Most of us use this time of year to reflect on the past and set goals for the future, but usually it’s personal goals, not career goals. The New Year feels like a fresh start, and it’s good to take advantage of that energy to check on your career goals. Setting career goals isn’t all that different from setting personal ones, but usually takes a little more thought and planning. So, grab a piece of paper and take notes while you read this advice.

Take responsibility for your career.

When setting career goals, it’s important to realize that you and you alone are responsible for your career. Not your boss or your colleagues, not your professors or your parents. Realize that your future success is in your hands, and choose to involve yourself in projects, committees, and events that will help you reach your end goal. If your boss asks you to take on a new role that is not going to help you get where you want to be, learn to say, “No, thank you.”

Inventory your skills.

If you’re interested in a leadership position, ask yourself, “Do I build relationships? Do I manage conflict well? Do I communicate goals and expectations clearly?” These are all essential leadership skills. And if you’d rather be a team member than a manager, that’s important to know. Think about what makes you feel fulfilled and excited about the work day.

Consider your personal life and know your values.

When setting career goals, realize that your life outside of work could play a role in what you’re doing in three, five, or ten years. Do you plan to get married or start a family? Will you be caring for an aging family member? Do you love to travel and hope to visit a foreign country every year? Experts say you’ll get more satisfaction from your career if you are more transparent with yourself about your personal goals and values.

Set short and long-term goals.

You should be able to accomplish your short-term goal in six months to three years. It will usually take you three to five years to reach a long-term goal. For instance, if your goal is to become the manager of a shipping division, that’s going to take some time. You need to work your way up through a few lower level positions in order to reach that ultimate goal. There could be distractions along the way, so it’s important to always keep your eyes on the ultimate prize.

Make your goals specific and measurable.

You can’t just say, “I want to be successful.” What does that mean? You want to make a specific salary? Be the CEO of a company? Take a vacation every year? Be specific in naming what it is you want and have a time frame for achieving your goals.

Get a mentor.

Find someone who has done what it is you want to do and ask if they will give you some help in charting your own course. If you want to move up within your organization, find someone who has already done that. You don’t know what you don’t know, but they do. Let me say that again: you don’t know what you don’t know. It can be difficult to set specific goals when you aren’t sure what you’re dealing with. Someone who has already been there can give you a clearer idea of what you should be doing to reach your goals and might hold you accountable in achieving them.

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