Career Goals: Setting, Achieving and Following Through on Your Vision

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May 26, 2024 at 2:18AM UTC
Are you looking to set career goals, but don't know where to start? Are you preparing to answer "What are your career goals?" in an upcoming interview? Keep reading to learn how to make career goals and how to talk about them. 

What is a career goal? 

A career goal is a statement that explains what profession or professional merits an individual would like to pursue over the course of their career. Having a specific career goal can help the person setting the goal to create specific action steps for their career and overarching career happiness. 

What are the best career goals?

Like any goals, the best career goals are SMART goals. SMART goals are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and timely. The best career goals also align with what you value in your career — doing work that betters the world, making money or mentoring people are some examples —  and what your career dreams are. These dreams may be industry specific, may include personal accomplishments or may be based on your career values.
Some examples of well-executed career goals include: 
  • Switch industries to explore my passion for art. 
  • Make enough money to retire by age 55. 
  • Earn an advanced degree in my field. 
  • Earn an executive position at my organization. 
  • Earn an entirely remote position. 
  • Open my own consulting business using my industry-specific expertise. 

How to formulate your own.

1. Set aside time to think about your goals. 

To really dig into your goals, you will need time to think creatively without being distracted or stressed. Set aside a distraction-free period of time — preferably a time where your current work won't be heavy on your mind — to think deeply about what moves you about your career and what you'd like to do in the long term. Remember that you may need to revisit the following steps multiple times before you create a career goal that sticks, so be patient with yourself and prepare to set aside more time in the future.  

2. Suspend logic. 

The best thing about setting goals is that they can be anything, as long as you have a plan to achieve them. As you set your career goals, remind yourself to dream big. Your goal doesn't have to be based on what's happening right now. Allow yourself to set pragmatic thinking aside and think of what you would do if you had the time and resources. Then, plan on acquiring both of those things. 

3. Ask yourself questions to determine your work values. 

One of the most important things to consider when determining your career goal is what you value about your work. Once you know what you value, or what you want, out of your work, you can determine what role or accomplishment will achieve that value. To determine what you want out of your career, start by asking yourself the following questions: 
  • What do you consider a "successful" career? When have you felt most successful in your career?
  • How do you enjoy your day-to-day work? What would your ideal workday look like? 
  • What does financial success look like to you? 
  • Does your current work feel purposeful? If so, how are you finding purpose at work? If not, do you feel a pull to do more "purposeful" work? 

4. Practice visioning exercises to determine your dreams. 

Now that you know what you value in your career, start dreaming of roles or accomplishments that could deliver that value. Try the following visioning exercises to brainstorm these feats: 
  • What would you do if you had the power to make your career anything you wanted? 
  • What would you pursue if you had unlimited money to make it happen? 
  • What would your dream career look like in 5 years? In 10 years? In 20 years? 

5. Write out a concise career goal — and an action plan to achieve it. 

Now that you know what you want out of your career and ways to achieve it, make your goal as concise and specific as possible. Write out a paragraph — or a single sentence, if possible — that sums up your goal. Then, establish an action plan to achieve it. Start by listing things you can envision yourself doing right now to achieve your goal. Display this action plan around your house or office to keep yourself motivated. Now, it's time to jet set to your dreams!

How to answer "What are your career goals?" 

Now that you've got a career goal — or at least have read how to establish one — it's time to talk about how you can discuss that goal in interviews or at networking events. 

How to answer "What are your long-term career goals?"

"What are your long-term goals?" is a common interview question, because it can provide important insight into how well you fit inside a role and inside a company culture. To answer this question well in an interview, communicate that the role and company are part of your long-term plan (without lying). Emphasize that you are looking forward to growing within the company and contributing your unique skillset in the role. Tie your goals to the goals of your potential employer to demonstrate additional investment in a role there. For instance, if you are a project manager interviewing at a start-up that needs help with processes, say one of your long-term goals is to effectively manage a number of projects while improving their project management processes using whatever skills you offer. Avoid answering this question with a salary goal or a promotional goal. Instead, focus on how you will grow — and succeed — in the role and tax bracket you're interviewing in. 
If you are answering this question at a networking event, answer as concisely and professionally as possible  — then communicate how the person you're speaking to can help you achieve that goal in a concrete action-step. For instance, if you're a photographer who's goal is to be published in magazines and you're networking with an writer at a magazine, say you're hoping to publish a series in a magazine and ask for a potential photography contact at that company. Steer away from answering with more personal answers: desired salaries, titles or work options. 

How to answer "What are your short-term career goals?"

Much like the above question, "What are your short-term career goals?" is a frequent interview question that needs to be answered by tying your goals to the interviewers's goals. Communicate that your goals are primarily to accept a role like the one you're interviewing for and to use your expertise to meet the goals expected in that role. Also, communicate your dedication to growing through constructive feedback and collaboration, if teamwork is an important portion of the job description. Again, avoid answering this question with your desired salary or career trajectory.
If you are answering this question at a networking event, you again want maximize value by tying it to an action step that the person you're speaking to can take.  

How to answer "What are your personal career goals?"

This question is just another phrasing of the above questions. It is smart to answer it in a similar way, while tailoring it to the environment you're in. If you are asked this question in a more intimate setting — say a small networking event or by a mentor — you may want to provide a more personal answer that is closer to the private career goals you've established for yourself. 

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