Do a Year-End Review of Your Career

Now is a good time to evaluate your work and work life.

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Karen Burns
As we near the end of 2009 (frankly, a year many of us won’t mind saying goodbye to), now is a good time to evaluate your work and work life. Even if you feel less than great about your career right now, it’s always a smart idea to take a moment and consider how your past actions brought you to where you are today. It’s a chance to not only make sense of it all, but to prepare for the challenges of the new year ahead.

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Some companies schedule year-end performance reviews for their employees, and these can help tremendously. But if your company doesn’t, or you are self-employed or not employed right now, you can do your own year-end review.

Since finding the time for contemplative thought is often difficult, especially this time of year, here’s a suggested plan for splitting up the job into three shorter mini-sessions. (Note: Whether you do your year-end review by yourself or with someone else is up to you. Some people do their best thinking alone in an empty room; some benefit from the input of a mentor, friend, or loved one. Your call.)

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Mini-session No. 1: Take a couple of hours to collect some “artifacts” from your year of work. These can include your 2009 appointment calendar, pay stubs, notes from talks or presentations you’ve made, HR performance reviews, awards you’ve won, receipts from professional luncheons you’ve attended, letters/memos of complaint, programs from conferences you’ve attended or courses you’ve completed, your resume, cover letters for jobs you’ve applied for, rejection letters, thank-you notes, invoices, memos announcing new business, spread sheets of sales figures, or lists of clients won or lost. You won’t have all of these—each person’s artifacts will be different. The idea here is to gather some tangible evidence of your work life in 2009 and use it as a thinking tool.

Mini-session No. 2: Next, evaluate the artifacts. This is a two-step process. First, make a list of all the items you collected. Next to each item, write down the “lesson learned.” Just use a few words or a phrase, and write the first thing that occurs to you. For example, next to “clients won or lost” you could write “learned that I should not have stopped giving free estimates.” Next to “appointment calendar,” you might write “learned that scheduling meetings for one hour before close of business kept the meetings on track.” You might have more than one lesson learned for an item. That’s OK.

Second, divide your list of lessons in two: negatives and positives. A negative might be losing out on new business because you didn’t get the proposal in on time, or receiving a bad performance review because of disorganization or tardiness. A positive might be the 10 new contacts you made as a result of joining that networking group, or the raise you got because customers wrote letters of appreciation to your boss. Put these two new lists aside.

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Mini-session No. 3: Take out your negative and positive lists. For the negatives, can you identify any fixes? Think in terms of new skills or certifications, better organization, improved bookkeeping, stepped-up networking—things that, if you had been doing them, you might not have suffered said setbacks. Write that idea next to the item. For the positives, give yourself a pat on the back, consider how you might do even more of whatever it was you did right, and write that down, too.

Guess what? You have just evaluated an entire year of your work life. You’ve identified specific areas that need improvement, and brainstormed specific ideas for improving them. You’ve reminded yourself of your successes, which is a confidence booster, and you’ve thought of ways to leverage those successes.

Stay tuned. We’ll talk more about goal setting and career resolutions in January.

Karen Burns is the author of the illustrated career advice book The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl: Real-Life Career Advice You Can Actually Use, recently released by Running Press. She blogs at