How to Create Clear Career Goals

If you’ve ever gone to the grocery store without a list you know how much your mood can affect what you buy. If you’re hungry, you’ll grab everything in sight. If you’re full, you’ll only grab a few things and walk out with too little. When you’re upset, you may gravitate towards feel-good foods with little nutritional value. The same process applies to your career. If you go in without clear career goals, how will you ever expect to know what you need to do and get along the way?

Whether you’re in a job you hate or a job you love right now eventually you’ll be ready to make a change. Eventually you will have learned everything you can from this position and you’ll be ready to make a move to something else. But what? Where should you go? What skills should you have? How will you create the career you want if you aren’t clear on what it is that you want? That’s where career goals come in.

Why You Should Create Clear Career Goals:

1. Sense of Purpose/Direction: Clear career goals can clear away the brush and negative distractions in your every day path. With a clear set of goals you’ll feel that every bit of work you contribute is not only building towards the company’s goals but it’s a step along in the right direction for your career as well.

2. Puts Your Current Situation Into Context: Maybe you hate your current job or your current boss or your current coworkers. If you know your career goals, you can see the forest for the trees. These negative aspects of your current situation are just trees and aren’t indicative of your entire forest of a career. However, if your current situation is both negative and doesn’t align with your career goals, you’ll feel better about starting a job search and finding something better.

3. Emotions Won’t Drive Career Change: Sometimes you get fed up after your ideas aren’t worked into a project or frustrated when a coworker gets a promotion that you don’t think they deserve. Rather than letting these elements steer your career, you should have a set of clear career goals that can point you in the right direction. Maybe that promotion didn’t align with your career goals and maybe your ideas could be better suited to another company. Once your career goals are clear you’ll be less likely to slack or quit on an emotional whim.

4. Know Which Opportunities to Seek Out: There are opportunities all around you. If you open your eyes you’ll see plenty of connections you can make, classes you can take, training seminars to attend, and projects you can lend a hand to. You don’t have time to do it all but, if you have clear career goals, you will know which opportunities to seek out.

5. Know Which Skills To Focus On and Improve: Having a set of clear goals is essential when you’re looking to build skills and improve on the ones you already have. If you know the path you’d like your career to take you can observe which skills help others at your various destinations and you can focus on building those now so that you’re better prepared and qualified in the future.

Clear career goals aren’t a magical wand that will suddenly make your career better, but they are a great tool to utilize if you want to make your career progress a little easier. Now that you’re convinced that you need clear career goals for a more successful career, it’s time to find out how to set them.

How to Create Clear Career Goals

1. Write Your Own Biography: If you’ve ever read a biography you’ve probably marveled at the long and winding path that various historical figures, politicians, athletes, and celebrities have taken to get from where they started to where they are today. A great way to determine what your career goals are is to figure out where you want to go. Take some time to brainstorm and then write a short, fun autobiography. Everything that’s already happened will remain the same but this exercise gives you the opportunity to dream up where you can go from where you are. If you’re happy with the life you come up with, use this to inspire your career goals so that you’ll actually be on the path from your imaginary autobiography.

2. Work Backwards From Where You Want to Be: If you have an idol or a mentor whose career you envy, figure out how they got where they are and mimic their career! Although time will have changed the exact path, you can look at people who have achieved what you want in their own careers and set goals based on what they did to get there.

3. Incorporate Enough Flexibility: Having extremely rigid goals or an extremely rigid timeline isn’t conducive to successful career goals. Make sure you incorporate enough flexibility when you’re creating your career goals so that there’s room for organic growth and taking advantage of an unexpected career opportunity.

4. A Mix of Large, Medium, and Small: Having clear goals that are all incredibly lofty might not be as motivating as you’d imagine. Sure, being ambitious and wanting to achieve big things is admirable but if you don’t approach it correctly it may be overwhelming. If you have several large career goals take the time to break them down into medium and smaller goals along the way so that the process feels more realistic and attainable. Smaller and medium sized goals are great for tracking every day or every month progress where as larger goals often take years to complete and the definition of progress along the way may be a bit muddled. A blend of small, medium, and large goals will give you a clear path every day without sacrificing your larger ambitions.

5. Leave Room For Change: Every three to five years, revisit your career goals and see if anything needs to be reworked or changed. What you want out of your career now may not be what you want several years down the road and it’s okay to adjust your goals to reflect the new you. Accept that change is a part of life and even the clearest of career goals may need to be adjusted every now and then for better results.

Most of us walk blindly into our careers with only a vague sense of purpose and a few driving passions. It’s easy to see why many people feel lost along the way, unsure of when to make a career change or which skills to develop further. But with clear career goals, all of these problems are alleviated! Your career is guaranteed to be more successful if you have a set of clear, effective goals you can reach along the way.