how to set career goals

4 achievable career goals that you should be setting for yourself

Linda Le Phan

Whether you’re stuck in a dead-end job or got the position of your dreams but with no idea where to go next, your professional life would be infinitely better if you had a career road map.

Setting goals can jump start your career and ensure you continue to grow, and it also can give you much needed inspiration through the ups and downs that any career can throw at you. However, you need to make sure that you’re thoughtful and strategic about the goals you set.

To get you started, read on for tips on how to set career goals for yourself, along with four solid, but totally achievable career goals you should be including in the mix:

Setting smart career goals

Before scribbling down some goals on a sheet of paper, it’s worth examining what makes a good goal in the first place.

Many psychologists use the acronym “SMART” to define the factors that make a good goal:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Results-focused, and
  • Time-limited

This is especially useful to to keep in mind, because a goal like “be happy at my job” is too vague. In contrast, a good goal might read, “transition to a supervisory position in the environmental policy industry within 4 years.”

If you go about it the right way, goal setting can be really transformative for your entire life in the long-term.

A 1979 study of Harvard Business School graduates found that only 3% had clear, written goals with a specific action plan. Another 13% had goals, but they had not written them down. Ten years later, the 3% with specific, written goals were earning 10 times more than the other 97% of students! The people with non-written goals earned twice as much as their non-goal-writing peers. This shows that not only setting goals, but writing them down and creating an action plan can powerfully shape your future.

4 achievable career goals you should set for yourself:

Whether you’re looking to move up the company ladder, shift positions with your industry, or make a complete jump into a new field, setting clear career goals is key. Although the specifics will vary depending on your industry, following are achievable goals that apply to almost anyone who is career-focused,  ambitious, and wants to push themselves towards their absolute best:

1. Earn a leadership position.

Moving ahead in your career means taking on more responsibilities. Set a defined goal for where you want to be in 5 years, including the role leadership will have in your new position. Now, create an action plan for how to get there. This might include volunteering for industry events, speaking up at least once in every meeting you attend, or joining a mentorship program.

2. Build your personal brand.

Your personal brand is the professional image you present to the world; actively managing your brand will help your career take off. Begin by building your personal website. With 70% of businesses saying they check candidates’ social media presence, a website helps you control what shows up when a future employer searches your name. Building a website gives you the chance to show off your design portfolio, scholarly work, or freelance projects. You can also build your personal brand by gaining name recognition in your industry. Join your professional organization, leverage your network, use social media, or do a public speaking gig.

3. Advocate for better work-life balance.

Most people want a strong work-life balance, yet only 23% of organizations say they do a good job of helping employees balance their personal and professional lives.

Think about what a good work-life balance looks like for you. Generous leave policy? Flexible work schedule? Work-from-home opportunities? Figure out whether your current position supports your goals or whether you need to seek a new environment. Advocating for better work-life balance not only promotes your mental health, but it can also make you significantly more productive, happy and successful.

4. Seek a new training opportunity.

If you want to move your career forward, learning new skills is a must. Set a goal to engage in a new training opportunity that will take you to the next level. This might be a leadership workshop series, going back to school for an MBA, or gaining a new credential. Discuss your training plan with your manager to create a plan for how it will help you reach the next phase of your career.


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Linda Le Phan is the Senior Content Marketing Manager at kununu US, a place where job seekers can get an authentic view of life at a company and where employers have a trusted platform to better engage talent. When she’s not creating content about the modern workplace, company culture, and life & work hacks, she is probably going out to get an iced coffee (even in Boston winter), raiding the snack drawer, or jamming to kununu’s Spotify playlist.