How To Set Actionable Career Goals for the New Year

January 17, 2022

There’s something about January that makes it feel like anything is possible. We make goals or resolutions about our finances, working out more, or taking more time for self-care. Everyone around us seems goal happy too.


The sad thing is that many of us set unrealistic goals or simply forget about them. Studies show that only a small portion of people achieve their goals.


You’ve probably heard of the SMART goals technique. The premise is that a goal must be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound. At the same time, goals shouldn’t be too easy to achieve.


“You have to set goals that are almost out of reach. If you set a goal that is attainable without much work or thought, you are stuck with something below your true talent and potential.” — Steve Garvey


Just as important as setting personal goals is setting SMART professional goals. When was the last time you wrote out your career goals? Last year? Before you started your current role as an Executive Assistant or Office Manager?


Maybe you have something you’d like to achieve, but you’ve never mapped out the HOW. We want to help you get to the next stage of your career, whether that means moving up or gaining new skills.


Take the Next Step in Your Career


When setting career goals, it's helpful to answer a few big questions and then work backward.


Where would you like to be in five years? Get specific with job role/title/pay level.


Where would you like to be at the end of 2022? Again, be as specific as you can.


Once you’ve answered these big questions, you have your big goals. Now, it’s time to break down the steps needed to achieve them. Most likely, you are looking at a job change, professional development, or both over the next year.

A job change.


To achieve your goals, you may need to change jobs. This could mean moving up within your department, making a lateral move within your company, or moving on to another company. There are several steps you can take now to prepare yourself for a job change. First, take time to update your resume and LinkedIn profiles so you can jump on new opportunities as you see them.


Here are a few types of job changes and practical steps you can take today:


  • Moving up – Monitor company job postings and learn all you can about the role you want. Example goal: Identify the promotion you desire, make sure you have the required experience, and brainstorm what skills and ideas you can bring to the role.


  • Lateral move – If there is no room for advancement in your current role, it might be time to consider a lateral move to another department or position. Example goal: You want to become an HR executive, so you look for an HR Coordinator opening.


  • Moving on – If your company is small or does not have frequent job openings, you may need to consider taking a job at another company where growth is possible. Example goal: Apply to twenty companies with openings for the role you want.


Office Otter User Tip: Use recurring tasks to remind yourself to check for job postings.

Professional development.


If you aren’t looking for a job change any time soon, developing your skill set and network are short-term goals that can pay off big later. Expanding your skill set can make you more effective in your current role and broaden job opportunities. Similarly, developing your network gives you helpful contacts that could come in handy for a future job change.


Here are a few areas that may assist you with your professional development goals:


  • Courses and certifications – Ask yourself what additional training and certifications may help you get where you want to be by the end of the year. Many companies encourage professional development and offer access to learning resources. Check with HR and your direct supervisor to see if they will cover the cost of your training. Example goal: Take an intro to digital marketing course to help you better understand marketing terms and reporting.


  • Coaching and mentoring – There are many types of coaches and mentors. Maybe you need to hire a career coach to keep you accountable to your goals. Sometimes when you have skin in the game (aka fees paid to a coach), you make faster progress. Or, maybe you need a mentor who is doing the job you eventually want to do and is willing to grab coffee or lunch with you once a month. Example goal: Reach out to a potential mentor, tell them why you think they can help you, and ask if they would consider a short-term mentoring commitment to see if it works for both of you.


  • Internal networking – Networking can be beneficial if you want to move up or make a lateral move within your company. By talking with other employees, you get a better sense of the company as a whole and know people who can "vouch" for you when it comes time to apply to another role. Example goal: Schedule a lunch or coffee with one new person in your office each month.


  • External networking – This can take on many forms, from industry-specific networking to job role networking. Events and associations are a great in-person way to network. LinkedIn or Facebook groups are good online tools. Example goal: Attend one in-person event and make three new LinkedIn connections each month.

Office Otter User Tip: Use checklists with due dates to sequence steps according to your professional development goal timeline.

Measuring Success


The important thing with any goal-setting exercise is to make incremental progress. Even if you don’t hit your career goals at the end of 2022, if you can look back and see that you’ve moved toward your big goal, that is a win. Pat yourself on the back and keep reaching toward that five-year goal.

Office Otter User Tip: Create a label for Professional Development and track related tasks just like you would other tasks. A good supervisor sees initiative to improve oneself as an important character trait for promotion.