4 Steps to an Annual Career Audit

Cheryl Rich Heisler

Preparing for tax time is, well, taxing.

But as every tax article ever written will tell you, a little planning along the way can be a huge help in making smart decisions and the most of every opportunity.

That same philosophy rings true for career planning. Doing what I call an annual career audit can help ensure you make smart decisions about career opportunities as they arise. Let’s walk through the steps.

1. Start a filing system. Just as you need to organize your documents for tax planning, you need to find a system that will enable you to keep job ideas, postings, applications, and networking contacts accessible. I encourage my clients to set up filing systems, not unlike organizing for an apsect of litigation or an upcoming transaction.

Keep detailed notes of contact information, meaningful personal data, and other information you’ve gained during networking meetings, including any learnings (good or bad) that you take away from the encounter and any other names and resources given you for follow up.

Being able to circle back with someone who was helpful to you in your search to say thanks and fill them in on what you learned subsequent to that initial meeting is a great way to build an active, ongoing, and meaningful relationship.

2. Understand your requirements. Good tax planning requires an evaluation of all the available deductions and how you might be able to claim them.

Good career planning requires an evaluation of all the available benefits (economic, social, geographic, cultural, and so on) in your current position and what it might take for you to be swayed to move elsewhere.

In other words, what are your basic job requirements? These requirements will differ from person to person. Focus in on what’s important for you to be happy in your day-to-day work, and be resolute in not changing for the sake of change. Remember, more money doesn’t always buy more job satisfaction.

3. Evaluate the benefits offered against the benefits of staying in place. When you do learn of a new industry or job opportunity, you need to do your due diligence.

In tax parlance, for example, if you’re hoping to take advantage of a particular tax credit, you need to understand the ins and outs of that strategy to save yourself from missing out on the full tax benefit. In career jargon, you need to understand the details and nuances of a new job, company, or career before blindly jumping ahead.

Secondary-market research as well as disciplined personal networking about a role, a company, or an industry can help you ferret out the key details you need to make an informed career decision.

4. Invest in yourself. Just as you might reroute otherwise disposable income into an IRA to afford yourself some tax savings down the road, think of the time spent investigating other potential positions, networking, writing articles, giving speeches, and volunteering as delayed gratification for your career that will pay you back over time.

While short-term, high-risk financial gambles do occasionally pay off, my money is on the steady, long-term approach to both tax and career planning.

Of course, like general tax planning information, this four-step process is designed to be broadly educational, not personalized career advice. Before you take any action, I suggest you consider seeking the assistance of a professional who knows you and your career goals.

Cheryl Rich Heisler is the president and founder of the Chicago-based Lawternatives, a career consultancy helping lawyers transition into careers inside, outside, and around the law. She has worked in industries ranging from BigLaw to brand management for a Fortune 100 company to hosting a radio feature on career issues to outplacement consulting. She’s also a board member for the ABA Career Center.