Progress results from targeted action. When you are not quite sure where you want to be career-wise, you won’t accomplish much. You need a strong sense of direction to push your career forward and that’s where precise career goals come into play.
By knowing where you want to be in 3-, 5-years, and, more importantly, understanding how you’ll get to that point can help you massively improve your career progression and accelerate job search. So let’s dive in and take a look at why having goals is important and how you can get better at meeting them!
Why You Need to Have Clear Career Goals
Job searching without career goals is like driving without a rearview mirror — you can easily miss some big opportunity heading your way. Setting clear professional goals and objectives can help you stay on track towards your success.
In fact, precise goal setting is one of the four techniques the US military used to increase NAVY SEAL passing rates from 25% to 33%. And their framework also delivers great results in the “civilian” fields.
- Goal-setting teaches you to break lofty, intangible dreams into smaller, daily steps that are much easier to accomplish. For instance, rather than stating that you want to get a high-paid IT job, drill down to the specific goals such as a) write or update your resume b) craft a compelling cover letter c) find and review at least 5 job posts this week and so on.
- Mental rehearsals help you visualize yourself in succeeding with your stated course of action.
- Self-talk. Talk positively to yourself. The military found that doing so helped recruits “override fears” that are generated by the amygdala — a useful part of our brain that helps us deal with anxiety. So pep talk yourself into the right mood whenever you feel like the job blues are about to hit you.
- Practice arousal control — getting your excitement or anxiety levels in check with the right breathing and emotional control techniques is key to helping you mitigate the crippling emotions and fears.
This framework is an excellent tool for helping you formalize and push through your day-to-day job search and short-term career goals.
When it comes to long term career goals, you’ll need some extra time to think and strategize about what you want to achieve in life.
Do you want an increase in your earnings, move up the career ladder, or change your occupation entirely? Asking yourself where you would like to be in five or ten years is a good starting point.
Doing so helps you work backward and plan for more short-term, smaller, and more achievable goals with an objective (as per technique above) and slaying them effectively so that you can hit your five or ten-year target.
Also, by having a formalized list of both short-term and long-term career goals, you’ll be able to easily answer the “what are your career goals?” interview question!
So let’s get started with the goal-setting part!
How to Set Your Career Goals
The benefits of setting a career goal give you something to work towards achieving, but it spurs you on to take the necessary steps needed to fulfill your long-term ambitions.
So how do you identify those steps? Here are some pointers, plus career goals examples.
Aim for Smaller Byte-Sized Career Goals
When setting up your career goals, be careful not to bite off more than you can chew. Set yourself smaller goals that can be spread out daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly. This way you will not become overwhelmed by trying to achieve too much at once and potentially suffering a career set-back should you fail to meet your goals.
It is very easy to say ‘I want to double my salary in five years’, but achieving that goal can be made much more difficult if you try to take on too much too soon. So rather than writing down that broad idea, consider the following wording instead:
“In five years, I want to break into a management position in my industry that pays $80,000-$100,000 on average. To accomplish that I will need to a) improve my leadership skills by completing an online training course (by December 2020) b)negotiate more supervisory responsibilities at my current job (starting from Jan 2021) c)get more proactive during group work (whenever the opportunity comes up).”
Having such a detailed formula planned out with achievable goals set at regular intervals is much more effective than merely stating some ‘dreamy’ objective without thinking much about how you’ll accomplish it.
Get Your Priorities Straight
Berkeley Career & People division advises prioritizing all the goals you are setting. As the earlier example shows, your grand career goal will likely involve several interim steps. Prioritizing them helps you focus your attention on what’s really important right now and reduces the overwhelm.
Also, as studies show people who can precisely picture or describe their set goals are 1.2 to 1.4 times more likely to achieve them eventually.
So get that pen and paper, jot down your big long-term goal. Then pounder over and add short-term sub-goals that stand for steps you’ll be taking to get there. Here’s an example:
“In 3 years, I’d like to work as a Customer Success Manager for a SaaS startup with 1+ million active monthly users. I’d like to have a salary of $95,000 to $120,000.
- This year, I will maximize my issue resolution rate to 90% and try to raise the Customer Satisfaction Score to 85%.
- By May 2021, I will complete a course in product management and apply for a certification from Boston University via edX
- During the next year, I will attend at least 5 SaaS startup/Product Management meetups to network.
- Also, by February 2022, I will negotiate a promotion at my current job (from Customer Support Specialist to Customer Support Supervisor).”
Set H.A.R.D Goals
You’ve probably heard about SMART goals a dozen of times already. But the truth is…SMART goals don’t really work for most people. As one study suggests: only 15% of survey respondents agreed that their set SMART goals will help them accomplish something this year.
HARD goal-setting isn’t a new concept either. But it’s a big boon is that it helps you set more ruthless and refined goals — ones that are both challenging and delightful to achieve.
HARD stands for:
- H — Heartfelt: Can you create an emotional attachment to the set goal? In three adjectives, describe what makes you want this. Your motivation can be intrinsic, extrinsic, or personal.
- A — Animated: Can you visualize your goal? In great detail, describe exactly where you want to be and what do you want to do in 3-,5-,10-years. Try to paint the best picture you can.
- R — Required: What’s required of you to get to where you want to be? Set deadlines for yourself. What do you want to get done in 90 days? In the next 30 days? What can you accomplish today?
- D — Difficult. What are the possible stumbling blocks on your way to the top? Do you need extra skills, training, credential, confidence? What difficulties will you need to overcome to achieve your outcome?
Research shows that people who use the HARD goal-setting technique end up feeling up to 75% more fulfilled than people using weaker frameworks. So give yourself a challenge, OK?
Several More Career Goals Statement Examples To Swipe
If you need some more inspiration, think about your career goals from either of the following perspectives:
- Level up your skills
- Improve your in-person networking skills
- Get better at networking on LinkedIn
- Boost your performance metrics
- Get a new degree or extra certifications
- Obtain a new license
- Speak at an industry event
- Change jobs or career fields
- Negotiate a promotion
- Break into management/executive roles
- Improve your personal brand
- Find a new weekend job
- Launch a side-hustle
- Start a business
By knowing what direction and steps you need to take in life over the foreseeable future will keep you ahead of the curve. Setting career goals will prevent you from going forward in an aimless direction and will make you stop and think carefully before taking up opportunities that are not quite right for your long-term goals.
How to Create Winning Career Objectives
While career goals are rather ‘personal’, a career objective (also known as resume objective) is a succinct statement atop of your resume explaining what you want to get from the job and what you are bringing to the table.
A career objective should align with your career goals. When these two don’t match, you can easily get derailed from your selected career pass and settle for opportunities that don’t quite tick all the boxes.
We wrote a separate big guide on writing great resume objectives with some snappy examples, so be sure to check it out. Here’s we’ll just recap some key best practices:
- Maintain a positive, confident tone. Speak about what you want to achieve, rather than what you’d want to avoid.
- Customize your career objectives to each role to make a positive impression with a potential employer.
- Keep it short. A good career objective does not need to incorporate all your goals. It should not be more than 2-3 short sentences long.
- It should be about “them”, not “you”. Don’t just say what you want from this job. Indicate how you can help the company.
Here’s a quick career objective statement for a recent graduate, looking for an internship position:
“BA of Management Sunnydale College graduate with strong marketing analysis, social media marketing, and writing skills seeks a full-time internship at Communications/Marketing Department at a SaaS startup”.
Don’t Forget to Create Accountability
Having career goals is one thing, but taking the necessary steps to reach them is another. You may sit and imagine yourself working in your dream job, but unless you actually take those physical steps to reach your goal, a dream is all it will ever be.
That’s why you need to build a strong accountability system to support your goals.
One study suggests that you have a 65% higher chance of completing a goal if you commit to someone. And your success rate rises to 95% if you have regular meetings with the person you’ve committed. While building an accountability tandem with a professional career advisor or mentor can give you the most acceleration, committing to your friend, spouse, or family member can be very beneficial too. They’ll act as your support system and will help you to get going despite possible setbacks.
Further, by becoming accountable for what you do, and remembering to praise yourself once you have finished a set of tasks, you can get great satisfaction from being another step closer to your dream job. This in itself can be extremely motivating and will encourage you to take the next step, then the next step, and so on.
You can also try to use various habit trackers and planning tools to personally track your progress on your small day-to-day goals. Doing so also helps you visualize your progress over time — a helpful and satisfying thing to do!
Your career goals will remain ephemeral unless you break them down into management chunks, write down the outcomes, and place them on a timeline. By creating and accomplishing small steps one at a time, you will be consistently working towards your end goal, but you will also be more productive and motivated along this path to complete these tasks because you have a firm career goal in mind!
This post has been originally published on September 4, 2017 and has been extensively revised and updated on July 21, 2020.