The Office Life: Setting Career Goals
Jan 2, 2013
This weekend, I sat down and wrote out a long list of things I want to do to improve and modify Capitol Hill Style. One change is renaming “The Hill Life” feature, The Office Life. We’ll still talk about Hill-specific topics from time-to-time, but I wanted the topics to apply more broadly to those readers who work in professional offices outside of Capitol Hill.
In honor of the New Year, I wanted to use the first post to talk about setting goals, because too many women don’t have a clear picture of where they would like their educations or careers to take them.
Write It Down. Spending my formative teen years in beauty pageants, I was often asked to write down my goals and aspirations. (I was also asked what kind of candy bar I’d like to be and why, but that’s another post.)
At the time, I didn’t realize how important the simple act of writing down your career goals could be. But now, I understand that just making a list (and checking it twice), helped me focus my attention on how to achieve my aspirations. Here is the real list from a pageant questionnaire that I filled out in 10th grade (!!!).
Career Goals: graduate from college with a degree in political science (done), intern for Montana’s congressman on Capitol Hill (done) and attend law school (pass). After graduation move to Washington, D.C. and work as a policy analyst on Capitol Hill (I was 15, I didn’t know they were called Legislative Assistants–done), move back to Montana and teach political science at Carroll College (someday).
Aspirations: be a contestant on Jeopardy! (done), publish a book of short stories (in progress, become Miss Montana (hey, two out of three ain’t bad).
Modify the List. When I was a teenager, it felt like all of these goals were set in stone. But life doesn’t work that way.
I didn’t go to law school because the cost was prohibitive and would have gotten in the way of more important “grown up” goals like being financially stable and saving for a home/retirement.
I’ve also added goals to the list. This blog certainly wasn’t something I thought about doing in 1997, but it’s become an important part of my life. And now, I have a whole different set of blog-realted goals to add to the list.
Find a Mentor. Once you identify what you want to do, find a mentor. Usually, if you’re working in the industry you want to be in, you can find a mentor in your own office. Just pick out the person who looks like she knows what she is talking about, and send her a polite email asking if you could grab coffee and discuss how she became so successful.
If that isn’t an option for you, the Internet is a wonderful tool for finding people who have the career you want to have someday, and LinkedIn is a great place to start. I have sent dozens of LinkedIn messages to people who I admire and aspire to be “when I grow up.” Eight out of ten times, I don’t hear back, but when I do, it’s always a thrill.
Even if all you do is exchange one or two emails, just making contact with a person and asking them “How did you get where you are?”, “What was your big break?”, and “What advice would you give someone looking to do what you do?” can provide a lot of valuable insight.
Timeline. Once you find a mentor, they should be able to give you a realistic picture (or at least a ballpark estimate) of how long it will take you to achieve your goals. This isn’t a firm number but it’s a good guide for keeping yourself on track. But again, life happens and it’s perfectly okay if things take longer.
Keep Yourself Accountable. Look at your list every few months and have an honest conversation with yourself about what progress you’ve made (or haven’t made). Determine where you could improve or what other avenues you could explore. Find new mentors and continue growing your network so you don’t miss an opportunity.
In conclusion, your list should be thought of as a living, breathing creature. It grows and changes as you grow and change. Don’t be afraid to change and alter the list as you discover new opportunities, outgrow things you thought you wanted or simply decide that what you thought was for you, wasn’t. But as long as you continue to be honest with yourself and set goals for the future, you’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish.
So, ladies, do you have a list of goals? Or any other advice for women looking for direction in their careers?