The Outsider: Forget New Year's resolutions, think objectives...

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Now's the time to get a grip, says ex-author and banker David Charters.

It's back to work time. The holidays are over, the end of year celebrations long forgotten, and the only thing that's certain in everybody's mind is that there's an ambitious budget for the year ahead. However well (or badly) you did last year, this year has to be better.

It's easy under these circumstances to put your head down and charge, chasing everything in the market, working crazy hours, rolling with the punches as the people at the top pass their own sense of nervousness and paranoia down the corporate food chain. Even the best organizations can fall into the trap of confusing activity with achievement.

But the key at this time of year is to keep a cool head, work out where you want to be in 12 months' time, and then do something about it. The year-end provides a natural breathing space, a sort of punctuation mark in the corporate cycle, from which to seek to redirect your efforts, stake out new territory, prioritise particular goals.

Imagine you are advising a client. One of the favourite advisory games is to get them to imagine where they want to be in a year's time, then work backwards to identify the things that would have had to happen to make it possible. And then do them.

Never assume someone else is doing this for you. The firm may talk the talk of personal and professional development, nurturing talent and the need to offer its people broad experience, but the reality is that many investment banks are happy simply to have an able pool of well-drilled foot soldiers who can do the same thing over and over again, only faster and with less supervision. That doesn't necessarily lay the foundations for a great career.

So take responsibility. Ask the head of syndicate if you can fill in for Joe on the New York syndicate desk when he heads to Bermuda to play golf. Explain that you worked on 12 straight equity deals last year, and would like to spend some time with the equity-linked team this year. Put your hand up to sit in on the beauty parades for the next big IPO the bank is advising on, taking the notes, and at the same time enjoying an investment banking master-class offered by your principal competitors.

It all adds up - every deal, every client, every task is a sort of credential, and in this most chaotic of industries you have to take charge yourself. Become your own career manager. Let that be your New Year's resolution.

David Charters' latest book, The Ego Has Landed, is published by Elliott and Thompson, price 9.99.

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