During a recession, it’s easy to get lost in the day-to-day concerns about keeping your job or finding a new one, especially when people you know are going through similar situations. Often sacrificed is the big picture — and the long-term health of your career. One way to make sure you continue to move your career in the right direction, even today, is to establish professional goals. Here are some tips for doing so successfully:
Focus on goals you can accomplish. When setting career goals, make sure the objectives you strive for are realistic. You’re likely to do little more than spin your wheels if, for instance, your goal is to become a CIO within three years if your career is well-advanced, yet you have little management experience under your belt. The goals you set should be challenging but not so much so that you frustrate yourself by trying to reach an impossible target.
The goals you establish also should be specific, and you should have a time frame for accomplishing them. These details will give you something concrete to work toward and help you accurately gauge your progress.
As you create your goals, make sure to keep one thing in mind: the economic upturn. Although any signs of recovery are still faint at the moment, conditions will eventually improve, and you want to be ready. You may want enhance your knowledge of areas of IT or industries that are likely to see growth in the coming years, such as health care.
Set several goals. It’s good to always have at least two goals at a time: one short-term goal and one long-term objective. Your short-term goal should be reachable within a few months. You may decide to earn a Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP) credential within six months. With your long-term goal, you should look forward several years — to eventually become a network manager, for instance.
Ideally, the two objectives should be complementary — in this case, the CCNP certification would help prepare you for the manager position. Just be sure not to overburden yourself. Having half a dozen goals, while ambitious, could prove more frustrating than motivating.
Build momentum. The biggest hurdle IT professionals face when working toward their career goals is losing momentum. One way to keep momentum high is to break larger goals into smaller components. Accomplishing the first step gets you closer to the second step, which brings you nearer to the third step, and so on, building momentum toward the eventual target.
For example, if you want to add 20 new contacts to your professional network within six months, your first steps may be to increase your visibility by joining a professional association and updating your online networking profiles. Having smaller goals allows you to check your progress and make your progression toward the overall objective more manageable.
Use your review to your advantage. Many organizations hold performance reviews for employees during the middle of the year. If that’s the case at your firm, use it as a check-in point to evaluate your progress toward your career goals and to determine what your objective should be going forward. Discuss with your manager how he or she can help you achieve your goals.
He or she may be able to offer assistance, such as the flexibility to attend professional association meetings or reimbursement for training classes. If you don’t have a performance review scheduled, you may still want to set aside time to meet with your boss to talk about your professional objectives and how you can move your career forward.
As you work toward your career goals, you’ll find it necessary to continually reassess them. Do you feel you are still able to accomplish them in the time frame you set? Do you need to revise the targets slightly? Do you need to abandon the goals you set and establish entirely new ones? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, don’t despair. Any number of changes can cause you to alter your vision. The key is to make whatever adjustments are necessary and use the knowledge you’ve gained to set more appropriate goals going forward.
Dave Willmer is executive director of Robert Half Technology, a leading provider of IT professionals on a project and full-time basis. He can be reached at editor (at) certmag (dot) com.