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Status Update and Goal Setting

Introduction

Over the next few weeks you will be meeting with your career services advisor as you prepare to start your capstone class. You’ll be discussing your ideal outcome, how you plan to get there, and what might get in the way. This lesson will help you prepare for this meeting and create a plan for the next section of the program.

Identifying a Successful Outcome

Think back to the SMART goals you set at the beginning of the program. What long term outcomes are those goals moving you toward? It’s easy to get wrapped up in the quest to get your first job and lose track of your long term plans. Now is a good time to remind yourself of your “why”: why you decided to come to Epicodus, why you want to be a developer, why you decided to get into tech. Most people start this journey to build a lasting career in tech. Your idea of a successful outcome might look different, but it’s a good idea to check in with yourself about what you hope to achieve in the next 5-10 years as we set off on the next stage of your journey.

Ask yourself a few of these questions to check back in with your desired outcome:

  • Where do I want to be professionally in one year? Three years? Five years?
  • What do I want my day to day life to look like? How do I want to feel most days?
  • What really sparks my curiosity?
  • Have my goals or interests within tech changed at all since I started this program? If so, what changed?
  • How do I envision my professional life supporting my non-work related goals?

Goal Setting

As we move into the Capstone course, the way class is structured will change. We’ve had structured assignments, lessons, and deadlines for twenty weeks. Now we’ll be doing more self-directed learning aimed at helping you land a great job in tech. This means you will have more control over what you’re learning and can decide what to study to get you closer to your goals. However, with more freedom comes some challenges. You will need to work out systems for setting goals and staying accountable and motivated without the external motivators of code and career reviews.

Let’s start with setting goals. To be successful in your job search, you will need to set both job search and coding goals. Coding goals might look like “Finish three personal projects and add them to my portfolio in the next eight weeks”; “Learn the basics of python and complete a project that utilizes Python in the next four weeks”; or “Contribute to an open source project on a weekly basis for the remainder of the program”. Job search goals might look like “Apply to 5 jobs per week”; “Join a meetup group about one of my coding interests to network with developers and attend each meeting”; “revisit my portfolio/resume/linkedin profile over the next two weeks”; or “attend 3 job fairs over the next eight weeks”. These are just a few examples. Your goals will look different depending on what you are hoping to achieve. However, it’s essential that you set goals so that you have a roadmap to achieving your ultimate outcome - a career in tech.

Notice that the example goals we mentioned are SMART - specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. This style of goal setting is important, so please revisit this lesson on SMART goals for a refresher if you need one. Setting SMART goals will help you stay on track without the external goal posts that you relied on before this point. You spent a long time learning how to learn, now you will be focused on learning how to direct your own learning.

This is important for your job search, but it will be important for your long-term career as well. There may be times when you will have to learn a new tool or language on the job, and your employer probably won’t give you an exact roadmap for how to get there. After this, you should be able to map out a path for yourself to learn a new skill, create a new project, get a new job, or achieve almost any goal. You’ll use this skill over and over throughout your professional life.

Here are some tips for breaking your goals down into steps and staying on track:

  • Break each goal down into individual steps. This is sometimes called “chunking”, meaning you break a task or problem down into bite sized chunks of activity. For example, if your goal is to attend three job fairs over the next eight weeks, you can break that down into multiple smaller steps:
  • Look for job fairs in your area and virtual ones that will be happening during your planned timeline.
  • Put together a short list of the job fairs you found
  • Look over the details of each job fair on your short list
  • Decide which three you plan to attend
  • Register for each job fair
  • Prepare for the first job fair - attire, resume/cover letter, research what companies will attend, etc
  • Attend the job fair and make note of what went well and what you’d like to do differently for the next fair.
  • If you have any next steps, like following up with recruiters or submitting applications online, do them now.
  • Prepare for job fair #2
  • Attend job fair #2, again taking note of what went well and what you’d like to do for the final job fair.
  • Any next steps from job fair #2
  • Repeat the last three steps for job fair #3.

As you can see, a relatively simple-seeming goal can be broken down into many steps. While this may look complicated, breaking it down into simple steps allows you to set mini deadlines for when you’d like each step to be completed, and it helps you track exactly where you are in the process. It helps you avoid going off track, because you have a clear roadmap to follow step by step. Having mini deadlines helps keep you accountable because you will be working from a timeline where each step leads to the next one. This helps you avoid just planning to do something and never quite getting it done.

  • Think about your “why” – there will be times when you don’t want to work on your goals. When this happens, check in with yourself about why these goals are important. How are they moving you closer to your ultimate goal? Connect with your reason for doing this work. If you ask yourself this question and realize that the tasks you are working on aren’t moving you closer to your current goal, maybe you need to change them or move on to a different, more relevant goal.
  • Have a plan for low energy days – Sometimes you may not have as much energy as you hoped for whatever reason. It’s important to rest and take care of yourself, but if it’s reasonable to still do some work towards your goals, we encourage you to do that too. If you need a day off, take one. If you just need a reduced workload, have a plan for what you can do that will help move you forward and keep your momentum going, while being reasonable about what you can accomplish that day.
  • Small, consistent steps are better than infrequent bursts – Don’t wait for inspiration to strike. There might be days where you feel super motivated and productive and can get a lot of work done. Those usually aren’t super frequent, however, and it can be tough to plan for them. Instead, focus on what you can do on a regular basis, even on days when you don’t feel especially motivated. You will make faster progress by being consistent.

Motivation

As we’ve mentioned, it can become difficult to maintain motivation as class becomes less structured and graduation approaches. This happens for a few different reasons. One reason is because you have fewer external deadlines imposed by code and career reviews. These learning checkpoints have kept you on track throughout the past 20 weeks. As these checkpoints are phased out, it can sometimes be difficult to motivate yourself to continue to study and search for jobs. This is another reason why it is so important to set SMART goals for yourself. These goals will help you maintain structure and forward momentum when you don’t have as much external structure to rely on. You will also have your cohort-mates and the advising team to lean on and help you find a structure that works for you.

Others struggle with motivation because they want to do too many things and become overwhelmed. For this reason, it’s important to narrow your focus to a few languages, frameworks, or skills. Breaking down your goals into smaller chunks can also help you avoid feeling overwhelmed. Impostor syndrome and nervousness about the job search can impact how motivated you are to continue moving forward as well. These feelings are very common and understandable. It may help to acknowledge the stress or nerves you are feeling, and make a conscious decision to work through them. Avoiding applying for jobs, or not touching your coding projects will only amplify your fears and set you back in your process. It can be uncomfortable, but it helps to gently encourage yourself to continue moving forward even when part of you isn’t sure if you’re on the right track.

We like to think that we feel motivated and then we do a task. However, it’s actually more accurate to say that motivation follows action (cite this!). It’s more likely that you will start working on a project for the day and then feel motivated to continue, rather than feeling motivated to work on the project before you start. Rely on creating good habits, and motivation will follow.

Creating a Job Search Strategy

Now we’ll use what we’ve covered in this lesson so far to create a job search strategy. This is really just a plan for how you will spend your time in order to effectively move towards your goals. Here are some questions to ask yourself to create your plan:

  • Where will I look for job posts? What days/times will I set aside for looking for posts, and where will I keep track of them?
  • How many applications will I send out each week? What days/times will I set aside to complete them?
  • How much time will I spend coding each week, and how will I break that time up? When will I work on portfolio projects, code challenges, and refactoring old projects?
  • How do I plan to network? Will I be posting on social media as part of my networking strategy? Will I attend meetups or participate in open source?
  • What resources do I currently have access to that will help me in my job search?
  • What challenges might come up in my job search, and how can I address them?
  • How will I make myself stand out from other applicants?

Revisiting Your Skills, Strengths, and Story

As you work on your job search strategy, take some time to review the career services work you did in the first few weeks of class. How have your skills and strengths changed? Would you tell your story any differently in an interview or networking setting than you did early on? Make some updates so that you’re prepared to share your skills and story in a way that reflects the growth you’ve achieved. This will come in handy as you begin interviewing for jobs and internships.

Next Steps

In this lesson we revisited goal setting, explored our “why” and desired outcome for our career, and learned about motivation and common struggles. You will be meeting with your advisor soon to check-in about how you feel moving forward into the next phase of your studies, your SMART goals, your “why”, and any motivation challenges you anticipate. To make the most of your meeting, take some time to reflect on this lesson and write down your thoughts, goals, and concerns. Save this for your meeting with your advisor so you can share your process and come up with a plan to achieve your goals together.