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Do you know where you’re heading in your career? Do you know what your education is going to lead you to in your future work? If you’re not working on professional goal setting, then chances are you don’t have answers to these questions. Setting career goals serves as your road map for the future, giving you the ability to strive with intention for what you want most.

A strategic road map made from carefully thought-out career goals is critical, but how can you get to that point? With so many people changing jobs and careers year after year, with no clear goal in sight, career planning is visibly something many people don’t know how to do. This guide will help you understand how to set career goals, and how to use them to further your success.

What Are Career Goals?

It may seem obvious what career goals are, but for some people, they can feel a little ambiguous. Sure, you know you want to advance in your career, but that’s not a career goal.

Career goals are specific targets you can strive for that guide your career advancement planning. These can fall into two categories: short-term and long-term goals. They help you follow your passion while also increasing your potential income and pushing you toward excellence in your work.

Like all types of goals, career goals need to be measurable. You can’t simply say, “I want to advance in my career.” You need to say exactly what you want to achieve, and when you wish to achieve it.

In addition, career goals need to be clear. You must be able to look at the goal and know exactly what it is that you need to achieve to meet that goal.

Finally, career goals need to be achievable. While it may be admirable to set your sights on becoming the CEO of a company in less than a year, for most people, this is not achievable. Push yourself but know what is and is not possible as you set your goals.

Why Setting Career Goals Is Important

Career goal planning is vital to your success in any field you make your own. Having goals you can push for helps you feel more satisfied on the job. Greater job satisfaction means greater overall happiness, particularly in your career.

Not only that, but career goal setting is imperative to your work performance. In 2017, the staffing firm Accountemps surveyed over 1,000 office workers across the country. They found that 93% of professionals felt career goals were important to their performance on the job. Over half, 64%, said it was very important and over a fourth, 29%, said it was “somewhat important.” Only 7% claimed it was not very improvident to them.

Goals are also important to helping you earn more as you advance in your career. Job satisfaction and performance set the stage for advancement. Career goal planning and professional goal setting can open the door to raises and promotions. When you are pushing yourself towards a clear and achievable goal, your supervisors and managers are going to notice your work ethic and overall happiness on the job. If your goals line up with business objectives, pushing yourself to reach them will mean pushing the business towards a more successful position. This benefits the company and will get noticed.

Finally, setting career goals can help if you find your job unfulfilling. When you learn how to come up with career goals that will guide you toward a better end result, you may be able to push through a less fulfilling period of your work. Or you may be able to see that your current position is not helping you achieve what you want, helping you make the decision to look for new opportunities.

How to Come up with Career Goals

Career goals are important but setting career goals can feel a little out of reach. How can you come up with goals that are measurable and attainable?

First, get actively engaged in your career and the resources of your workplace. For most people, as stated in an article from TheBalanceCareers.com, “career focus won’t come as an epiphany from soul searching in isolation, but rather through active engagement with career resources and people in the work world.” Get out there and talk to the people who are in your desired career. Discuss goal planning with your manager. Get as much advice as you can to help you zero in on the right goal for your particular plan.

Develop a Career Vision Statement

Before you start setting your goals, you need to have an over-arching idea of where you want to go. A career vision statement can guide the rest of your career goal planning, so it’s worthwhile to spend some time here.

To do this, you should give yourself time to create your vision statement. You may have to do this several times before you get a clear vision of where you want to go and how you will get there, so be patient with yourself. Next, try some visioning exercises. Ask yourself:

  • How do I define career success? What does a successful worker or professional look like to me?
  • If all of my bills were paid and I had complete freedom, what would I want to do today?
  • If I could make my job or career exactly what I wanted, what would it look like?
  • What types of accomplishments and impacts do I want people to remember about me when I’m gone?
  • If money, time, and talent were no obstacles, what would I want to accomplish in my profession?
  • Do I have any gift or calling? How can I pursue those?

A career vision statement gives you purpose in your career. It can be lofty, and it should be inspiring. Here is an example:

“I plan to touch the lives of many people as an RN leading a team in a major hospital that helps patients achieve better wellness after illness or surgical procedures. I plan to achieve this career vision through furthering my career in a medical office and then moving to a hospital setting where I will deliver superior patient care while looking for opportunities to lead others.”

Use this time of reflection to define a vision statement that will guide your career and your goal planning. When you’re learning how to come up with career goals, this is a critical first step.

Set Long-Term Career Goals First

Once you have that vision statement to guide you, think about your career as a whole. What is it that you want to attain by the end of your time working? This is where you can strive for the stars. Do you want to become a CEO? Do you want to have a published work or professional study? Do you want to be able to make money pursuing a charitable or environmental passion? All of these are things you can do if you set your mind to it, but they may take time.

Unlike the career vision statement, your long-term goals should be specific and measurable. They should be guided by your vision statement but be a little different.

Don’t be afraid to dream big when setting your long-term career goals. Decide what would make you happiest in your work and write it down. Then, decide what a reasonable time frame would be to achieve that. Set one or two long-term goals and use them to define your short-term goals.

Create Measurable, Achievable Short-Term Goals

Once you have your long-term goals set, you are ready to break down an action plan to help you get there. These are your short-term goals.

Short-term goals are set regularly. Once you attain one, you’ll go through the process of setting the next one. Here are some specific strategies to use to set those short-term goals.

  • Keep them SMART. SMART is an acronym that stands for specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time sensitive. Every one of your short-term goals needs to fit within these parameters. If you’ve never set SMART goals, learn how to do so.
  • Prioritize your goals while career goal planning. You may have a lot of goals, so which one will you work towards first? This keeps you from getting overwhelmed as you start trying to reach those goals.
  • Break them down. Even with short-term goals, you may need to break them down further into specific tasks you can cross off of a career “to do” list more regularly. This keeps you motivated to strive toward the goals.

These short-term goals will be your road map to reach your long-term goals, so spend some time here.

General Tips for Goal Planning

As you make your career goals, whether they are your long-term or your short-term goals, here are some tips that will make your career goal planning easier:

1. Work Backwards

Setting your long-term goals first lets you work backward. You can keep your final destination in mind as you pick your short-term goals. By the time you’re done with career goal setting, you will have a road map you can follow to get you from where you are now to where you want to be.

2. Be Specific

The more specific you can be about your goals, the better. Instead of saying, “I want to become an RN,” say “I want to become an RN within two years.” Instead of saying, “I want a managerial position,” say, “I want to lead my department by the end of the year.” Even if you don’t attain the goal by the deadline, the more detailed you are, the better you can evaluate your success or make changes mid-stream.

3. Write Them Down

Setting career goals is more effective if you take the time to write down what you want to accomplish. This gives you a visual reminder of what you’re striving to achieve. It makes you more motivated to reach for the goal and not give up, even if the path gets a little more challenging.

4. Ask Your Boss

If you’re already working within your career field, consider meeting with your manager or boss to find out what you can do to perform better and achieve the next step of your goal. Don’t wait for your annual review, either. If you have a specific goal, ask your manager more frequently what you can do to reach it.

Keep Adapting and Adjusting to Make Career Goal Planning Work for You!

Establishing career goals is an important exercise to put you on the path toward a rewarding career but remember this: Career goal planning is an ongoing activity.

Your goals may change, your life circumstances will change, and your end destination may look different than it does right now. Give yourself the freedom and flexibility to change and adjust your career goals as you figure out who you are and where you want to go. But don’t let the reality of change keep you from embracing career goals and career planning. Always evaluate. But use your goals as a road map to your personal and professional success.

If your career goal planning shows a need for further education, talk to an admissions counselor at Post University to see how our flexible degree options could fit your plan. 

Thank you for reading! The views and information provided in this post do not reflect Post University programs and/or outcomes directly. If you are interested in learning more about our programs, you can find a complete list of our programs on our website or reach out directly!