How to Set Career Goals: Examples & Tips to Help You Achieve Them

How to Set Career Goals: Examples & Tips to Help You Achieve Them

How is your career going? Are you in a job that you love? Do you feel your life is on course? While we may be very used to setting and achieving goals in our work, sometimes we forget to set goals for ourselves. Sometimes we even confuse our goals at work with our own career goals. They may be related, but they are not the same.

If you are feeling a little lost in the career department, it might be a good time to step back and reflect on the big picture and establish career goals that will help position you for success. Goals for your professional life that also support your overall life goals. So, what professional experiences would you like to have?

What are Career Goals?

If you are one of the fortunate ones who know exactly what they want from a career, a career goal is a statement describing the career path or ideal position that you intend to pursue. However, for many, career goals are fuzzy utopian visions of our future success. Without direction, and especially when entering the job market for the first time, it can be easy to fall into the first opportunity that comes along.

Unfortunately, when you take a disorganized or ad hoc approach to your career, it is easy to find yourself in unfulfilling career paths that are far from your initial imagining. Even if you can’t define exactly what you want your career path to look like, you can identify professional experiences and situations that you aspire to or that you know you enjoy.

Envision the Big Picture

The important thing to remember as you set your goals is that they should reflect the big-picture vision for your professional life and complement the goals you have for your personal life as well. This means that your career goals need to align with your personal values and beliefs. Below are five primary areas to consider as you develop them.

  • Money. How much money will it take to make you happy? While you may not want to be overly materialistic, it’s important to be honest with yourself about what lifestyle you wish you enjoy.
  • Passion. What lights you up? Consider when you are most happy in your work or studies. What activities put you in the zone where you are fully absorbed in your task?
  • Strengths. In what ways do you excel at work and in your studies? Where do you get the highest marks or recognition from managers and coworkers? If you have difficulty identifying areas of strength, you can take a variety of self-assessment tools that can help.
  • Challenges. What are your areas of weakness? Remember that you can always remediate a weakness by taking a skills course or gaining practical experience.
  • Autonomy. Do you prefer working closely with others or completing projects independently? This is especially important for individuals wanting to work remotely or in the field.

Examples of Career Development Goals

Once you establish your career goals, it can be helpful to divide them into short-term and long-term goals for planning purposes. Defining short-and long-term goals is largely subjective, but a rule of thumb is that a short-term plan is between 3 months to a few years and a long-term goal would be over 3 years. Below are a few examples of common short-term and long-term career goals.

Short-term career goals:

  • Learn a new skill. Is there a new tool, language, or soft skill that will position you for success?
  • Expand your professional network. A robust professional network can be key to advancing your career goals.
  • Improve your productivity. Improving time-management skills or learning more efficient ways to accomplish professional tasks.
  • Gain specific experience. Look for opportunities to enhance your hands-on experience.
  • Improve work-life balance. Make sure to allow for personal as well as professional development.

Long-term career goals:

  • Earn a degree. Look ahead to the credentials that will help land your dream job. Will you need a degree? What about an MBA?
  • Start your own business. Establishing the comprehensive skill set required to build your own business can take time. What skills will you need?
  • Get a promotion. Following an internal career path can be very rewarding. Check with the human resources department to learn about advancement opportunities and requirements.
  • Land your dream job. This can take multiple jobs to accomplish depending on the job. What experience will you need? What education are you expected to have?
  • Change your career. If you are feeling dissatisfied with your current career path, a career change can get you back on track. Identify what experience and skills you will need to transition.

How to Achieve Your Career Goals

It’s not enough to just set goals. You also need to establish a plan of action to work toward achieving your professional ambitions. You need to identify and then implement strategies and tactics to help you advance toward the vision you have set for yourself. Most strategies will fall into one of the following categories:

  • Technical improvement. Identify skills courses or intermediate positions where you can gain practical experience to gain the skills you need.
  • Leadership development. Evaluate your leadership skills and make plans to remediate weaknesses, gain experience, and complete the necessary training to position yourself for promotion.
  • Educational advancement. There are some positions that require certain education credentials. Be realistic and plan to acquire the education you need.
  • Soft skills enhancement. More and more employers are looking for emotional intelligence in their workforce, especially as more and more companies offer remote and hybrid working arrangements.

Make Your Career Goals SMART

Now that you have a vision of your career and have identified what needs to be done to accomplish your goals, it’s time to write your plan. Creating individual plans and writing them as SMART goals can help to establish expectations, timelines, and measures of success. This can help to make your goals feel possible and achievable.

What is a SMART goal?

  • S: Specific. Create a detailed statement that accurately summarizes your goal. Try and answer the 5 W questions: Who? What? Where? When? Why?
  • M: Measurable. How will you measure the achievement of the career goal? Establish criteria so you know when your goal is achieved.
  • A: Achievable. Is the goal realistic? If so, make a list of the skills and resources you need to acquire in order to accomplish the goal.
  • R: Relevant. How does this career goal align with your broader life vision? Why is the result important?
  • T: Time-Bound. What is the time frame for accomplishing the career goal?

How to Use Your Goals to Impress Employers

Now that you have your career goals and action plans in place, you can leverage them to help you advance your career. Whether you are looking for a new position or are trying to get ahead in your current role, having well-articulated career goals is a surefire way to impress employers.

  • During an interview. “What are your career goals?” and “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” are common interview questions. This is because employers want to know that your goals dovetail with their current needs as well as their future plans.  
  • During a performance review. Employers want to hire and promote purposeful, intentional, and goal-oriented individuals. Use your performance review to not only assist your employer in meeting their business goals but also to help forward your career goals as well.

A Last Word…

While setting career goals, it is important to keep in mind that as important as they are to make, dreams can change over time. Try not to be inflexible with your career goals and allow for them to adjust and morph as your life circumstances unfold. In addition, and especially with long-term goals that can seem impossibly far off, keep a positive mindset and remember to celebrate all of your wins, no matter how small. By staying flexible and positive, you can accomplish all of your dreams!

What are your short- and long-term career goals? What steps do you take to achieve them? Connect with Virtual Vocations on FacebookTwitterLinkedInInstagram, and YouTube to share your thoughts and tips. We’d love to hear from you!

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