How To Set Long-Term Career Goals (And Why They're Important)

Updated February 27, 2023

Setting career goals can help you focus on your professional development, show employers you care about your work and make it easier to plan for your future. Your employer might ask you about your career goals, or you might choose to set them for yourself. However you use goals in your professional life, it's useful to review strategies and information that can help you maximize the success of your goal-setting processes.

In this article, we discuss how to set long-term career goals and why they're important, and we review the types of career goals you can create.

Why are long-term career goals important?

Here are a few reasons it's important to set long-term professional goals for yourself:

Provides motivation

Setting goals can be a great way to motivate yourself. When you have something to work toward, it can inspire you to work harder or be more productive. Individual tasks can contribute to something larger and more meaningful, which can make them easier to perform. When you achieve a goal, it can offer you a sense of accomplishment and pride, motivating you to continue setting and achieving goals for yourself.

Related: Setting Goals To Improve Your Career

Gives you focus

Setting goals can also be a good way to focus on what's important to you. With a clear goal in mind, you may be less prone to distraction. All of your efforts can go toward accomplishing your goals, which may also help you achieve career goals quickly.

Related: How To Improve Your Focus at Work in 9 Ways (With Tips)

Shows your ambition

Another reason goal setting is important is because it can encourage your supervisor's positive perception of you. They may ask you about your career goals in an interview, a review session or a meeting. By expressing your goals, you may gain valuable support to accomplish them. It can also show an employer your motivations and ambitions for your career. These are powerful characteristics that can leave lasting impressions on managers and employers.

Related: Interview Question: "What Are Your Future Career Goals?"

Aligns your actions with your end targets

Setting long-term career goals can help you evaluate your daily habits and activities against your future aspirations. When you're considering accepting a new project, role or responsibility, you can use your goals to help you determine the best decision for you. Having set goals may make it easier to only accept opportunities that get you closer to your goals, ensuring you're aligning your efforts with your vision.

Related: What Are End Goals? Definitions and End Goal Examples

How do you set career goals?

If you have an interest in setting career goals, here are some steps you can take:

1. Think about what's important to you

When setting your goals, it's helpful to consider what's most important to you. Goals that are unique and that come from your personal beliefs can sometimes feel more powerful and significant. By reflecting on who you are and what you hope to become, you can establish goals that stem from your core values. Start by brainstorming some words that come to mind when you imagine what you want from your future career. They might be words like success, security, authority, friendship, fulfillment, philanthropy or impact.

Use these words to form more complete ideas and applications. If your word is success, consider what that looks like. Maybe it means more money, a promotion or increased credibility. From here, your goals might be to increase your earning potential, work to qualify for a more senior position or improve your credibility through professional development opportunities. When your goals stem from your values, you can ensure you're actively working toward the future you desire.

Related: 6 Steps To Discover Your Core Values

2. Consider what you can realistically achieve

Some goals might be too ambitious to attempt right away. While it's important to dream and to set long-term goals, it's also important to give yourself smaller goals that you can realistically achieve. These smaller, realistic goals can help you keep your focus and motivation for your career journey.

For a sales representative, an example of a realistic goal might be to convert five new leads a month. If they currently average four conversions, five is a realistic goal that can improve their performance and motivate them to work harder. If they accomplish their goal, maybe next month they could try to convert six. Saying they want to convert 15 new leads a month is an example of an unrealistic goal. Understanding your limits can make it possible to design practical and attainable goals that boost your confidence and keep you motivated.

Related: How To Set Professional Goals To Advance in Your Career

3. Decide on the best methods for achieving your goals

When you create your goals, also come up with strategies for achieving them. Think of actionable steps you can start taking immediately that reinforce your professional ambitions. Consider what you could do tomorrow that would get you closer to your goal and then commit to starting.

Related: Professional Goals To Improve Your Career (With 24 Examples)

4. Create smaller goals with your larger goals in mind

It's important to have both long- and short-term goals. Short-term goals can keep you focused each day and supply you with practical actions. Those actions can then turn into habits that help you accomplish your long-term goals. If your longer-term goal is to get a promotion, maybe your short-term goals are to pursue certifications, to improve your work performance and to form a stronger relationship with your supervisor. When your short-term goals help you work toward your longer-term goals, it can be easier to concentrate on accomplishing those long-term objectives.

Related: 14 Short-Term Goals To Improve Your Career Today

5. Develop an accountability system

Tracking your progress can make it easier to hold yourself accountable. When businesses set goals for themselves, they use key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure their progress and ensure their actions are moving them closer to their goals. You can do the same thing.

Here are some different methods you can use to track your progress:

  • Use a planner. Some planners and journals have sections where you can record your goals and progress. You can use these resources, or you can design your own.

  • Set goals with a friend. Friends and coworkers can be great resources for accountability. You can use each other as motivators and agree to check in after established durations to share your experiences and successes.

  • Download a productivity or goal-setting app. You can find other free resources like mobile apps that let you track your goals and progress. They often have reminders and other useful features you can use to help you toward your goals.

Related: How To Talk About Career Goals With Your Boss in 8 Steps

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What are the different types of career goals?

Here are some different types of career goals, along with examples and descriptions of their unique value:

Short-term career goals

Short-term career goals are goals you can easily accomplish within the next few days, weeks or months. It's important to set short-term goals because they can make your more ambitious long-term goals feel more attainable. They can also boost your daily productivity and motivation.

Here are some examples of short-term career goals:

  • To develop a new skill: Your short-term goal could focus on professional development, like learning to complete a function in a spreadsheet program proficiently or to use a new piece of technology.

  • To improve a process: Another short-term goal example is to improve a process. Taking the initiative to improve something multiple people use or a process that isn't serving you can help you increase your productivity.

  • To get organized: Getting organized can be a good short-term goal because it can help prepare you for later success.

  • To increase your productivity: You might set an attainable short-term goal focused on your productivity. The goals you set can depend on your personal goals and the industry you're in, but these goals typically focus on performance.

  • To grow your network: You can set shorter-term networking goals that service your longer-term goals. A short-term goal might be to create a professional networking account or to interact more with a specific coworker.

Related: How To Develop Your Skill Set To Advance Your Career

Medium-term career goals

Medium-term career goals are ones that exist between your short- and long-term goals. Medium-term goals could take between a few months and a year to accomplish. Often, they're larger than short-term goals and can require more focus. These goals are important because they reflect your immediate future and the eventual hope of your short-term efforts.

When employers ask you about your goals, these can be worthy goals to share because they often represent the next level in your career. Expressing them can communicate your ambition and ability to think toward the next phase of your career at your current company. Promotions, raises and professional development goals, like completing a certification program or course, can be examples of medium-term goals.

Related: How To Write a Professional Development Plan in 5 Steps

Long-term career goals

Long-term goals refer to your dreams and ultimate ambitions. They might take years or even decades to realize, but they're very important to have. By staying true to your long-term goals, you can focus on opportunities and choices that advance you toward your overarching goals. Long-term career goals can look different to everyone. You might aspire to own your own business, publish a book, make a high salary or change something at a systematic level.

Related: How To Start Your Own Business in 9 Steps

Personal goals

It's important to talk about two additional types of career goals, which are personal and professional goals. Personal goals are goals you set for yourself. They consider your ultimate ambitions, your unique aptitudes, your passions and your intrinsic motivators. If you're currently working, your personal career goals might not reflect where you are right now. If you aspire to change industries, find more meaning in your career or go back to school, you might choose to keep your goals private because they're personal.

Related: 20 Achievable Goals To Set for Your Personal Development

Professional goals

In contrast, professional goals are also personal goals, but they're ones you would feel comfortable sharing with a supervisor or employer. They can still include goals that mean a lot to you, but they might have an added benefit of impressing a member of the management team because they communicate your passion for your position. Having these goals prepared can help you discuss them in reviews or meetings. They also show you're thinking about your future with a specific company and working toward its goals.

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