Tips on setting career goals for 2021

woman writing on white board

Some people would like to chalk up this year to the pandemic and reboot their professional life in 2021. I’m here to say that is entirely possible, even in uncertain times. You can make a fresh start and find a job, change careers or set new goals in 2021. Here are some tips on career planning in the new year.

Know yourself and take time to assess. Reflecting on your skills, values and interests is an important part of the career planning process. Even if you know what you want to do, assessment can help you refine your goals. Check out our self-assessments at acsss.wisc.edu under the “career and education planning” menu. Understanding yourself helps you make more informed career decisions.

Set up informational interviews. It’s always best to hear what a career or job is like first-hand, from someone working in the field. And, yes, you can do informational interviews remotely! Get a better feel for the field, explore a company or organization and learn specific job responsibilities from a primary source. Don’t forget to prepare questions ahead of time and follow-up with a thank you email. For more tips, check out acsss.wisc.edu/informational-interviewing.

headshot of April McHugh
UW-Madison Continuing Studies Career Counselor April McHugh

Network. Even social distancing can’t stop one of the most powerful tools in career planning: networking. Reach out to your current network, develop new contacts and touch base with someone you haven’t been in touch with for a while. Leverage technology to seek and maintain connections. From sharing a socially distanced coffee chat to attending video meetings hosted by professional organizations, continue to engage with people in your field or in the field you’d like to enter.

Leverage LinkedIn. Many people see LinkedIn as just a place for their resume—but it’s so much more. It’s a great platform for staying connected to professionals in many different industries. Beyond connecting with people, learn about other features of this social media giant. Join groups, post your accomplishments, write an article, ask questions and build your best professional presence online. Employers definitely look at LinkedIn when hiring.

Explore professional development and education options. Think of education in a broad sense and be a lifelong learner. Keep skills up to date, prepare for future shifts and stay interested and engaged in your work through continuing education. Many workplaces offer free online trainings, webinars and speakers. And a host of professional conferences currently take place online at a reduced rate. Know what you need in your job or desired career before committing to more costly options like licensures and degrees.

Whatever path you take to career planning in the new year, make sure you develop an attainable plan. Break it down into smaller steps and complete a task or two each week to reach your goal. Remember to be flexible and give yourself some grace during difficult times.

On that note, UW–Madison’s Continuing Studies was not immune to economic hits from the pandemic, and we will no longer offer career services to the broader community. However, we look forward to introducing you to our dynamic educational advisors next month, ready to assist adult students returning to school.

Finally, a very special thank you to our Career Services Director Sybil Pressprich, retiring after 24 years of service in support of the career and education dreams of so many.

This column first appeared in the Wisconsin State Journal.