Even though we know that New Year's Resolutions generally are long forgotten by February, it seems that every year, we can't help but use the turn of the year to force ourselves to set career goals. Whether it is to find a new job, identify ways to position yourself to make partner, or evaluate whether you are where you really want to be in your career, you wouldn't be alone if you haven't made much progress.
It is no secret that it is incredibly challenging to focus on your career when you are managing the day-to-day responsibilities of your work and your home. To move the dial from being reactive to proactive can feel impossible. So how do you get back on track and make progress with your 2023 career goals?
1) Designate a time. Makes sense but who has spare time? Instead of trying to carve out a specific time to spend on career strategy, look at your schedule and identify a time in which you can integrate your career thinking. One coaching client I work with told me that he came up with his 2023 career strategy while at his daughter's soccer practice one day and now he takes some time at each practice to work on action steps toward his goals. Another client, a new mom, said that her husband takes the baby each morning for an hour while she gets ready. She takes 10 minutes of that time each morning to spend on her job search. Be creative in trying to find that space for your career thinking by integrating it into an activity that is already part of your schedule.
2) Understand your why. Why is this career goal important to you right now? Aligning your values with your goals will make them all the more achievable. You may not be making progress on your goals because you're not truly committed to them. At least not right now. And that's okay. Friends and family may be encouraging you to find a job or work environment that doesn't make you miserable. You know that you are being underpaid. It bothers you that you do not feel valued.
Even with these issues, there may be reasons why you think staying put may be best right now. Perhaps your partner just started their own business and your family needs consistency. If you're not truly in it, it could be just a waste of time. It may be that for you until you're able to say the pains of staying are greater than the pains of leaving, it could keep you from following through with your goals. So perhaps it makes best sense to give yourself permission to take a break from the hard pursuit of your career goals until you are aligned with your why.
3) Make goals achievable. Most people know the SMART framework, but from my experience coaching attorneys, few actually use it. The SMART framework guides you to think about your goals concretely. By making them Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and with a Time limit, you are more likely to make progress toward them. When you write down a goal, such as get a new job by the end of the year, ask yourself if it is specific. Then, is it measurable? Is it achievable? Is it realistic? And does it have a time limit? If you have a couple of maybes in there, think about what information you might need in order to turn those maybes into a yes and revise your goal.
For example, you might not know if getting a job by the end of the year is achievable because you're not certain if companies are hiring or certain practices in law firms are growing or stable given the current economy. Perhaps your goal becomes something like identify five current job opportunities of interest by the end of the month. This revision changes Achievable and Realistic to yeses. As you work toward this goal, if you do not find five jobs of interest, that also provides you with valuable information and still helps you to make progress toward getting a new job. Revise your 2023 goals to fit within the SMART framework.
4) Track your progress. It is so easy to lose sight of the progress you make toward your goals, particularly since career goals can take time to achieve. When it comes to getting a new job, you should get ready to run a marathon, not a sprint. It can feel overwhelming, frustrating, and demoralizing as you go through the process of identifying opportunities, applications, and interviews. That is why it is so important to track your progress, whether it's in a journal or on a spreadsheet.
This accomplishes several things: First, it can help you keep track of tasks. If it has been a couple of weeks since an interview, it can serve to remind you to follow up. Second, it can help you see how far you've come, even if you haven't yet hit the end goal. Third and most importantly, it can help you become even more intentional and directed with your job search.
For example, if you went through an interview process, it helps you understand better the organization's culture and what you liked or didn't like so you can use that information in identifying the type of employer you want to work for. You have now become clearer on the role you want. When you get down, look back at your progress and you will see how much you've learned about yourself, the market, and the work you want to do. In fact, as you re-engage with your 2023 goals, reflect on and write down what you have already done toward your goals.
5) Consider getting support. There are many reasons why it may make sense to partner with a recruiter, an executive coach, or a mentor to move toward your career goals. Perhaps the considerations above don’t quite address your particular situation. Getting tailored support can help provide you with guidance and accountability. Given the time constraints, the desire to make a thoughtful career decision, and the general lack of knowledge on how to best navigate our careers as lawyers, it can be a tremendous benefit to work with someone.
You might be vacillating between staying in big law or going in-house. If that's the case, it may be useful to work with a lawyer coach to help you get clear on your direction. You might not know how lateral hiring works at a law firm and how to learn about law firm culture. A law firm recruiter can help you steer through the process and identify the firms in which you would thrive. Partnering with an expert can help introduce you to ideas that you may not have considered because you were not aware of them. Perhaps working with such a partner can help you jumpstart your 2023 goals.