When talking about future careers, pressure seems to come from all directions. Familial expectations, societal norms, and personal ambitions can all converge to create a confusing mess of what we should do next.
For many people, setting career goals seems like the best way to make this decision easier. However, for others, it only makes things more complicated. How can you set achievable goals for yourself when you’re not sure what you want?
In this article, we’re going to explore how to set your career goals and make sure they align with what you want in life. Let’s begin!
The importance of career goals
It can be overwhelming to think about career goals, especially if you’ve only just started to think about your future. But the truth is, having career goals is incredibly important. Here are a few reasons why:
1. They give you direction. When you have specific goals in mind, it becomes much easier to map out a plan of action to get there.
2. They help you stay motivated. Achieving your goals is a great way to stay motivated and focused throughout your career.
3. They make you happier. Studies have shown that people who have specific goals in life are generally happier than those who don’t.
4. They improve your skills. Working towards your goals will help you to develop new skills and improve the ones you already have.
5. They make you more successful. There’s a reason why successful people are usually goal-oriented — because setting and achieving goals leads to success!
Even if you’re unsure about what you want to do in the future, or you are overwhelmed by the number of options available to you, setting career goals is still a good idea. It will help you to focus on what’s important and figure out the steps you need to take to get there.
Setting your goals: 5 top tips
Setting goals isn’t as simple as writing down what you want and calling it a day. If you want to be successful, you need to set goals that are realistic, achievable, and meaningful to you. Here are 5 tips for setting your career goals:
1. Know thyself
The first step in setting effective career goals is understanding yourself — your strengths, weaknesses, passions, and values. Only by understanding yourself can you set goals that are truly meaningful to you.
So, what does knowing yourself really mean? It involves taking a close look at your personality, interests, and motivations. Ask yourself questions like:
- What are my passions?
- What am I good at?
- What kind of work would I be happy doing every day?
- What are my values, and what is important to me?
Answering these questions will help you to get a better understanding of who you are and what you want in life. It’ll also help to drown out those external voices and pressures that can make it difficult to figure out what you want.
2. Set SMART goals
Have you heard of the SMART framework? It’s a popular goal-setting strategy that stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound.
When setting your career goals, it’s important to make sure they meet all five criteria of the SMART framework. It sounds tedious, but you’ll be glad you took the time to do it.
Let’s take a look at each criterion in more detail:
- Specific — Your goal should be specific and well-defined. For example, instead of saying “I want to get promoted,” try “I want to be promoted to a manager position within the next two years.”
- Measurable — You should be able to track and measure your progress towards your goal. For example, “I want to increase my sales by 25% within the next six months.”
- Achievable — Make sure your goal is something you can actually achieve. You don’t want to set yourself up for disappointment by aiming too high or too low.
- Relevant — Make sure your goal is relevant to your life and career. It should align with your passions, values, and interests.
- Time-bound — Your goal should have a specific deadline or time frame associated with it.
With these criteria in mind, here’s an example of a SMART goal:
“I will increase my sales by 25% within the next six months.”
As you can see, this goal is vastly different to saying, “I want to increase my sales.” It gives you something solid to work towards — a measurable, achievable goal that is relevant to your life and career.
3. Set goals in stages
Goal setting can get your gears spinning — and while motivation is a great thing, remember Rome wasn’t built in a day. When it comes to setting career goals, it’s better to break them down into smaller stages.
This way, you’re not overwhelmed by the task at hand, and you can actually see progress as you work towards your goal. Not only that, but breaking your goal into stages makes it more manageable and achievable.
For example, if you want to get promoted to a manager position within the next two years, your stages might look something like this:
- 1 year — Develop the skills and experience required for a manager position.
- 6 months — Polish your resume and start networking with potential employers.
- 2 months — Apply for manager-level positions.
- 1 week — Follow up on all applications, participate in interviews, and accept job offers.
This approach feels more arduous at first, but it’s a surefire way to make progress and achieve your goals.
4. Set goals for both short-term and long-term
Many people make the mistake of thinking that goal setting is only for long-term aspirations. But what about short-term goals? They’re just as important, and can help to keep you on track in the present.
When setting your career goals, it’s important to think about both short-term and long-term aspirations. This way, you’re always working towards something, and you don’t lose sight of your end goal.
For example, if your long-term goal is to become the CEO of a company, your short-term goals might be:
- Earn a promotion within the next two years
- Complete a business degree
- Start networking with potential employers
A great way to think about this is by drawing upon the theory of incrementalism, which states that great achievements can be reached by making small changes over time. If you wake up five minutes earlier each day, you’ll be half an hour ahead by the end of the week. If you save $10 per week, you’ll have saved $520 by the end of the year.
The same principle can be applied to your career goals. By setting short-term and long-term goals, you’re able to make small changes today that will lead to big accomplishments in the future.
5. Celebrate your accomplishments
Pressurized coal makes a diamond, but nothing good comes from placing too much pressure on yourself. When it comes to setting career goals, it’s important to be patient and celebrate your accomplishments along the way.
After all, reaching your goal is only part of the journey — you need to enjoy the ride as well. So, take some time to reflect on your progress and give yourself a pat on the back. It’s essential to have a positive outlook if you want to achieve your goals.
When it comes to setting career goals, these five tips are a great place to start. But remember, there is no one-size-fits-all approach; find what works best for you and go from there.
What if my goals fall through?
Often, we get so fixated on our career goals that we forget to plan for setbacks. Unfortunately, things don’t always go as planned. You may find yourself laid off from your job or struggling to get your business off the ground. When this happens, it’s important to have a backup plan in place.
Create a list of alternate career goals that you can pursue if your original goals fall through. These could include starting your own business, getting a promotion at your current job, or pursuing a new career altogether.
If you have a solid backup plan in place, you’ll be less likely to get discouraged if things don’t go according to plan.
The other thing to remember is that your career goals aren’t the be-all and end-all. If you wind up with an offer for a job you didn’t plan on getting, or if you decide you want to take a break from your career, that’s okay!
Your career goals should be flexible enough to accommodate changes in your life. They should never be so rigid that you feel like you can’t take a different path if the opportunity arises.
Career goals are equal parts important and challenging. It can be difficult to know where to start, but by following these tips, you’ll be on your way to setting goals that are both achievable and desirable.
Remember to keep your goals flexible, and don’t be afraid to change them if necessary. And most importantly, have fun with the process! After all, you’re choosing a career for the rest of your life, so it’s important to enjoy the journey.