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How to Set Career Goals in the New Year

By Laura Lewis

Woman thinking about her new career

Last updated 11/21/2023

For those looking to change, upskill, or otherwise improve their career in 2024, New Year’s is often a natural time to get started. That’s because the holiday offers a unique opportunity to slow down and look back at the year prior while also gearing up for change ahead. Plus, the winter holiday season is already an ideal time to begin a job search from a hiring perspective–offering a range of benefits from increased earning potential to less competition.

Of course, as with all New Year’s resolutions, the challenge of setting career goals comes with making meaningful progress all throughout the year. Read on to learn how to set career goal resolutions for 2024–and how to make consistent progress in accomplishing them.

1. Align your life goals with your work goals.

Before zeroing in on specific, actionable goals for your professional development, it’s important to take a moment to prioritize your values. Think about the driving force(s) motivating you to set 2024 career goals, like increased autonomy, higher earnings, and a more equitable work/life balance.

Even if you’re not planning a career change in 2024, you can start the goal-setting process by creating your own job seeker values wishlist. This will help you visualize the impact of your goals on your day-to-day life and keep you motivated while working towards them.

2. Inventory your skills.

Next, list your technical and interpersonal skills in two distinct columns. Don’t worry about putting them in any particular order, but try to have a relatively equal amount of each.

For example, if you’re great at data visualization using Microsoft Excel, be sure to list that in the technical skills column. But don’t stop there! Do you have experience in explaining complex Excel concepts to others? Are you skilled in succinctly presenting Excel data aloud? Record these “soft” or transferable skills in the interpersonal column.

3. Research and refine.

Now that you have an idea of what you’re looking to get out of work, plus the skills you put into it, you’re ready to research! Turn your skills into search terms and compare roles that require them–paying particular attention to commonalities in the benefits offered by companies hiring for these roles (like remote flexibility, PTO, salary, etc.)

Job listings can also help you visualize day-to-day responsibilities–both of your current role and prospective ones. If there’s anything in the duties section that’s a total deal-breaker for you, rule out the role, job specialization, or career path that entails it.

4. Identify any skill, experience, or education gaps.

While you’re ruling out deal-breakers, be careful not to classify jobs with skills gaps in the same category. For example, if you’re interested in a role that you don’t currently qualify for but could qualify for with additional study, certification, or education in the future, that’s not a deal-breaker. Instead, you’ll just need to define additional, actionable steps to get to where you want to go in the long term. The good news is that there are many options available to help you fill gaps on your resume, such as tech bootcamp programs and self-paced learning.

5. Create actionable steps toward SMART goals.

An actionable step is one that’s doable, efficient, and (mostly!) within your power to control. Rather than “receive a pay increase,” for example, an actionable step under your control might be “obtain a certification that qualifies me for a high-earning position at my organization.”

Similarly, you can further define your overall goals with the sum of your actionable steps using the SMART method for setting goals. SMART goals are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound. Ensure that everything on your list meets these categories, or further define them until they do.

6. Track your progress with regular checkpoints–and an extra pair of eyes!

At first, a long list of SMART goals may seem more daunting than a short list of vague ones. Over time, though, your SMART goals and their relevant, actionable steps will help you achieve the hardest part of New Year’s resolutions: sticking to them!

As in life, consistency is key to making meaningful changes in your career. Be sure to revisit your list often - even when you know you haven’t made any progress - just to remember what’s there and why. Then, share your goals with a friend, mentor, supervisor, or anyone you know who’s invested in your success, and schedule regular checkpoints to check your progress together. Your shared accountability will then help you stay focused–while another person’s lived experience may guide or shape your career goals in ways you hadn’t previously thought of.

Remember: setting, maintaining, and achieving career goals is more like a marathon than a sprint. You’re not going fast toward an exact end goal; you’re going far toward exponential personal and professional growth.

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