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Whether you feel stuck in a job you hate, unsure of what to do at a job you love or unemployed and adrift, creating a career road map for yourself can help you figure out what your professional vision is and what you want to accomplish. Goals are necessary for all areas of life, but they're especially important when it comes to your career. There are two types of career goals: long-term and short-term. Before you begin the process of identifying and setting your goals, it can be helpful to know the difference between the two.
Why You Should Set Career Goals
But first, what's so important about setting career goals in the first place? There are a few key reasons why goal-setting matters:
- Goals provide clarity and vision. Creating clear objectives for yourself is the first step to mapping out your future. After all, it's all too easy to get caught up in your day-to-day activities and lose sight of the big picture. Identifying and setting professional development goals can help you prioritize important actions and ensure that all your decisions are actively contributing to helping you get what you want.
- Goals hold us accountable. We all need accountability in our lives. By creating a list of career goals and setting expectations for yourself, you'll be much more likely to achieve your professional dreams. Holding yourself accountable for your own goals is the best way to set yourself up for future success.
- Goals offer motivation. Simply by creating both long- and short-term goals, you'll be more motivated to move forward in your career. Having concrete goals in place works wonders for your level of motivation.
How to Identify and Set Goals
Of course, knowing how to identify and set career goals and objectives is the most crucial step. Your goals can be as ambitious as you want, but learning how to identify them takes careful planning and thinking. You need to be able to realistically assess your interests, goals and abilities and take a clear-eyed inventory of where you're at in life, and where you hope to end up.
Before creating your official list of career goals, focus on what success means to you and try to pinpoint what your true professional aspirations are (not what other people around you may want for you). Next, identify your specific skills and strengths so that you can create a clearer picture of how you can improve and what some potential challenges along the way may turn out to be. Remember that knowing yourself (your skillset, talents and background), knowing your intentions and knowing your environment are all important precursors to identifying professional goals.
Long-Term Versus Short-Term
Your career action plan must have both long- and short-term goals. It's also critical to include the concrete steps you plan to take to reach each of these goals, and it can be helpful to list out potential barriers that may get in your way so that you're prepared.
Short-term career goals are milestones, some of which may be near-instantly achievable. The concept of a short-term goal is relative, of course, but it's typically something you may work on over the course of six months or up to a year or more. No matter what, your short-term goals should always support your long-term objectives, which is why it's crucial to constantly compare both sets of goals to ensure that they line up.
Long-term career goals, on the other hand, are goals that you hope to accomplish at some point in the future (not necessarily in six months to a year). Long-term goals require time and patience and being able to conceptualize what you want your life to look like in five years or more. Again, to achieve each of your long-term goals, you must first accomplish a series of short-term goals.
Long- and Short-Term Goal Examples
There are some short-term and long-term career goals examples that everyone should consider following. Some realistic examples of short-term goals include obtaining a degree or certification in your field, improving your LinkedIn page, building your personal brand, networking and making connections in your industry or earning a leadership position. To determine what you want your short-term goals to be, ask yourself what skills and knowledge you need to succeed in your industry.
Alternately, some examples of long-term goals might include developing a long-term career plan, gaining management experience, improving your overall career or leadership skills, changing jobs or eventually starting your own business. Long-term goals are goals that can't be attained overnight; they require intensive application and dedication and can take several years to achieve.
Tips for Setting Short-Term Goals
When it comes to plotting out your future, setting out realistic short-term goals is important. This means selecting goals that you can actually achieve; after all, we only have so much time and energy on this earth to truly develop the career paths we want. If you don't set realistic goals for yourself, you could end up feeling even more discouraged than when you started.
One excellent way to ensure that your career goals stay as realistic as possible is to share your goals with your network of trusted friends, family members or others in your profession. Ask for an honest assessment of your short-term goals from someone you trust; this way, you can gain an all-important outside perspective. From there, you can start learning and developing the skills needed for your professional path.
Finally, it can be extremely helpful to have measurable goals in place. This means creating a specific time frame for achieving your goals and detailing the exact way(s) you plan to achieve those goals. You could even pair each short-term goal with an action: For example, if your goal is to create a side hustle writing corporate blog posts, sign up for an introductory blogging course. Actionable, measurable goal-setting is the name of the game.
Tips for Setting Long-Term Goals
Though it's easy to go broad or vague with your long-term goals, try to avoid doing this as much as possible. Instead of thinking in general terms ("I want to be successful!"), try to hone in on what it is that you really want to accomplish and how exactly you want to be successful. Be as specific and intentional as you can.
Being flexible and refraining from negativity are both important tips to keep in mind, as well, when setting up your long-term goal plan. Focus on framing your goals in a positive light. For instance, instead of saying something like, "My goal is to not be stuck in this dead-end job for another year," you could rephrase this as, "My goal is to improve a specific skill (or set of skills) so that I'm able to qualify for a better job." Refraining from negativity will get you far when planning out your future.
Don't give up if you encounter barriers that threaten to impede your progress; you may only need to change or adjust your goals. Flexibility means being willing to let go of goals that no longer serve you or that are no longer meaningful. Goals and career paths can change, after all, so staying open and flexible can mean the difference between staying motivated and getting discouraged.
Justine Harrington is based in Austin, where she writes about current trends in workplace wellness, co-working, and millennial career culture. Her work has been published in Forbes, USA Today, Fodor's, Marriott Traveler, SAS Airlines, the Austin American-Statesman, Austin Monthly, and dozens of other print and online publications.