Setting specific and achievable career goals can help improve your work performance and may even provide you with increased motivation and job satisfaction at work. Your professional goals may also aid you in earning a promotion, gaining more confidence in your work or learning a new skill. Once you've decided on your career goals, you're better able to form the ideal career path to help you realise them.
In this article, we define career goals, explain how to set and achieve them and provide some examples to inspire your own goal setting.
What are career goals?
Career goals are clearly defined statements explaining the professional path that an individual seeks to pursue throughout their career. It is crucial for both job seekers and employees alike to clearly define their career goals. Remember that even though you may set goals during one phase of your career, you can still adjust those goals and come up with new ones as you progress through your career.
Not only does setting career goals provide you with a framework you can follow to accomplish major professional milestones, but you can also figure out specific steps you must take to achieve those goals.
What is a realistic career goal?
A realistic career goal is one that's clear, practical and attainable in the right situation. Sometimes involving a fair amount of work on your part, realistic career goals are achievable, even if you have to learn something new, make a career change or enlist the help of others.
How to set career goals
When you're ready to set your career goals, follow these steps to do so:
1. Determine your top interests
Because job satisfaction is important for many, set your career goals by first determining your major interests. You can use your interests to guide the rest of your goals, creating goals that support what you love most about your work.
2. Assess your strengths
It's likely that your strengths, including both your hard and soft skills, helped you achieve the career success you've had so far. Evaluate your top skills and consider making career goals that align with them, as you may find these goals provide you with professional satisfaction, and it may be easier and more natural to achieve them.
3. Consider different career options
Part of setting career goals is knowing the different career options available to you. If you educate yourself about the various careers in your field of interest, you may be better able to focus on the steps you'll need to take to earn your ideal job title.
Related: The Essential Job Search Guide
4. Partner with a career counsellor
A career counsellor can help guide you in setting career goals by providing you with valuable resources, encouraging you in your career ambitions and setting up job shadowing opportunities so you can learn more about the careers you're interested in. They can also identify skills you can improve to reach your goals, help you write an impactful resume and coach you on how to answer interview questions.
5. Avoid negativity
Remain positive through your goal-setting process. Negativity may stifle your ability to think clearly about your goals, whereas positive thinking can help you focus on the steps you'll need to take to achieve your goals. Instead of thinking about what you don't want, concentrate on what you do.
6. Define the actions you will take to achieve every goal
Once you've decided on your ultimate career goal, make smaller goals that consist of the steps you'll take to get there. This will both help you stay focused on the end goal and keep you motivated as you accomplish each stage.
Tips for achieving career goals
Explore these tips so you can achieve the career goals you've set for yourself:
Ensure your career goals are SMART. SMART is an acronym that stands for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-based, and it's a great way to make goals that will help you feel encouraged and prepared.
Ask for help. Even though these career goals are your own, you can still ask for help from others who want to support you. For example, if you share your goals with your manager, they may give you additional responsibilities where you can learn a new skill or take charge of a project.
Complete an internship. An internship provides you with the opportunity to learn more about the field you're interested in. There may still be able to find an internship even if you've already graduated from college.
Sign up for training opportunities. Whether your career goals include learning a new skill or earning a promotion, training opportunities, including seminars, webinars and conferences, can help support them.
10 examples of achievable career goals
Here are ten examples of achievable career goals that may inspire you when you're creating your own:
1. Gain a new skill
It's common for employers to look for candidates who have a variety of abilities and a range of experiences that will make them an asset to the organisation. You may want to gain new skills to become a more viable candidate for the roles you're most interested in.
2. Enhance your networking abilities
Expanding your network comes with many benefits, including the ability to connect with like-minded individuals, get information about job openings in your field or receive referrals or letters of recommendation from others who have become familiar with your work or your passion for the industry.
3. Complete an internship
In an internship, you'll get to know others you're working with and have more hands-on experience in your chosen field. You may also have the opportunity to impress your manager so that they consider you for a full-time position once your internship is over. Because internships provide you with valuable work experience you can include on your resume, you are more likely to stand out from the other candidates applying for the same roles. Whether you're a recent graduate or want to make a career change, working as an intern could be a way to learn more about the industry.
4. Freelance and build a client list
If you want to eventually work for yourself or earn some extra money outside of your full-time job, you may have a goal to build a client list. Think of the skills you have and what you can offer to a company or small business owner. You may be able to turn your freelance opportunities into self-employment once you've built up a large enough list of consistent clients.
5. Earn a certification or degree
Earning a certification or degree is a popular long-term goal of individuals who want to have a competitive advantage over their coworkers and learn new information about their industry.
6. Strive to be an expert
Becoming an expert in your industry is achievable, especially as a long-term goal. If you're passionate about your field and committed to learning as much as you can, then you can eventually become an expert. You can share your knowledge by doing things like becoming a guest on a popular industry podcast, writing guest posts for industry blogs and hosting your own webinars for those who want to learn more about the field from a professional.
7. Earn a leadership position
Especially if you've been in your current position for a while, you may set a career goal to earn a promotion to a leadership role. It's common for hardworking professionals to want to have more responsibilities and the opportunity to lead a team of people who may have less experience. To achieve this goal, consider speaking with your current manager about managerial opportunities or ask them what you should improve for them to consider you for a promotion.
8. Practice good time management
With proper time management, you can earn the respect of your coworkers and managers because it shows the commitment you have to them and your work. Having good time management abilities means you arrive to work when you're supposed to, complete your projects on time, respond to emails when you should and can balance your work tasks, prioritising appropriately.
9. Be productive
You may set a career goal to be productive so you can consistently meet productivity goals that your employer expects of you. Plus, productive employees are more likely to achieve their career goals both in the long run and in the short term.
10. Make a difference in the workplace
Many professionals aim to be an asset to their employers. When you're an asset, you're better able to share your resourcefulness with others. You can also make a difference at work by doing things like improving processes to achieve greater efficiency or leading a team-building exercise that helps develop trust among coworkers.
What is a good career goal statement?
A good career goal statement outlines your career objectives, including the specific achievements you intend to accomplish within a specified period. For example, your statement may specify that you want to get a promotion from your current position as a marketing executive to a marketing manager within three years. You can also include that you'll learn how to create search engine advertisements as one step toward achieving this goal.