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This is the one question you should ask before setting a New Year’s goal

Udemy’s Cara Brennan Allemano says even when you know it’s time for a change, it can be hard to know exactly where to start and what to do, so here’s how to get clarity.

This is the one question you should ask before setting a New Year’s goal
[Photo: Christina Vartanova/iStock]

It’s goal-setting season, and many of us are looking to switch things up in our working lives next year. This can be tricky because, even when you know it’s time for a change, it can be hard to know exactly where to start and what to do. Sometimes, it’s hard to define what it is we want to change in our career. We just know it’s not fulfilling us in the most important ways.

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Not all career goals require big changes. Some may be achievable without moving into a different role or switching employers, especially if you work for a company with a robust learning culture. In other cases, the onus may be on you to do some self-directed upskilling before you’re truly ready to make progress toward your goals.

Fill in this blank to more crisply define exactly what’s driving you:

I want to _______.

Grow in my current role

If you’re happy with your employer and functional area, that doesn’t mean you should coast along until something forces you to act. It’s always smart to keep building upon your skills.

Look to what more seasoned coworkers are doing that you could add to your skill set. See if there are new technologies or tools you can get a jumpstart on learning, even before your job demands them. Ask your manager if you can schedule a career conversation for them to advise you on where you need to develop your expertise in order to increase your impact—or snag a promotion. Make sure you talk to someone on the learning and development (or HR) team, so you’re aware of any development opportunities available, and let them help connect you to educational resources aligned to your goals.

Move into management

If you’re eyeing a transition into management, keep in mind that managing people is very different from performing an individual job function. The hard skills that got you where you are today won’t be enough to prepare you for the responsibilities that come with managing direct reports or, perhaps, an entire team.

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The competencies that separate the best managers tend to be those we refer to as soft skills or people skills. They’re things like problem-solving, relationship building, emotional intelligence, and effective leadership. Again, I recommend speaking to your manager and others in your professional network and asking them where they believe you need to grow in order to become ready for management. This isn’t a goal you’re likely to achieve all by yourself, so identify the sponsors who can support you in this endeavor.

Pivot to something completely different

If your career goals involve moving into an entirely new field, you’ll likely need to do work on your own to assemble the requisite skill set. I’m lucky enough to be at a company whose business is connecting people to learning resources that can help them meet their career objectives. Our culture supports the learning needs of all employees—whether they want to grow in a current role or try a new discipline—but this isn’t the norm.

At many companies, employees can only access training related to their functional area. If that describes your situation, avail yourself of the wide variety of learning resources out there, from online courses, videos, and books to in-person workshops, boot camps, and industry associations.

Completing coursework is just part of the journey, however. You’ll still need to be able to demonstrate you’ve mastered those newly gained skills, so seek out programs that include practical exercises and projects you can share with a hiring manager.

Grow my influence and impact

Maybe your career goals are less about your actual work and more about the broader role you want to play in your organization. You want to elevate your influence, market your expertise, and maximize your contributions.

As with a move into management, I recommend brushing up on your soft skills here. To grow your influence, you need to forge connections with other influencers in the organization and be able to articulate the value you bring. And come with your own ideas for where your expertise can be leveraged for maximum benefits, such as serving as a mentor, engaging in peer-to-peer learning, or being a consultant to other teams.

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Not sure

Maybe you’re feeling restless but undirected. You know your current position isn’t cutting it but aren’t quite sure where to go next. That’s okay. I have ideas for you, too. Depending on where you are in your career, I suggest asking yourself some questions to help clarify your thinking and set you on the right path heading into 2020.

At every level
Am I still learning something new every day?

Entry level
What skills do I need to excel in my role?
Are there skills my role requires that I don’t have?
When I look at colleagues a level above me, is that something I want to be doing?

Midlevel
Does my role leverage my strengths?
Do I want to work toward becoming a manager?
Do I enjoy the work I do?
Am I progressing in my career the way I imagined?

Leadership level
Am I still challenged in my role every day?
How am I supporting and empowering my people in their roles?
Am I happy with the balance that I have between work and life?
How can I bring others along with me as a leader, or be a mentor?
Am I ready for the possibility of working many more decades into the future? What are the implications for my current and future roles?

We’d all like to work for a company that encourages learning and supports employees all along their career journeys, but even if you end up somewhere that doesn’t meet that description, you always have options. It’s no longer frowned upon to switch employers or roles in your quest to find the right fit, so don’t worry if your next move doesn’t check all the boxes. Keep building your skills and your network, and realize that this IS a journey. Reaching your current goals isn’t the endpoint; it’s just the point where you’ll need to set new ones.

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Cara Brennan Alamano is the senior vice president of HR at Udemy.

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