How to Set Career Goals

How to Set Career Goals: Short-Term, Long-Term and How to Make Them SMART

What are career goals, and why do you need them?

Fundamentally, it’s about defining your ambitions and creating a clear path to get you there. Your goals might reference things like the schedule you’ll have, the title you’ll achieve, or the network you’ll create.

Without long-term goals, you might find yourself making career moves that benefit you in the short term but move you further away from your long-term goals.

How Do You Set Career Goals?

Essentially, you create your goals like you would an outline. Defining where you want to be in two, five, and 10 years are excellent benchmarks to begin.

Start With Long-Term Goals

For example, let’s imagine you recently completed your marketing degree. By spending some time brainstorming what you want your marketing career to look like in five to 10 years, you define a goal of becoming a director of marketing.

There are generally three career levels between you and the director level. So, a short-term goal might be to obtain an entry-level marketing associate position, followed by a two-year goal of increasing your responsibility to a marketing specialist. Your five-year goal is the third level of marketing management, which places you to be qualified for a director of marketing position in under 10 years.

Realistically, these are excellent starting points, but they’ll need to be more clearly defined. Titles vary from company to company, and they evolve. Determine what that title translates to in terms of responsibilities or knowledge. After some research, you can refine your long-term goal to be something like, “In seven to 10 years I will obtain a leadership position that oversees an inbound marketing team, supervising multiple projects and deliverables.”

Create Meaningful Short-Term Goals

Now that your long-term goal is defined, you can create short-term supporting goals. You’ll find standard requirements when researching job descriptions for director of marketing roles. With these in mind, you create a plan to have all of those boxes checked within seven years, so you’re ready to start applying for a director role.

Suppose you’re now two years into your role as a marketing assistant at a company where you’ve primarily been blogging. When opportunities open up, you check in with your short-term goals before choosing which ones to pursue.

For example, “Begin creating content for email marketing within one year by getting certified in inbound marketing and asking to write pieces of content for the newsletter, even if it doesn’t equate to a higher wage.”

With clearly defined short-term goals, you can be in a constant state of momentum, rather than derailing your long-term plan. You’ll avoid the shiny object syndrome by not letting a short-term gain overcome your long-term goals.

Define SMART Goals

The SMART acronym will help you create robust goals.

Specific: A clearly defined outcome, such as, “Obtain a leadership position that oversees a company’s inbound marketing.”

Measurable: Your goal should have a way for you to determine when it’s achieved.

Attainable: Is it realistic for where you are now? Becoming the director of marketing for Google two years out of college is an example of a wish, not an attainable goal.

Relevant: Is your goal relevant to your overall career?

Timely: What is your timeline for accomplishing this? Rather than saying, “I want to achieve this level of responsibility someday,” having a clear timeline gives it urgency.

For more examples and tips, read What are SMART Goals? How to Set Achievable Goals.

Center Goals Around Positive Outcomes

It’s easy to focus on what you’re trying to escape. However, you’ll want to create goals that lead you somewhere new.

If you’ve decided to change careers, setting a plan to “get out of retail” will not propel you in the long term. Refocusing that to, “Within six months to one year, obtain a new entry-level job in project management” provides you a goal with the momentum that you can break into relevant short-term goals.

You would then go on to create supporting goals, such as, “Within two months, I will get certified in project management by taking evening classes at the community college.”

A follow-up goal might be, “Within two months, I will begin to gain experience in project management by volunteering with a local nonprofit organization.”

The original goal of “getting out of retail” doesn’t propel you further than your next job offer. Laying an actionable plan will ensure you don’t accept a position that you later have to explain during interviews.

Create Goals Beyond Job Duties

Your career affects nearly every aspect of your life. A well-planned career path will have goals beyond your title and duties, such as flexibility or working for your dream company.

Have you always imagined working remotely so that you can live in an RV for three years? Creating a plan ensures career growth that also feeds into your passions.

Giving Life to Your Goals

To make your goals a reality, you need to write them down regularly and check in with them. As life and careers progress, you can adjust them as your ambitions evolve. Having a career mentor to meet with or a friend who will help you stay focused can be a great way to make forward progress.

Wherever you are currently in your career, it’s always an excellent plan to define where you want your career path to lead and the steps you’ll take to get there.

More: How to Figure Out Your Career Path: 3 Tips

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