Year-end: A Time for Career Planning and Assessment

Workloads are often lighter in December making it an excellent time to take stock of your career by assessing your 2012 professional accomplishments, identifying areas for improvement, and planning for 2013. By learning from your experiences over the past year and planning ahead for next year, you can improve your productivity and enhance your professional growth and career advancement.

Begin by assessing your 2012 accomplishments. Note the important factors that made these accomplishments possible. Then determine the strengths responsible for these successes. These can include your personal strengths as well as those of your employer such as strong instrumental analysis capabilities. These are strengths to build on in 2013. Then make an inventory of where you fell short in 2012 and identify the factors that resulted in the lack of success.  These are areas you need to focus on and strengthen in 2013.

Also consider what strengths and resources you have but did not exploit in 2012. For example, suppose you have strong oral presentation skills. If you made few oral presentations in 2012, you may not be capitalizing fully on your abilities.  Resources could include advanced analytical instruments that could be used in your research. For instance, I was able to use my employer’s scanning electron microscope to study the agglomeration of toner ink particles when studying ink removal from pulped office paper.

In your assessment, include the strengths you have seen your coworkers exude. Highly capable team members will make your own job easier and your goals more attainable. Just as you want to capitalize on your own strengths, you also want to capitalize on the capabilities of your coworkers by giving credit to their contributions.

Identify areas for improvement

In addition to identifying strengths and resources that you can build upon, identify the abilities you need to strengthen or the weaknesses you need to overcome. Your list of your disappointments will help you in this. Unachieved 2012 goals may be due to poor planning and organization, inefficient use of time, insufficient coordination with coworkers, and other factors. For example, poor interpersonal skills may handicap you in accessing abilities and skills of your coworkers. One example is by persuading a coworker to help you master a new piece of software or translate a research paper published in a foreign language. Some causes of your unachieved goals may be external to yourself and your own abilities. These include insufficient abilities of coworkers and lack of organizational resources. Networking can help you overcome these deficiencies by enabling you to trade favors with colleagues thus becoming more productive.

Identifying the factors responsible for your 2012 disappointments may enable you to avoid similar disappointments in 2013.  For instance, suppose you identify inadequate time management skills as a factor in reducing your productivity. Identifying the problem can enable you to eliminate it by taking short courses and making a concentrated effort to improve. Should these disappointment factors be deep-seated, you may be able to plan your 2013 goals to reduce the effect these negative factors have on your career. Networking can enable you to find people with technical skills your coworker’s lack.  You may be able to learn from members of your professional network and eliminate these disappointment factors. Outsourcing can enable you overcome problems caused by a lack of organizational resources.  For instance in the example of the environmental scanning electron microscope mentioned above, the instrument is expensive and few of my employer’s customers had their own. I was to help them by offering to carry out these microscopic analyses for them. The result was that the microscope became a sales tool for my firm.

Looking forward to 2013

By December you probably know your project assignments and who your coworkers will be for 2013. Armed with your self-assessment (and input from your core networking group or personal board of directors) you can enter the New Year with goals and a career plan will let you capitalize on your strengths and rectify or overcome your weaknesses.

The next step

Discuss your plans for improvement and professional growth with your supervisor. Look for approval but also be open to suggestions for improvement.

Set specific goals. These must be ones you can achieve based on your own initiative and efforts. Make sure your goals are SMART – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound. It may not be difficult to make goals specific, measurable and time-bound; however, it may be harder to determine what’s achievable and realistic. These two factors can vary greatly from one individual to another and from one organization to another. Your goals must be achievable through your own efforts. Achieving them should not solely be dependent upon the actions or goodwill of others.

Write your goals down. Studies indicate that the simple act of writing down your goals helps motivate you to achieve them. For example, in his book, What They Don’t Teach You at the Harvard Business School, (Bantam Dell Publications Group) Mark McCormack described a 10-year study of the benefits of writing down goals while studying the 1979 Harvard MBA program students.  Keep your goals posted where you can easily see them from your desk chair. Then divide each goal into action steps that you can complete to make measurable progress in achieving your overall goals.

By doing so, you have the best chance of accomplishing your goals and improving on those you identified.  Keep refereeing back to your list and notate where you see improvement or actions that have been taken towards improvement.  Also, take note of situations or circumstances that come along the way which might hinder or prohibit you from improvement or achieving a goal.  Either way, you will be set for 2013 and a new working year.

Best of luck in the New Year and I wish you a Happy Holidays.

John Borchardt is a chemist and freelance writer who has been an ACS career consultant for 15 years. He is the author of the ACS/Oxford University Press Book “Career Management for Scientists and Engineers.” He has had more than 1200 articles published in a variety of magazines, newspapers and encyclopedias. As an industrial chemist, he holds 30 U.S. and more than 125 international patents and is the author of more than 130 peer-reviewed papers.

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