The start of a new year is a great time to look forward in your career, to set resolutions and establish professional goals. However, to make the best decisions about your future at work, it’s important to start by looking to the past. What can you learn from the past year on the job that might help you set yourself up for future success? Start by reflecting on these three areas of your professional life:
Start with the technical aspects of your job. Think about your day-to-day responsibilities and performance, the tools you use to accomplish your work, and the types of projects you worked on this year. Ask yourself these three questions:
- What went well? Take note of any milestones you hit, accolades or awards you earned, and existing goals you made progress on. What work have you done this year that you’re proud of?
- What did you struggle with? It’s equally important to think through challenges you faced or issues that came up on the job. For example, were there scheduling issues that impacted project timelines? In addition, reflect on any negative feedback you received.
- What new technical skills did you gain, certifications did you pursue, or tools did you master? List out any software or technical tools that you used on the job, whether you learned something new or deepened your mastery of an existing skill set. For example, did you pursue any certifications or continuing education opportunities?
Next, broaden your scope. Consider the “big picture” of your working environment, your relationships at work, and how you feel about your job, in both the short and long term. Start with these three questions:
- How are your relationships at work (with coworkers, subordinates, and/or supervisors)? Take stock of your professional relationships at every level of the corporate ladder. You certainly don’t need to be best friends with everyone at work, but your connections should be positive, professional, and productive.
- How do you feel on Sundays as you prepare for work on Monday morning? Very few people like Mondays, and enjoying time off and taking weekends to unplug aren’t just normal — they’re necessary. But if you consistently find yourself dreading going to work at the start of each week, feeling high levels of anxiety, or finding it hard to manage your stress, it might be a sign that something needs to change.
- When was the last time you took a vacation? Different people have different needs when it comes to rest and relaxation, but everyone needs to take breaks from work. Think about the last time you took a break, and consider how you may want to prioritize your own rest time in the coming year.
Finally, take a detailed look at the numbers. Think about both the relationship between your performance and your income, and the relationship between your income and your life goals and long-term plans. Reflect on these four questions:
- How were your performance reviews? Do you feel they accurately reflected your performance and progress? It’s important to ensure that you and your supervisors are on the same page about your day-to-day performance and long-term growth within the company. Consider your accomplishments and growth opportunities, and ask yourself if you and the company’s leaders see eye to eye.
- Were your professional accomplishments recognized with pay or benefit increases? Not every professional win results in a pay raise or a financial bonus. However, consistently high performances and/or exceptional accomplishments should result in economic growth over time. Factor in the financial status of your company, and consider whether the relationship between your performance and your income feels fair.
- How do you feel about your overall compensation and benefits package? Do they support your goals and needs? As your personal life and family goals and situations change over time, your income needs may also change. Think about your monthly budget, regular expenses, and overall financial health, and consider whether your current income meets your needs.
- Are you compensated at or above market value? Stay up to date on the going market rate for your position in your geographic area. Does your income fall within the normal range for your position? If not, is there a strong reason? If not, it may be time to negotiate for a change.
Depending on your answers to these ten questions, different plans of action might be appropriate. The key is to strategize for the coming year based on critical reflection, rather than moving forward blindly and maintaining the status quo. By taking a few moments to look back, you can take control of your career momentum moving forward.