By Greg Scott Neuman
January 1st, 2010 will not just be the start of a new year, but the beginning of an entire decade. It’s an excellent opportunity to set big plans in motion; like millions of others, you are probably reflecting on your past achievements and thinking about what you want to accomplish in the future. You might even be considering major career changes – either advancing your current career or starting an entirely new one.
Starting down a new career path requires careful planning. Lack of preparation is one of the main reasons why so many people make New Year’s resolutions, but so few actually keep them. These five steps can mean the difference between achieving your career goals and staying in the same job for another decade:
- Set Specific Goals – “Earn more money” or “get a promotion” are usually too general to help you formulate a successful plan. It’s too easy to technically meet such a goal without actually achieving anything significant (after all, getting a 2% cost-of-living raise qualifies as earning more, but it’s not really a major step forward). Instead, think about all the changes you want to make and then list them in detail. “Get promoted to sales manager with a pay increase of at least 5%” is a good, specific goal.
- Determine What Training You Need – Depending on how much education you currently have and what kind of credentials your goals require, you might have to go back to school. This could be a minor task or a major commitment; a certificate in HTML might mean one semester of online classes, while an Executive MBA can require two years of full-time study at a major university. Carefully research what kind of education your new position or new career will require, then find an accredited school that offers it at a price you can afford.
- Get Educated – Once you know what credentials your career goals require, you have to go earn them. If you are already a working professional, this will probably mean evening classes and plenty of discipline to balance the needs of your job against the requirements of your coursework. Online classes can be a big help with this; if your school offers them, take as many as you can. The flexibility and self-pacing of online study can be a huge benefit to working students. And finally, don’t forget to explore all of your financial aid options, including employer reimbursement programs. The less time you have to spend worrying about finances, the more you can spend studying.
- Be Prepared for Setbacks – Whenever you’re working toward a major goal, there will be occasional problems. Don’t allow them to become excuses for giving up on your career aspirations. Instead, learn from your mistakes; determine what went wrong and why, then correct the problem so you can succeed on your next attempt.
- Get Your Name Out There – Once you have the credentials you need to get the job or promotion you want, pursue it aggressively. First, update your resume with your new degree or certificate. Then submit it to your potential employers by every means available. Employment websites are a good place to start, but not to stop. Having your resume on the Internet casts a wide net that could eventually land you your dream job, but more precise targeting usually speeds the process along. This means attending job fairs, sending emails and even applying for jobs in person. Find out how each potential employer prefers to receive resumes, then make sure you submit yours that way. And remember to update your profile on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and other social networking sites. Finally, always follow up on call-backs and requests for more information (such as references) promptly.