There’s just something about opening a calendar for a new year that inspires us to improve our lives. So it’s no surprise that New Year’s career resolutions often focus on big goals–such as a promotion or a new job.
And that’s why many resolutions get tossed aside by the second week in January, according to Tracy Brisson, founder and CEO of The Opportunities Project. “We get overwhelmed when we realize that outcomes are not always in our control,” she explains. But Brisson says that there are plenty of attainable goals–such as adding people to your network or committing to read one business-related book per month–that can add up to career success.
Sara Sutton Fell, CEO of Flexjobs.com, recommends a mix of easy-to-achieve and lofty goals. She says, “The important part is to choose goals that are directly related to making you more successful in your job.”
Here are some other suggestions from the experts:
Hone your elevator pitch.
For Jasmin French, principal of the personal branding firm J. French, it starts with honing your personal brand. French advises doing a simple inventory, “What did you do in 2010 that has transferable value to your employer or potential employer in 2011?” Then, she says, turn that into a succinct (60 seconds or less) pitch on what you are uniquely positioned to do better than anyone else.
French also suggests that you get people to start talking about you by updating your LinkedIn profile with any certifications you’ve earned or classes you’re taking, as well as forwarding relevant articles. “Create your own buzz. It’s self-promotion, but it’s not shameless.”
Brush up on hard skills.
Victoria Ashford, a leadership and career coach at Fearless Leading, suggests heading back to school for additional education, certification, diplomas, or language skills. “Once you have the knowledge and skill, it’s yours forever–hard to take away,” she notes. “Industries and work environments change, so make sure you’re keeping up. Be intentional about your knowledge base and upgrade or update it now.”
Solidify your soft skills.
While you’re admiring that new diploma hanging on the wall, Ashford cautions that you shouldn’t forget about “soft” skills, such as business etiquette, body language, and personal accountability. “Master the arts of introductions, conversation, and establishing professional presence. Ask others to judge your handshake, table manners, and posture,” she advises.
A University of Illinois study concluded that 55 percent of the first impression you make is based on your appearance and your body language. And while first impressions are made within the first 30 seconds of meeting someone, it can take up to as many as 21 interactions to undo a bad first impression. French says, “If you want to be known for being detail-oriented, hem your pants, polish your fingernails, or iron that shirt.”
Work better with others.
Susan Bender Phelps, a trainer and speaker with Odyssey Mentoring, urges employees to treat everyone they work with as if they are a customer. “Everyone includes your company’s management team, your direct supervisor, even your cubicle-mate. Provide knock-your-socks-off service.”
Bender Phelps says that one place to start is by sharing credit with your team and with everyone in the organization who contributed to a success. “When you do this consistently, you become the kind of leader people will want to follow, regardless of your title.” Likewise, acknowledge people when they do great work, and be specific: “Give evidence that demonstrates you understand their work and the difference it made to the organization.”
Approach failure as an opportunity.
“Use every failure or mistake as an opportunity to learn and plan for the future,” emphasizes Bender Phelps. She recommends paying attention to what you were trying to accomplish, what you did to make that happen, what went right, and what went wrong. By taking time to consider what went into a failed initiative, you can learn what could have been done better–and in the future, if you’re presented with a similar situation or project, you’ll know what you should do differently.