It’s that time of year again. As soon as we’ve recovered from the office Christmas party, the tradition of making New Year resolutions kicks in. We start dreaming of fresh starts and big plans.

My advice is to ditch the life-makeover books.  Let’s celebrate what’s already great about you instead.  Let’s focus on your achievements and all the benefits you bring to those in your professional and personal life every day.

Then, let’s tell people about it in a positive, powerful CV and LinkedIn profile.  Many of us spend the holidays dreaming about a better-paying job, a return to work or a new career direction. If that includes you, just commit to taking small positive steps towards that goal.

Here’s where to start.

Stop dreaming, start planning

If you’d like to make some real, lasting changes in your professional life, start with a brainstorm. If you’re already dreading Blue Monday, try to figure out exactly why. Evaluate what you like and dislike about your job.

Maybe you feel you’re just coasting and are frustrated with not getting the promotions you deserve? Or maybe you’ve had enough of the long hours and commutes? Sometimes personal circumstances change and the international assignments that once seemed so exciting are now just draining.

Being clear about your motivation for making changes is vital.  It’s likely that there are some common themes in your career history and analysing these can help you decide your next steps. For example, do you want to stay in your current industry, use your skills in a different industry or go back to a sector you enjoyed a few years ago?  Or, are you up for doing something completely different?

Get some positive momentum going

Start listing all your achievements – professional and personal. Include everything; it’s going to be a long list but you can edit later. Keep it positive and upbeat. Your CV is not the place to wallow in past mistakes.

Think about every role you’ve had. What benefits did you bring to your employer? Did you increase sales, transform a team or deliver successful projects?

If you’re a college leaver without much of an employment record, think in terms of part-time roles, internships and work experience. Make a note of any college projects, sports, clubs and positions of responsibility. What skills have you developed and what successes have you had?

If you’re returning to work after an extended career break, you’ll still have notable achievements from both your break and your previous roles. You’ve probably half-forgotten about many of the projects you’ve delivered or promotions you’ve celebrated. But you did them. Think back beyond the headlines such as “launched new product” and go through the steps you took to make that happen and the impact you had.  

Sometimes I speak to CV clients who think they don’t have any achievements. I can guarantee you that every single one has. They just don’t recognise them as achievements or they’ve forgotten.

Start writing that list.  Put it aside for 24 hours and give it another go, more achievements will come to you. Gather facts, figures and put together a portfolio of your work that showcases your skills and experience. Once you’ve got enough data, start to sift through it and think about what’s CV worthy.

Do your field research

Thankfully, as it’s December and cold outside, you can do most of this from the comfort of home. Have a look at some job ads and person specifications for the types of role you’re interested in. I always advise tweaking your CV for each job application.

Consider the employer, the nuances of the role and the skills required.  It’s not as daunting as it sounds. Once you’ve crafted a powerful CV, the heavy lifting work has been done. You can then adapt your CV to the target role.

Set realistic resolutions

Once you’ve collated all the evidence of your achievements and done your job research, you’re in a good position to spot any gaps.

If you’re already able to deliver in your dream role – then great, go for it. If you’ve identified skills, training or experience gaps – then this is the perfect time to fill them. Are there courses you could sign up for? Perhaps a programme of self study?

This is also a good time to join (or re-join) relevant professional associations or networking groups. Check out Meetup and see what’s going on in your area. When January comes round, you can start venturing out to connect with like-minded people and discover potential job vacancies or learning opportunities.

One of my favourite New Year quotes is from Vern McLellan: “What the New Year brings to you will depend a great deal on what you bring to the New Year.” This sentiment certainly applies to proactively managing your career.  Reviewing and refreshing your CV and LinkedIn profile is a practical first step you can take during the quiet holiday period.

If you’d like some further help kick-starting your 2018 career development programme, take a look at my CV and LinkedIn writing tips and my career podcast.  They’re all free. You can do them from home, so you can drink hot chocolate and stay warm. There really are no excuses, so stop wishing and start doing. Then you’ll really have something to celebrate in the New Year.