month this year — that’s the highest estimate since 2005.
(MORE: 10 Ways to Start the New Year Off Right at Work)
7 Ways to Give Yourself a Career Checkup
Here are seven ways to help jumpstart your career in 2014:
1. Reflect on the year just ended. At your annual physical, your doctor begins by asking open-ended questions like: “How’s everything going?” “Been feeling okay?” “Any complaints?” It’s a chance for you to take stock and pay attention to your body’s warning signs. Asking the same types of questions can be equally helpful for your career, allowing you to gain clarity about where you want to head and what you’d like to accomplish in the year to come.
Ask yourself these questions:
- How do I feel about my job? If you answer with words like “bored” or “frustrated,” this might be the year to think about looking for work or asking for a transfer.
- Am I satisfied with my work/life balance? If not, try to determine what’s causing your pain and then try to come up with possible solutions. For example, if your commute puts you in a foul mood by cutting into your free time, perhaps you can ask to work from home at least one day a week.
- If I were to compile a 2013 highlights reel, what would be on my “Top 10” accomplishments? These can reveal interesting patterns about your strengths, interests and abilities and suggest what to focus on in 2014.
To Do: Write down a one-page summary of what you’d like to change or achieve in your career in the coming year as well as a list of your recent accomplishments and professional-development activities (training sessions, conferences, association meetings, workshops). By doing so, you’ll have this key information at the ready if you need it for your performance review or to apply for a new job.
2. Update your career marketing materials. You never know when the perfect job opportunity might surface. When it does, you’ll need to be prepared to respond. Take time now to revamp and update your career marketing materials like your resumé and LinkedIn profile so they accurately reflect your current career status and objectives.
(MORE: How to Botox Your Resumé to Land a Job)
To Do: After completing this task, make a notation on your calendar to update your marketing materials again in July (or sooner if circumstances warrant), so you’ll continually keep them fresh.
3. Identify opportunities for professional development and training. Your career review might reveal areas that could use some attention. Ask yourself: What do I need to do to improve my marketability and performance in the coming year?
To Do: Set aside a few hours to research educational offerings (college classes, online training programs, continuing education workshops, etc.), conferences and other opportunities for professional development. Try to sign up for at least one new course in the year ahead. Don’t forget to see whether your employer might subsidize the cost of your training.
4. Audit your digital footprint. Every time you make a comment on a blog, post a photo or do anything online you leave a trail of personal information on the web. Sometimes, that online behavior can be problematic because it sends the wrong message about you to prospective employers.
Other things that show up online when someone Googles you could be troublesome, too, such as lawsuits and even records of your campaign contributions (some employers won’t hire partisans).
In the next week or so, review, and if necessary, clean up your digital footprint.
(MORE: How to Use LinkedIn Like Your Career Depended On It)
To Do: Google yourself to make sure your digital identity reflects your best professional self. If it doesn’t, try to get the offending information removed by sending a written request to the originating website.
5. Schedule your networking commitments. You know how important networking is for your career. But between work and family obligations, it’s often hard to find the time. The best way to counteract this dilemma is by scheduling networking activities into your calendar. Do it now.
Start by choosing dates and networking activities for the first quarter of 2014. Then, add more at the beginning of each quarter.
To Do: Try to set aside at least two hours per week for networking (more if you’re in active job search mode). Spend part of that time interacting on social media groups, such as LinkedIn and Twitter. Aim for 20 minutes a day, three days a week. Then, schedule in the rest the time for meetings in person or by phone. You could also catch up with your contacts by emailing them New Year’s wishes.
6. Make your health a priority. I’d be remiss if I neglected to bring up the relation between wellness and your career. If you’re under stress, not eating well or feeling sluggish, it’s bound to impact your performance on the job. Make this the year you make get healthier.
To Do: Resolve to make at least one healthy habit change in 2014: increase the duration or number of your weekly workouts, cut back your intake of sweets or make time for meditation.
7. Start researching new possibilities. Making a job change or career switch can take longer than you expect. So if you’re considering either, begin the process now — before you feel pressured into it.
Read industry trade journals, attend professional conferences and follow industry-related discussions online. Set-up Google Alerts for your field, too, so you’ll stay on top of news and developments that could impact your career.
To Do: Schedule in at least one hour each week for career research. Blocking out that time on your calendar will make it more likely that you’ll honor this commitment going forward.
Remember, when it comes to your career, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. A few hours spent planning for 2014 now could well yield big dividends in the months to come.