Happy New Year. The old year may be one you'd rather forget. How many of the resolutions you made for your career last year were you really able to carry out? That new project you committed to push through met the reality of belt tightening. That vow you made to set a sales record became an impossible dream. Even your pledge to organize those cluttered files likely fell victim to the time pressures of your soaring workload. With uncertainty still a fact of life, are there any realistic resolutions you can make - and actually keep - to improve your career? Career experts say yes. There are definitely things you can resolve and actually make happen to give you the best chance of career success this year. Here are vows they recommend you make and keep.
Take charge of your destiny The wholesale staff cutting that swept entire industries last year should be enough to convince you that it's essential to tie your identity to your profession, not to your company. And you need to take charge of your own professional destiny as never before, says John Challenger, chief executive officer of Chicago-based recruiting and outplacement company Challenger Gray & Christmas Inc.
"You are a manager first, not [just]a vice-president of the X company. Organizations are going to be making major shifts and trying new directions to recover from the recession, and you have to be ready to make a move that's best for you," even if that move means taking your skills to a different company, he says.
The best way to stay on top of opportunity: Vow to get more involved in professional organizations to get a bigger picture of what is happening in your industry and profession. "Even if you're already a member, make sure to go to all the events and get to be a known quantity," Mr. Challenger recommends.
"In an economy recovering from a recession, new opportunities will present themselves and you have to be in the loop to hear about them. You also want your name to come up in conversations when search firms call people in the industry asking for leads in their recruiting."
Manage up Despite the fact that a recovery is expected, there is still a big job risk this year as companies decide to cut underperforming areas or shake up teams to stimulate a faster rebound. Your boss or someone higher up may have to make tough choices, so rebuild bridges that may have become strained in the past tense year, recommends Mary-Frances Fox, managing director of The Career Equity Institute International Inc. in Toronto.
"Your boss is not a mind reader, and memories are shorter than ever in this stressful economy. So don't assume they know what you are good at or what you want to do in your job," she says.
Vow to set up a meeting to let the boss know how you create value and ask what challenges on his or her horizon your core strengths could help solve, she suggests.
A way to gain confidence that you can rise to the challenges is to write down specifics of successes you helped carve for your company.
"Then tell this to the boss directly, something like: 'I'm more than my job description; I'm a collection of deep strengths.' "
In your discussion, summarize three or four key themes of how you consistently produce results and create value for the organization, she advises. "That will be the way to get new titles and responsibilities, even though your previous job description may not suggest them."
Build that network Many people never got serious about a piece of advice they have heard over and over: the importance of developing, maintaining and nurturing a strong network. This year, vow to make that happen, recommends Guy Beaudin, senior partner at leadership development consultancy RHR International in Toronto.
"Over the past year, I have seen many mid-career executives who have been let go come to me for advice and admit they have not made networking a priority," he says.
"People think of networking as a skill, but it really should be a regular activity as you interact with people in your business life," he says. "Everyone can get better at it by setting goals to network more actively and broadly and doing it regularly."
First, he suggests, take stock of the network you already have: How many people do you know who will take your calls? Once you have that number, set goals on the figure you'd like to build it to over this year, and the calls, e-mails and meetings you'll have to arrange monthly to reach the target.
"You need to regularly review your progress," he says. One way: Develop a "buddy system" of one or two others who also want to expand their networks. "Meet quarterly to share your successes, challenges and lessons learned. It will help keep you honest, but also it will keep you motivated."
Become indispensable Turning yourself into the in-house expert on a technology or niche essential to your work will make you indispensable if it would leave a gaping hole were you to leave, says career coach Sharon Graham, president of Graham Management Group in Toronto.
"Many companies are thinly staffed now and they are running the risk that they have no backup," for essential roles, she says.
"Look for tasks or roles in your organization that no one else can do so there is not backup for you," Ms. Graham advises. To become the must-keep expert, "develop depth in those areas by getting additional training and certifications and resolve to volunteer for more responsibility in your specialty."
Knowing more than anyone else on a specific issue or topic will also help make you the "go-to" person for anyone in the company who has a question on that area and that will broaden your base of support in the organization, she adds.
But just being the expert won't necessarily be enough. "Management is going to be looking for people who show they are able to take charge and lead the recovery. So be sure to regularly remind your bosses" of the expertise you have and how effective you are at using it.
Plan a break - and take it Last year, many worked straight through or took just a long weekend now and then, feeling they couldn't get away for any longer during such tenuous times. "But a few days is not enough to really let go of the mounting stresses of your work when you are working flat out," Mr. Challenger says.
So commit to taking a real vacation this year, he recommends. "Aim for a two-week break at some point in the year, and put it on the calendar now. One week is not enough, the second week is when you really let go of the stresses of your work and you can rejuvenate."
Have one big idea Come up with a new idea that you think will help your business, and bring it to the boss now. You may have been holding back because it seemed impractical in the current economy, but you can't risk someone else offering it up first, advises Rick Lash, Toronto-based national practice director of Hay Group, a leadership development and coaching company.
"Everyone realizes that the businesses that will survive in the new economic reality will be those that drive innovation. Management will be all ears to ideas that can kick-start the recovery," he says. "No matter what level of the organization you are in, you can't afford to stay in neutral or negative thinking. Now is the time to encourage innovation."
Out with the old Vow to de-clutter. Get rid of all of the old debris that has colleted in the past year in your files, on your desk and in your computer, Ms. Graham recommends.
And keep the process going this year: Vow not to let e-mails fester unread and restrict your responses to a 20-minute blitz a couple of times a day, rather than stopping every two minutes to respond to the latest missive, she advises. "By un-cluttering, you can free up your thinking and feel more on top of things in the challenging year ahead."
Develop cheerleaders It's easy to falter, but much harder if you surround yourself with people who will encourage you, says Jocelyn Bérard, executive vice-president of leadership for Nexient Learning Inc. in Toronto. So vow to create that support network, he says.
"You can maximize your incentives by involving and instilling the support of your family, friends, colleagues and networking connections," he says. "Make the point that you will appreciate their encouragement if you succeed with your goals, and that they will share in your success. Let them know you will update them on your progress, so they will request - and expect - updates from you."