How to Set and Achieve Your Career Goals

How to Set and Achieve Your Career Goals

  • To create career goals, you must first define what a career goal means to you.
  • Career goals consist of both short-term and long-term objectives.
  • It may require many steps to achieve your ultimate career goals, but with patience and diligence, you can reach what you envision.
  • This article is for those looking to take the next steps in their careers and actively pursue both long- and short-term career goals.

Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic first struck, workers have been more introspective about their careers. The Great Resignation has seen people leaving jobs they find unfulfilling. Organizations need to focus on employee empowerment to maintain their top workers. Businesses that emphasize their team’s well-being and lifestyle will retain more employees and help them become successful.

“Organizations benefit when employees have clear goals that help meet overall business objectives,” said Michael Steinitz, senior executive director of professional talent solutions at Robert Half. “Employees who can see a clear future with a company and feel supported in their professional endeavors are more likely to want to stay with the company.”

You have more agency over your profession than ever. If you want to take control of your career, plot out your goals and draw inspiration from those who have similar paths or jobs. Here’s how you can get into the right mindset to discover and achieve your career goals.

What is an example of a career goal?

Setting a career goal is an easy process; all you need to do is have a specific target in mind. For example, if a teenager wants to someday be the CEO of a large automotive plant, they must go through several stages in order to achieve the end result.

The first stage is successfully completing high school. After that, they might enroll in a four-year university and focus their coursework on business management and/or engineering. While enrolled in college, they might work in a local automotive plant as an intern or in an entry-level position. Through their studies and by working their way up through the automotive plant, they will increase their chances of getting the position of CEO.

Career goals vary from person to person. Some may be only looking for ways to advance their current career. This could include getting certified in a new skill, building up their professional network, earning a promotion or starting their own business in the same industry.

Other people may have goals to change their career and profession entirely. For those who want a career change, they’ll need to achieve many goals, including networking, additional education and a skills assessment. Switching careers can be both challenging and rewarding; for those who are not ready to take the full-time job leap, they can find fulfillment in a part-time position, volunteer with a charitable organization, or start a creative project. [Related: Hiring Full-Time vs. Part-Time Employees]

The difference between short-term and long-term career goals

To achieve your career goals, it’s important to have both short-term and long-term career objectives. For instance, the teenager whose primary goal is to become the CEO of an automotive company must achieve a series of short-term goals in order to achieve their long-term goal.

Short-term goals can be achieved within a short period of time, such as finishing high school within three to four years. The next short-term goal may consist of working part-time at a local plant for six months to a year. Completing all phases of your short-term career goals should ultimately lead you to your long-term goal.

Dream jobs for inspiration

You might love the job you have, but what if you could get paid to sleep all day, taste beers and chocolates, or try out rides in water parks around the world? As it turns out, you can – if you’re lucky enough to have one of these totally awesome jobs, that is.

Here are some amazing dream jobs you won’t believe exist.

  • LEGO professor: Still a kid at heart? You may want to see if there are any openings for a LEGO professor at the University of Cambridge.
  • Waterslide tester: Back in 2013, United Kingdom-based resort marketing company First Choice had a unique job position open up – a waterslide tester to try out its chain of SplashWorld water parks. Yes, that’s right – putting on a swimsuit and twisting and turning through waterslides can be a paying job.
  • Ice cream flavor guru: If you’re an ice cream fanatic who knows a thing or two about food and cooking, the “flavor guru” position at ice cream chain Ben & Jerry’s might be the right career for you.
  • Private island caretaker: What if you could spend all your time on a private island? If you pursue a career as a private island caretaker, you could do exactly that.
  • Chocolate taster: Imagine getting paid to sample treats all day. You’d check the candy’s taste, aroma, texture and (if applicable) crispness.
  • Professional sleeper: Getting paid to sleep all day sounds like a dream – literally – but some people are lucky enough to make a living by taking naps and testing luxury beds.
  • Video game tester: Ever wish you could skip work to stay home all day and play video games? You might get paid to do that if you can get a job as a video game quality assurance (QA) tester.
  • Stanley Cup guardian: Hockey fans are familiar with the Stanley Cup, the highest honor awarded in the sport – but did you know that people actually guard the trophy for a living?
  • Beer taster: Breweries sometimes hire quality technicians to ensure that the product is served correctly and that the beer’s clarity, aroma, taste, temperature and froth is appropriate.
  • Fortune cookie writer: You’ve probably opened dozens of fortune cookies in your lifetime, but did you ever stop to think about how they’re made or where their words of wisdom come from? Real people actually get paid to write the fortunes inside the cookies you crack open with your takeout.

You don’t need to scroll online job listings hoping for your dream job. Reach out to organizations you like and pitch your unique skill set based on their needs. If they believe you’d fit in their organization, they may create a job specifically for you.

Mapping out your goals

Defining your career goals is only half the process. You need to set your mind to accomplishing the goals you have created. If you don’t map out your goals, they will be more difficult to achieve. Make sure your career goals meet the following criteria:

  • They’re measurable. Set a timeframe for your short-term goals as well as your long-term goals, such as completing your business degree within three years.
  • They’re realistic. You can actually achieve these goals, and have plans in place for how you’ll do so.
  • They’re organized into a clear roadmap. Recognize the actions required to complete each step toward your overall goal.

Tips for setting career goals

Robert Half offers a few tips for workers who want to set and achieve their professional goals:

1. Work backward from your end goal.

When setting professional goals, begin with your final destination in mind and work backward. Once you know where you want your current position or overall career to go, list out the steps that will lead you to your end goal.

2. Go into detail.

Break your larger goal down into specific, quantifiable, realistic and timely goals. Attach a deadline to each one to make sure you stay on track. The more detailed you are in setting each goal, the greater the likelihood that you will achieve it.

3. Put your goals in writing.

This may seem old-fashioned, but it’s an effective practice. Write down your goals so you can remember them and hold yourself accountable for accomplishing them.

4. Enlist your manager’s help.

Robert Half found that employees who meet with their managers regularly to discuss their career goals benefit in the long run. Steinitz noted that goal progress discussions shouldn’t wait for the annual performance review. Instead, employees and managers should discuss this topic frequently, so any challenges in meeting goals can be addressed earlier.

“Managers can often remove obstacles, offer guidance and advice, or adjust goals so they’re more realistic and attainable,” he said. “Managers should ask employees about their work objectives and check in on progress regularly.”

Steinitz added that managers should be upfront about expectations and ensure that employees’ goals support overall business objectives. As an employee, you can help your boss help you by clearly outlining how your goals connect to the company’s mission.

5. Be proactive.

According to Jack Hill, senior vice president of client success at Evernorth’s MDLIVE, the key to progress in your career is taking control of it. If your boss or HR manager discusses advancement opportunities only at annual performance reviews, make a point to meet with them to talk through your potential career path. Hill said that HR should be able to provide information to potential and current employees about past career paths for others who have had the same or similar roles, and what that person must do to move up the ladder.

Gabriel Bristol, chief consultant at Intelifluence Live, said it’s important to be aware of what’s going on around you as well. Is there a job promotion you could apply for? Has your boss been dropping hints about expanding the team? Research the steps you should be taking to accomplish your career goals. You don’t want to miss an opportunity that’s right under your nose.

6. Go the extra mile.

To advance your career, you need to demonstrate that you’re engaged in your current position. It’s especially important to volunteer to go above and beyond your job description, said Brenda Reynolds, founder of BKR Consulting.

“Step up to do more, especially if it involves working beyond your own silo and working with others at varying levels and parts of the organization,” she said.

This can include leading annual fundraisers, helping with charity events, and joining the teams within your organization that plan employee or customer appreciation events, said career coach and professional resume writer Debra Ann Matthews. These events help you build capital within your company and allow you to meet a cross-section of employees, she said.

Matthews also suggested obtaining certifications and joining professional organizations within your field, regardless of your position.

“If you are a warehouse worker or production team lead, get advanced certification in OSHA. If you are a human resource professional, join the Society for Human Resource Management,” she said. “Joining professional associations will help you to meet colleagues, learn about the latest developments, and stay abreast of industry hiring trends.”

7. Use technology.

Many workers believe their career advancement will be driven by better business technologies, including tablets, project-management tools and productivity apps.

“Employees want technologies to help them be more efficient and productive,” said Sean O’Brien, managing partner at Overline VC. “[They want] to do more with less and work smarter, not harder.”

While your employer may be responsible for some of the bigger IT demands, like collaboration software, you can research tools that will help you do your job better. For instance, you can download productivity and inbox-management apps to your mobile device to keep you organized and ready to tackle your biggest work challenges.

You can also use technology to cement your presence in your field or profession. Beyond creating an active LinkedIn profile and current online resume, establish yourself as an expert in your field by blogging about your professional interests, Matthews said.

“You want your company to know that you are a subject-matter expert and go above your expected duties to help your company grow,” she said.

8. Be confident and committed.

A lack of confidence is one of the biggest obstacles to achieving both personal and professional goals. Bristol noted that workers need to believe in their own abilities, capitalize on their strengths, and address their weaknesses when planning their paths to success. When you know what you want out of your career, commit to doing whatever it takes to get there, even if it involves some risk.

“Most of us are afraid to take a risk because we might fail, but if we never take that leap to capture the career of our dreams, we won’t ever get there,” Bristol said. “Know what you want, and don’t worry about failing. If failure is in your head, you won’t be fully committed to chasing your dreams.”

Above all else, uplift those around you while creating a space for yourself within an organization.

“Dare to be more than a standout in your area of expertise, but [rather] a professional who combines that ability with the ability to engage and inspire others,” Reynolds said. “Keen people skills and the often-underrated value of emotional intelligence – these are what make success inevitable. Be the type of professional others want to follow.”

9. Guide your team members.

If you’re a manager and interested in making a difference for an employee you see in a rut, engage them in an open conversation. Sometimes the right guidance can make a difference for a good employee.

“Ask them their concerns, find out what they wanted to do for a living when they were younger, identify where their interest lies, and see if there’s a need for such a position within your organization,” said Allen Shayanfekr, CEO of Sharestates.

Assisting your employee will also strengthen their loyalty to the company.

“Employees are human beings with goals, aspirations and dreams,” Shayanfekr said. “If you can help someone achieve those dreams and enjoy their livelihood, then you’re not only building a better team but long-term loyalty.”

Specificity will help you determine how to achieve your goals. Update your goals as your ambitions change so you can plan accordingly.

Creating a career roadmap

Whether you want to run your own company or snag the corner office at your current job, you probably have an end goal for your career. But do you really know what you need to do to get there?

“It’s important for people to see the steps that are actually involved [in reaching their career goals],” said Ryan Porter, co-founder of Ruutly. “I hear so many students say things like, ‘I want to be a fashion designer’ or ‘I want to be a snowboard instructor.’ Thanks to 30- to 60-minute TV shows, these young career planners often assume things happen much quicker than they actually do.”

To get a realistic handle on what it will take to achieve your career aspirations, create a roadmap outlining the steps you need to take to reach your goals. Career experts shared their advice for mapping out a path to your ultimate dream job.

1. Know where you want to go.

You can’t map your route if you don’t know the destination. For your first step, create a detailed personal vision statement of where you would like to be at various points in the coming years, said Joyce Maroney, former director of the Workforce Institute at workforce management company Kronos.

“You are ultimately responsible for your own career. Not the boss, not the mentors, not the career services office at the school you attended – you,” said Maroney in an interview with Business News Daily. “Before you can chase that dream job, you need to articulate what success means to you, including the aspects of your life outside of the job. Only once you have a clear vision of where you want to be in the next one, five and 20 years can you construct a roadmap to get there.”

If you’re making a career change and trying to plan a path to your new goals, think about why you want to switch directions before you take that first step.

“When considering a professional change, the best first question to ask is, ‘Am I running toward something or away from something?’” Maroney said. “If it’s the former, go for it. If it’s the latter, the change you need to make may just be a change in manager or company, not your current career track.”

2. Focus on the tools you need.

You may have a list of companies you want to work for or titles you want to have during your career. These aspirations make a good starting point, but it’s more important to know what skills you’ll need, and how to build them.

“When mapping out your future, rather than focusing on companies and positions, think about the skills and expertise necessary to pursue your dream career,” said Kirk Baumann, marketing communications manager at O’Reilly Hospitality Management. “While you cannot control whether you will be hired at a specific organization, by equipping yourself with a killer resume, you will be poised to be a top candidate when exciting jobs become available.”

Ryan Carson, co-founder and CEO of tech skills education platform Treehouse, agreed that being a “doer” is better than fixating on titles and promotions.

“When creating a good career map, these aren’t necessarily things you should focus on, because it distracts you from actually doing,” he said. “Being a doer, whether it’s [through driving] creative projects or offering advice, shows high social intelligence – that you can work with people, develop or offer something meaningful to a situation, and make partnerships happen.”

3. Find a guide.

Networking with people in your chosen field, especially those with positions you hope to hold, can be immensely helpful in career-planning efforts. Identify one or more mentors and ask about their academic and professional backgrounds. This will help you explore potential paths to your career destination.

Maroney noted that asking open-ended questions when you network can reveal some of the untold stories behind your dream career.

“Most people like to talk about themselves,” she said. “These informational conversations are your opportunity to make sure that you understand the rewards and the costs of performing that role. Every job has its highs and lows.”

4. Be open to changing your route.

You might hit some detours along the way, or your destination may change completely. In any case, your path isn’t set in stone, and you’ll need to be able to adapt to any roadblocks you may encounter along the way.

“Planning out a career path will not necessarily lead you to your dream job,” Carson said. “Your ideals about that dream job will probably change. Being flexible, adaptable, open to learning new skills, and a creator of something, whether it be an idea or tangible object, are some of the most important pieces to being successful in any career.”

Even if you take a wrong turn, it’s never too late to adjust and learn from the experience.

“So many people are paralyzed by the thought of making a career choice because they are afraid of getting it wrong,” Porter said. “The good news is that you can make changes. Everybody chooses occupations and takes stops along their career paths that they aren’t excited about. The point is to make a decision and do something. Learn from that decision and what it means to your career path, and then make better decisions from that point forward.”

Paula Fernandes, Shannon Gausepohl, Brittney Morgan and Nicole Fallon contributed to the writing and reporting in this article. Source interviews were conducted for previous versions of this article.