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Great advice from The Lawyer Whisperer

January 10, 2016

Your 2016 Career Goals Checklist


Julie Q. Brush

I’m not a big fan of New Year’s resolutions. The exercise often creates unrealistic expectations, false hopes and a high failure rate (roughly 92%) resulting in lower self-esteem. Yet at the beginning of each New Year, millions of individuals fueled by the prospects of a New and Improved Me, press the proverbial reset button. One common resolution for lawyers involves career. But many lack the clarity to know what to strive for or how to get there – and the endeavor is often futile.

So as the curtain opens on 2016, instead of proclaiming another “resolution” for change, use The Lawyer Whisperer 2016 Career Goals Checklist for results and greater career satisfaction:

Take Inventory.

In order to achieve what you want in 2016, you need to know the lay of the internal land as the first step. Where to start? Answer the following:

  • Am I happy in my current role? Why or why not?
  • What do I like about my job, culture, employer?
  • What don’t I like? How/Can I fix it?
  • What am I doing well in my job? Where do I want/need to improve?
  • What is my opportunity for advancement? In what way do I want to advance and how do I do it?
  • How do I want to develop professionally?
  • What are my fears?

Document Your Case For Career Advancement.

A new title, a raise, more direct reports, a bigger job – If you aspire for advancement in 2016, it will require advocacy to make it happen. But professionals are not adequately prepared when it comes time to make their case. The plethora of personal and professional responsibilities makes it difficult for even the strongest minds to recall every accomplishment. So, starting January 1st memorialize what’s memorable about the Professional You. A few suggestions how: Keep a notepad at your desk and jot down notes/accomplishments as they occur. Create an Outlook file with email kudos from colleagues and clients. Dictate your accomplishments on your phone. Keep a notepad in your car and write down accomplishments before heading home. When it comes time to ask for more, you’ll have the key information available to make your case more effective.

Develop One New Important Skill.

Those who do not learn, develop and diversify are vulnerable to today’s Darwinian legal market forces. So this year, commit to develop one new important skill. What does that mean for today’s lawyers? It means learning a new substantive skill that is in high demand like privacy, product or data security…or transactions experience, corporate securities/governance or open source that allow you to retool or advance your career goals. It could include softer skills such as becoming a stronger communicator, business developer or dealing with difficult people. So take inventory of what skills your repertoire lack and choose one on which to focus first.

Ask For What You Want.

It sounds so simple, yet it’s one of the most difficult things to do. Fear, entitlement and the belief that people read minds are the most common reasons professionals do not ask for what they want. But when you don’t ask…you don’t get. So the next time you want something…ask for it. If the thought makes you anxious, resentful or fearful, remember – it’s how you ask that makes all the difference. So spend the time to create a great message of request and you’ll increase your chances at getting what you want. One “ask” per month or quarter is a great start.

Become a Higher Quality Professional.

No matter how finely tuned you are as a professional, there’s always room to raise your game. What can you do better? Respond to calls/emails, be on time for appointments, spend more care on your work, treat others with more respect, enforce boundaries, send thank yous, provide better service, be a team player and/or make a conscious effort to help others. Becoming a better professional will have a profound effect on your relationships and your career – and you’ll see a difference immediately.

Leave an Unhappy Job.

Way easier said than done, I know. But if you are miserable in your current job, make it a goal to leave in 2016. Life is too short to be stuck in reverse another year. The employment market is active so it’s a good time to begin a new chapter. To start, be clear about what you want…and don’t want. Update your resume, speak with an expert and create a plan. Leverage your network, apply on-line and proactively reach out to potential employers. Set micro goals and create momentum by getting in the game and going after what you want. Finding a new job won’t happen overnight so manage your expectations to remain resilient and motivated.

Do More To Benefit Others.

Our society is plagued by a hyper focus on “me”. And with a legal profession in flux, lawyers are scrambling to get ahead with a “What’s in it for me?” mentality. But what many don’t get is that doing things to benefit others is one of the best ways to help yourself. So set a goal to help one professional in your network a week/month/quarter (you choose). Make an introduction, review a resume, provide a referral, lend an ear – whatever you can do to assist another. Not only will you feel good, you’ll enhance your reputation and build goodwill that will come back your way when you need it.

Grow Your Network.

Your network is worth its weight in gold. So it needs to be a priority in 2016. Make a list of the people you’d like to add – people that can help move your career to the next level: GCs, CEOs, VCs, CFOs, COOs, law firm partners, reporters, recruiters etc. and set a weekly/monthly/quarterly goal to create meaningful connections (random LinkedIn requests don’t count!). Leverage your current network for introductions and strengthen bonds by helping others. Take inventory of your progress each month and recalibrate as needed.

The New Year allows us to see ourselves with a fresh set of eyes and aspire to be better. And for lawyers, career success is often at the top of the wish list. But aimless resolutions won’t provide the solution for real change. Relevant goals are needed. A roadmap for execution is needed. And a plan that transcends a calendar date is needed. The checklist above is not fleeting, but a lifelong approach. So make it part of your life on January 1st to achieve the career you seek…and happiness you deserve.

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