A recruiter’s secret to making career resolutions stick
The status quo is a temptress. It whispers sweet nothings in your ear, urging you to keep your head down, seek familiarity, and avoid complications at all costs. It spotlights what’s working – your manager is generally accommodating; your commute is manageable; your work is only slightly boring – while downplaying the very valid concerns that keep you up at night. The status quo asserts, “it could be worse” and technically, it’s not wrong. Life could certainly be worse. But for most of us, it could also be markedly better.
I say this from a place of deep understanding; I, too, am guilty of allowing the status quo to dictate my reality. I’ve stayed in jobs (not to mention relationships) for far too long. I’ve experienced the heart-pounding, palm-sweating, debilitating anxiety of facing a major life decision and not knowing what to do. I’ve felt the keen disappointment of missing out on opportunities because at the time, I’d grown too comfortable staying in a situation that no longer served my goals.
But time is not infinite – a fact that I’ve come to learn the hard way as my husband was recently diagnosed with a terminal illness. Putting off goals and plans until some future date is a very real risk, because none of us know what tomorrow may bring. For that reason, I intend on making the most of my year and I genuinely hope you’ll join me!
Years of helping candidates and clients navigate the fraught world of goal setting has taught me some important lessons. That, combined with a few expert insights, has led me here – to my guide for sticking to your career goals, even when you want to call it quits:
Casual goals will get you nowhere. How badly do you want to change?
The function of a goal is to accomplish something hard. If it were easy, you’d just do it, no fancy goal-setting techniques necessary.
It follows, then, that to do something hard – something our mind and body don’t necessarily want to do – that we’d need an added dose of motivation. Motivation beyond “I want to look good” or “I want to make more money.” While these are perfectly valid motivators, they don’t tap into our most essential instincts for safety, food, shelter, and love. Rephrasing “I want to look good” into something like “I want to be strong and capable so I can better support my spouse” (my personal goal, by the way) completely transforms the strength of the commitment. It’s no longer a vanity project; it’s a matter of protecting and serving those we love.
The same can be said of career goals. More and more I’ve been hearing candidates say “I am flexible when it comes to compensation. Ultimately the most important factor for me is to find a role where I can have a positive and significant impact.” What they’re really saying is – I’ve found my “why” and I’m ready to make the necessary changes to better align my reality with my aspirations.
The status quo is easy. Change is hard. If you want to move beyond your current situation, you need to find something worth fighting for. Without a clear and meaningful “why,” your goal is just words.
Start small but think BIG
Now that we know why we want to change, it’s time to consider how.
We have James Clear’s book Atomic Habits to thank for popularizing what I like to call the “lazy approach” to goal setting. Rather than going all-in on day one, Clear proposes committing to small 1% changes that can be sustained over weeks, months, even years. With time, these small changes add up to something significant – often without us even realizing.
Throughout my career I’ve seen many a candidate suffer from burn out after applying for 100+ jobs in a week, even though messaging a handful of hiring managers daily for a month would have a far better return on investment with the added benefit of maintaining one’s sanity. The same goes for building up your resume or even growing your team; small, sustainable changes add up to big impacts over time.
Don’t play dumb; act SMART
We all understand the basic mechanics of working hard, eating healthy, exercising regularly, reading more, drinking less, and spending extra time with family. So why do so many of us fail to follow through on these resolutions?
Maybe we’re just not being smart about our goals. Cue SMART goals: if you’re unfamiliar, SMART refers to an approach to goal setting centered on process and planning. By breaking your goal down into manageable, intuitive building blocks – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound – you vastly improve your chances of success.
Though at times tedious, this exercise is meant to turn an abstract fantasy into something concrete and attainable. It works because even when our brain knows the right path, it often needs some help placing one foot in front of the other. I for one want to make it as easy as possible for my mind and body to follow through on my commitments.
Plus, the act of writing down your goal is more than just another step in the process – it’s actually forging a deeper commitment within yourself. And every day you follow through with your words, turning them into actions, you come closer to becoming the person you aspire to be. In the words of the Dalai Lama,
“Be careful of your thoughts,
They become your words
Be careful of your words,
They become your actions.
Be careful of your actions,
They become your habits.
Be careful of your habits,
They become your character.
Be careful of your character,
It becomes your destiny.”
SMART goals keep our words, actions, and habits aligned – ultimately leading to an improved character and, with any luck, a more promising destiny.
Be mindful of your limitations
We’re not machines, we all experience moments of weakness. Regular reality checks, flexible progress, and reward systems will keep you afloat. If you’re feeling mentally and emotionally exhausted, and the prospect of applying for three more jobs is simply untenable, then don’t. Take a break. But tomorrow, refer back to your SMART goals, revisit your “why,” and get back to work (and maybe consider working with a recruiter – we take a lot of that stress off your shoulders!).
That’s the difference between those who stick with their career resolutions and those who fall back on the status quo – the former understand that the day after a setback is the hardest and most important day of all. That’s the day when you either grit or quit, and I for one intend to get gritty.
All that to say…
Today, 60% of employees report feeling detached from their work. Almost 20% say they feel “miserable” in their jobs – yet even that level of dissatisfaction is seemingly not enough to motivate change. That’s because change is a risk, and risk is, well, risky.
But so is staying in an unhealthy or dissatisfying situation.
Engaging in the same behaviors over and over, even when they bring us little to no joy, is one of the biggest risks in life. We’re risking our mental and physical wellbeing, and more than that, we’re wasting our very limited time.
Committing to something hard, improving our mental and physical health, bettering our financial situation, supporting our family – that’s how you truly maximize fulfillment while making the most of your time.
I’m happy to help chart your career progression, set realistic goals, or brainstorm job search strategies – just reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org. Here’s to overhauling our bad habits and making lasting change!