New Year, New Resolutions?

A friend told me about a discussion she overheard at the gym yesterday.  Two ladies were talking about their overbooked Spin class and how they were vying to get a seat.  At the end of the exchange one lady remarked to the other, “Just wait.  This class will be empty again by mid-February.”  Similarly, many people who are searching for a new job or career path often vow to begin their search anew come January.

While many people resolve to do better in the New Year, the truth is that sometimes those resolutions don’t stick.  And sometimes new resolutions aren’t needed to find your next opportunity.  The best career advice I can give you for 2011 is to follow the SMART methodology for setting your goals, commit to a plan, execute according to your timeline and reflect and refine at key milestones.

While this is hardly revolutionary, it is often overlooked as we are enchanted with the thought that the New Year has somehow transformed us.

Start SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timebound

Don’t be too broad in your goals.   As yourself of each of your goals if it follows the SMART model.
–          Is it specific? What is the objective you want to accomplish?
–          Can it be measured?  How will you know when you have achieved it?
–          Is it attainable and plausible for you to achieve your goal?
–          With the resources and abilities you have, is this goal realistic?
–          What is your time limit?  Be realistic and be sure to set milestones for your goal.

Also, you need to apply the SMART model to all of your goals as a whole once you have run each of them through the SMART test.
–          Are all of them specific?  Are they compatible and work together?
–          What is the overarching measurement for all of these goals?
–          Are they attainable and plausible together? Can you achieve all of these goals simultaneously?
–          Do you have too many goals to achieve or are you at a realistic number?
–         Did you map out your timeline for each of these goals?  What are the major milestones to achievement?

Plan your work
After your goals are set and have passed the SMART test, it is important to come up with your project plan on how you are going accomplish your goals.  Think of this as your blueprint that you will follow throughout the entire process.  Do this for each goal separately, but be sure to incorporate onto one timeline on your primary calendar.

How do you start a project plan?   There are numerous software and web tools to help with this endeavor, but you can keep it simple as well.  For each goal, list the steps needed to achieve success.  Ask a trusted colleague or mentor for input after your first draft.  Write out each of the steps needed to get to your goal – and then schedule them on your calendar.  Put in all of the major milestones and your deadline.  For more in depth help, check this reference site housed on the Free Management Library which discusses basic project planning.

Work your plan
This is where the real work comes in – the execution stage. No, there isn’t a way around this step, but you can make it easier.  Go back to basics and use your ABCs to help work your plan.

Accountability: In addition to your calendar, enlist the help of colleagues, family and friends to help keep you on track.  If you have periodic check-ins, you are more likely to stick to your plan and keep working at each step.

Bend and be flexible:  You will have things that do not go your way.  Do not give up.  The less rigid you are, the more likely you will continue on your way toward achievement.

Celebrate:  Take time to celebrate the milestones, wins and even the learnings from setbacks with your accountability partners.

Reflect, reassess and recommit
Throughout the entire process, you must reflect, reassess and recommit regularly.  For some goals, this may be daily – and for others, weekly.  The key thing to remember is that your commitments must be revisited and sometimes revamped in order to ensure success.

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Education doesn’t guarantee you a career

Recently, I was on The Jay Boatman Show to discuss my thoughts on for-profit education and the “Gainful Employment” legislation that is being spearheaded by the Department of Education.  In a nutshell, the federal government wants limit the amount of Title IV funding that private sector (aka “for-profit”) colleges receive for students to attend their colleges and  universities.

The aspiration of rewarding, gainful employment is a solid one.  If you are going to spend the majority of your time working, why wouldn’t you want to enjoy what you are doing and be financially rewarded for it? The Department of Education issue, however, isn’t really about people being gainfully employed – it is more about ensuring that education consumers who select to go to school at market-driven institutions are able to repay the debt they accrued while seeking higher education opportunities.

Unfortunately, both private and public sector colleges and universities have students who graduate who cannot pay back their debt. My core belief is that much of this problem stems from a complex system of misinformation and the culture of debt we have in this country.  I also believe that if we are truly concerned about “gainful employment” for our college graduates, we need to look at ALL higher education institutions and get down to frank discussions about how we educate our future leaders.

Ultimately, YOU are solely responsible for your career readiness and ensuring that you are well-informed about how to make the most of your future.  Education can help you attain your career goals if you are prepared and make the most of your experience.

Keep these things in mind when choosing a school and field of study:

Know yourself and your situation, even if you don’t know exactly what you want to do

You may not know your end career goal, but you need to know your strengths and leverage them.  Spend a few uninterrupted hours (or days!) with yourself to reflect on why you want to go to school and your primary passions.  Know what you like to do and where your talents lie.  Ask friends, relatives, former teachers and managers to quickly summarize your greatest assets and weaknesses.  Blog or journal about your future aspirations and make some SMART goals for the next year, two years, and so on (SMART = Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Timely).  Assess and list any relevant considerations such as abilities, family and financial obligations, location and other potential barriers or resources.

Research, research – and then research some more

Using your SMART goals and your situation details, start external research.  There are hundreds of websites dedicated to helping you understand how to pick a higher education institution.  Use the web, but use it well.  Don’t rely on one or two websites and use a variety of keywords in your search criteria.  For example, the search terms “pick a college” and “questions to ask when picking a college” are similar, but yield different search results.  Rely on well-known, reputable sites for school listings such as the Department of Education site which includes all public and private sector accredited institutions.  For further resources that I like, see the end of this post.

Think long term

Once you are invested in your education, make the most of it.  Understand the resources available to you on campus.  Utilize your Academics, financial aid, student services and career development offices.  Attend their events, participate and ask questions.  Go above and beyond your peers and don’t take shortcuts on your assignments.  Build a network of people who can help you in your future – and don’t forget to help them and stay in touch, too.  You are there to learn and engage with those around you.   Every day makes an impact on your future.

Be a Marketeer

In the end, it comes down to you.  Proactively promote yourself and your needs.  Don’t be passive and hope that someone else will do something for you.  If you don’t understand something after you have researched it, determine the correct person and get an answer.  Advocate for yourself throughout your education and you will carry that habit onto your career and your future.

Want more information on the issue of “Gainful Employment”?  Read all sides:

Want more information on choosing colleges, majors and careers?  Here are some of my favorite resources: