It’s that time of the year when we start thinking about making our New Year’s resolutions. Most of us want to jump ahead of it this year and be as proactive as possible. But when it comes to our jobs and careers, we may want to take some time to at least reflect on how the year went – what were our challenges, what accomplishments did we have, and ultimately, what did we do that really made a difference in the lives of clients, customers, patients, co-workers, managers, and others.

We can think about what new skills we developed, what new knowledge we gained, and how we improved ourselves. Did we enhance our brand through social media? We can ask ourselves how did we treat others; that is, were we civil and professional with those around us? Did we listen and show tolerance to hearing others’ points of views or styles? Did we recognize, and show encouragement and support to our colleagues at work? If we aren’t sure about the answers to these questions, we can get feedback from trusted colleagues who we can be sure will be candid with us.

Joyce E. A Russell

While it is important to set goals for the future, it is valuable to first reflect on what we have already accomplished and what else we need to do. We don’t work or live in one-year increments. Our professional lives are a continuation of our past and our direction and goals for the future. So, before you set new goals and resolutions, first reflect on how this past year went and what went well and what you want to see changed in your own life as it relates to your career or even your life. Write down what your biggest accomplishments were for this past year. Even Steve Jobs said “You cannot connect the dots looking forward. You can only connect them looking backwards. You have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.”

It is important to invest in yourself – improving your knowledge and skills in the next year. It’s vital to stay current with technology (i.e., to be able to synthesize and analyze quantitative data in order to help the company improve efficiency and effectiveness). It is also critical to enhance your “soft skills” such as: leadership, communication, negotiations, etc.

According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, the most universal skills employers are looking for include communication skills (listening, empathizing, speaking clearly and concisely, writing skills), creative problem solving skills, curiosity, and teamwork (ability to work well with others, networking, persuading, ability to put the team and company’s interests ahead of your own). Good decision-making skills are also imperative.

You can go back to school to enhance your skills or change career fields, or you can also learn plenty online (via YouTube, online learning academies, etc.), at the library, or through networking groups (e.g.,, There really are not that many excuses for not updating your skills and connections.

If you are thinking about changing your job in the upcoming year, here are a couple of tips to help you on your way:

* Figure out what companies you want to work for. Do you have some favorite firms in mind? Check out their job postings. See who you know at those firms. Any alumni from your school working at those companies that you can connect to via social media?

* Identify at least two mentors and two sponsors (one at your current organization and one outside it) who can help you on your career search process. When picking mentors, try to get someone who is like you in meaningful ways (similar gender, race, parental status, etc.) so that they can relate well to your situation as well as someone who can serve as a career coach and provide candid advice to you. For sponsors, people who are higher up in your firm or another firm and can serve as advocates for your future promotions.

* Get your resume ready. Ask people who know your work well to serve as references for you, and clean up your social media profile.

* Develop a specific action plan. For example, map out which days you will attend networking events, what days you will search for jobs online, when you will meet with your mentors and sponsors, when you will take additional classes to refresh your skills. Be as specific as possible to ensure you will follow through with your plan.

It is important to move forward and set your goals for the future. It’s also equally important to reflect back on what you have accomplished in the past year. And, perhaps even more valuable, is taking the time to think about what you’re grateful for – at work and at home.

Joyce E. A. Russell is the senior associate dean at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business. She is a licensed industrial and organizational psychologist and has more than 25 years of experience coaching executives and consulting on leadership, career management, and negotiations. She can be reached at