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How to Set and Achieve Your Career Goals

No matter who you are or what industry you’re in, it’s important to set goals for your career. Career goals keep us moving forward, prevent us from getting stuck or stagnant, and give us something bigger than ourselves to work toward.

In fact, one of my favorite Scriptures is “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14 NIV). But Christian or not, it’s a natural human tendency to want the satisfaction that comes from working for something and eventually succeeding—and we do that by setting good goals.

So here are my top tips for setting and achieving goals that will take your career to the next level!

What Are Career Goals? 

Career goals are short, simple statements that describe how you plan to grow and move forward in your career. They act as a measure of what you plan to achieve—kind of like a promise to yourself.

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These career goals are just like any other goal you’d set in life for your fitness or finances, but they’ll help you get from where you are now to where you want to be in a year, five years, 10 years, and beyond, specifically in your work. The great thing about goals is you call the shots! You get to decide what you want your future to look like and then work toward making that vision a reality.

Examples of Career Goals 

You might already have an idea of what you want your career to look like long term, and that’s great. It’s important to think about the big picture of your life and what kind of job would be a “dream job” for you in the future, which can inform the shorter-term goals you set. Or you might have no idea where you want to go in your career, and that’s okay too. The goal-setting process can help you get specific and figure that out.

The idea of setting big goals might seem overwhelming, but don’t let it stress you out—you can break down those goals into more achievable tasks for the short term and the long term.

Short-Term Career Goals 

Ideally, your short-term career goals will help you work toward your big-picture, long-term goals. But even if you don’t know exactly what those are yet, you can still set great short-term goals (that can be completed in six months to three years) that will help you move your career forward. Here are a few examples:

  • Get a paycheck. I’m not kidding—sometimes simply having some form of income is our number one goal, and that’s okay. Maybe you just quit your job or got laid off, or you just need to make ends meet. Do what you need to do to provide for yourself and your family and have steady money coming in. But the truth is, you were created to do work that’s meaningful to you, so once your situation is more stable, you’ll be able to think more about where you really want your career to go.
  • Get clear on what you want to do long term. Maybe it’s time to make a midlife career change, or maybe it’s time to figure out your career direction for the first time ever. Whatever your situation, clarity is always a great goal. Once you’re clear on your top talents, top passions, and your professional mission, you can find your career sweet spot and start looking for options in that field. My Get Clear Career Assessment can help you clarify your strengths and find the types of work that would be a good fit for you.
  • Get education, training or certifications. Sometimes you need to get certain qualifications first before pursuing your ideal career field. Your goal might be to go back to school to get your MBA, complete a coding bootcamp, take a copywriting course, do an internship at a law firm, or anything else that increases your hiring potential and gets you more career experience.
  • Get connected to people and places. Making genuine connections is a fairly easy short-term goal that can really pay off in the long run—and these connections can also bring about job opportunities. You can find plenty of ways to network, even if it’s just by getting to know people at church or volunteering for a company that interests you.
  • Get started on the path toward your dream job. A goal of yours could be to purposefully get a job that puts you directly on the path to your dream. This might come in the form of a side hustle, part-time job, or entry-level job, but at least it will get you in the door. You can work your way up from there!
  • Get promoted. Speaking of working your way up, a promotion (along with a pay raise) is an awesome goal. Depending on where you work, this could become a longer-term goal—but if it’s fairly early in your career and you’re really crushing it at a great company, promotions will ideally happen every two to three years, which would put that goal in the short-term category.

Long-Term Career Goals 

There are all kinds of long-term career goals, from becoming a CEO to being known as an expert in your field. It all depends on what you want your career to look like. Here are a few common examples to get you started:

  • Land your dream job. This is a goal that could take many years to achieve (it took seven years for me). But if you’re willing to do what it takes for however long it takes, then getting your dream job really is possible. If you’ve been working toward this by doing some of the short-term goals mentioned above, you’re already well on your way to this one.
     
  • Be a leader. You don’t have to be in leadership to be a great leader, but you might want to make it a goal to lead a big project, a team or even a whole company. Leading isn’t for everyone, but if you’re willing to put in the hard work and approach it with a servant’s heart, it may be right for you.
  • Make a big impact through your career. So many of us don’t want to spend our whole lives just working a J-O-B. We want to know that our work really makes a difference. Whatever that difference is for you—whether it’s starting a business that meets a huge need in the marketplace, providing a solution for a problem that tugs at your heartstrings, or being able to donate to a cause you’re passionate about—be sure to define it as a concrete goal so you can work toward it.
  • Leave a legacy for future generations. This goes hand in hand with making an impact. Think about what you want to be able to give to future generations, whether that’s a legacy of great leadership, a book you’ve written, or a financial inheritance that you can leave for your kids and grandkids—all of this can happen because of the career goals you set today.

How to Set Career Goals

Now, it’s great to have a general idea of the goals you want to achieve, but there are a few steps that can really make those goals specific and help them come to life. Here’s how:

1. Make them measurable. 

This means you can easily put them in number form. For example, if one of your general goals is to make more connections, you can make that measurable by saying something like, “I will take one person to lunch or coffee per month to ask them about how they got a job in the film industry.” Or “I’m going to have a 10-minute conversation with at least three people at the next party I go to.” It might sound mechanical, but I promise, this will help your goals become more tangible and less intimidating.

2. Give them a deadline. 

Along with being measurable, your goals need to be driven by a timeline. That could mean your goal is to get a promotion by the end of the year or to complete your training course by the end of the month. Once you’ve given yourself a deadline, you’ll be a lot less likely to allow your goals to fall by the wayside.

3. Make sure they’re your own. 

This is important, folks—your goals have to be yours. Not your boss’s, not your spouse’s, not your dad’s. Those people might want the very best for you and have great ideas about what you could achieve in your career, but ultimately, it will be hard for you to devote significant time and energy to something you’re not super passionate about. It’s fine for people you trust to speak into your life and offer suggestions or encouragement, but remember that you’re the one in the driver’s seat.

4. Write them down. 

Writing down your goals might seem unimportant, but it really makes a big difference because it forces you to define your goals in your own words, in black and white. It’s almost like signing your own contract. And if you put your written-down goals someplace where you can see them, they serve as a daily visual reminder of what you’re going to achieve!

Achieving Your Career Goals 

When it comes to actually accomplishing your goals, know that there’s a lot of persistence and patience required, regardless of how big or small the goal is. Sometimes it’s hard to find the balance of really going after it and making things happen while also being patient and waiting for the result of your hard work to pay off. But all of those things build character, so keep going and don’t quit.

You know the song “The Climb” by Miley Cyrus? (Don’t judge—I have a 12-year-old daughter.) As cheesy as it is, I can’t help but love that song because it’s a perfect illustration of the whole process of setting and achieving your goals. Sometimes it really does feels like an uphill battle, but the most rewarding part isn’t even the moment when you finally hit the goal. It’s all the growing you do in order to get there.

I know you have what it takes to achieve your career goals. Press on!

For more tips on taking your career to the next level and more in-depth advice on landing your dream job, check out my new book, From Paycheck to Purpose—available for preorder now. And here’s the great news: When you preorder, you’ll get $100 in bonus items that are tailored to your career goals!

Ken Coleman

About the author

Ken Coleman

Ken Coleman is America's Career Coach, the nationally syndicated radio host of The Ken Coleman Show and #1 national bestselling author. He has been featured in Forbes and appeared on Fox News, Fox Business Network, and the Rachael Ray Show. Since 2014, he has served at Ramsey Solutions, where he offers expert advice every day to help thousands of people discover what they were meant to do and how to land their dream job. Learn More.

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