Setting Goals To Improve Your Career
Updated February 27, 2023
Setting specific, measurable goals can provide a path to improve your career and achieve certain accomplishments. You can use goal setting when given a certain task or project, or to personally advance in some way. You can set goals towards promotions, creativity, education and many other various ways to improve your life and career.
Let’s look at why setting goals can help improve your career, what types of goals you can set and how to set goals.
Why setting goals is important
Setting goals is important because it gives you a framework to achieve milestones. Wanting to do or complete certain things in life is a great start. Goal setting provides a path for you to actually do them. There are two types of goals you should consider setting: short term and long term.
What are the short-term goals?
Short-term goals are more immediate goals you set for yourself to achieve your larger, long-term goals. You can think of short-term goals as milestones or stepping stones. Short-term goals usually exist in a short timeframe, anywhere from days or months to one or two years. Examples of short-term goals might include completing small tasks or projects, gaining experience or taking classes. You will use what you accomplished in the short term to complete your long-term goals.
What are long-term goals?
Long-term goals are usually large goals you want to achieve over several years. You will use several milestones to achieve long-term goals, setting short-term goals to achieve along the way. Long-term goals might include getting a job in a certain career, being promoted to a certain level or completing a lengthy, complicated project.
Setting personal goals
Setting goals for your personal life will help you reach personal achievements. You might set personal goals to advance several categories in your life for things like hobbies, health or education. Setting personal goals can help you achieve success in your career as well.
Advancing your interests by building experience in hobbies you enjoy or skills you want to improve can easily transfer into your professional life. These are often good things to include on your resume if relevant to the jobs you’re applying for. Spending time improving on things you want in your personal life can also help you be more focused and energetic at work by paying attention to your work-life balance.
Here are a few personal goals examples:
Advancing hobbies like playing a musical instrument or playing a sport
Improving on skills like graphic design or public speaking
Increasing your knowledge about a certain topic or area of study
Focusing on building or improving relationships
Financial goals like saving for a certain purchase
Physical goals like training for a marathon or completing a certain fitness challenge
Setting professional goals
Setting professional goals can help you both complete certain tasks or projects and achieve any personal career goals you might have. If your company or manager doesn’t have a specific framework for you to set goals in your job, you might consider setting your own career goals. You can also set your own goals if you are self-employed. Your career goals should address both your current situation and your larger long-term career ambitions.
Here are a few professional goals examples:
Being promoted to a certain position
Completing a large project
Solving a complex problem
Improving certain soft or technical skills
Successfully switching careers or industries
Getting a certain award or recognition
The image shows a breakdown of SMART Goals, which are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-based. The left side of the image shows a large letter, the word the letter represents, and a brief description of each.
S | Specific | Make your goals specific and narrow for more effective planning.
M | Measurable | Define what evidence will prove you're making progress and reevaluate when necessary.
A | Attainable | Make sure you can reasonably accomplish your goal within a certain timeframe.
R | Relevant | Your goals should align with your values and long-term objectives.
T | Time-based | Set a realistic, ambitious end-date for task prioritization and motivation.
How to set goals
While there are several different ways to set goals, there are a few steps you can take to ensure the best possibility of success. Your goals should have five key elements to make them achievable. These five elements make up what is known as the “SMART goal” framework. SMART stands for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-based. Let’s take a closer look at how to set a SMART goal:
1. Make your goal as clear and detailed as possible
For example, instead of “I want to be better at public speaking,” you can say, “I want to successfully give a 10–15 minute presentation to an audience of 50 or more people.”
2. Define how you will measure success
For example, if you want to switch from a job in sales to a job in marketing, you might set milestones along the way that address how to develop the skills and experience marketing employers are looking for. To do this, you might set your measurement as learning and focusing on one skill per month.
3. Check whether your goals are achievable
Setting goals you can accomplish within a reasonable timeframe will help keep you motivated and focused. You should work to understand the full scope of your goal ahead of time to ensure it is possible to accomplish.
For example, if you are in your first professional developer job and your goal is to become a senior-level .NET developer, you might need to set smaller, short-term goals before reaching this larger goal. If you find that a goal is not achievable because you don’t have enough experience, one of your new goals should be to gain more experience.
4. Make sure your goal is relevant
You should set goals that align with your values and contribute toward your long-term goals. Each goal you set should be relevant and meaningful to you, moving you closer toward where you want to be. To make sure you are setting relevant goals, you might ask yourself, "how will achieving this goal help me?" "Does accomplishing this goal contribute toward my larger, long-term goals? Why does this goal matter to me?"
5. Set a beginning and end date
Setting a timetable to achieve your goal can both help keep you motivated and on-schedule. Before setting a goal end-date, be sure to research all the milestones and possible roadblocks you might run into along the way. For example, if your goal is to get promoted to the next level at your company, you might give yourself six months. If you haven’t achieved your goal, you might give yourself extended time or reconsider whether your goal is achievable and realistic.
Setting both personal and professional goals will help give a structure and path to success. Many employers value candidates that have a record of setting and achieving goals. This shows that you can be a focused, goal-oriented employee. Employers often ask about goals in interviews, so you should prepare to talk about your goals and what you’re doing to achieve them during the hiring process.
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