Whether you’re unemployed or underemployed or looking for a career change, you may be wondering about your future and what job you should be aiming for.
There are so many possibilities available, which can make it difficult to focus and decide what job you want next.
And if you’re struggling to find a job right now, it’s tough to think about the big picture and where you want to end up in the future.
Having a clear idea of your career goals can help you search and apply for the right positions. It can also help you identify the skills you’ll need to work on to land the career of your dreams. Those skills will serve you not only in the near future but throughout your entire career.
Let’s break down how you can set career goals and work toward a fulfilling career.
Before you set your career goals, let’s define what they are in the first place.
A career goal is a specific statement about what you want to achieve in your career. Your goals should also specify when you want to achieve your accomplishments.
There’s a big difference between becoming a warehouse manager two years from now and 20 years from now.
Writing down career goals helps you clarify what you want them to be so that you know where to go and whether you are on track.
Setting your career goals will also help you establish a clear action plan to get there. During your next job search, you can compare the open positions you see to your goals and see if they match.
In short, having career goals will help you have a long-term vision of your career instead of only thinking about the next job you’ll have. 20 years from now, you’ll be more likely to be in a job that fulfills you if you set goals today and start working toward them.
As a result, you can improve your overall quality of life and develop your self-esteem every time you get a little bit closer to that goal.
Knowing exactly how you want your career to end up isn’t easy. However, it is achievable, especially if you break it down into bite-sized steps.
Here's how you can set your own career goals, even if you have no idea where to start.
Before you know where you want to go, you have to understand where you came from and where you are now. When you carefully assess your current situation, you’ll be more likely to set goals that are not only achievable but also challenging enough.
Your skills don’t have to come from previous job experiences. Whether you've developed your skills at home, working on hobbies, during high school, or in a certification program, they all matter.
Listing your hard skills can be easy, but if you’re not sure about your soft skills, don’t hesitate to ask people close to you. Let them know you’re working to develop your career path and goals, along with assessing your biggest personal skills and strengths.
This is important because you may not realize you have a certain skill until someone points it out. We can be our own worst critics.
With your list of skills out of the way, you’ll also need to find out your biggest weaknesses. Of course, you don’t need to list every skill that you don’t have. Just list anything that you’ve noticed in the past.
For example, perhaps you’ve had to give speeches back in high school and remember struggling to speak clearly. In this case, public speaking could be one of your weaknesses.
Another example could be adaptability. If you’ve struggled to adapt to changing circumstances in previous jobs or social situations, this could be a potential weakness to work on.
When you have a complete list of skills and weaknesses, all that’s left to assess your current situation is your current job. List down your job and the responsibilities involved. If you don’t have a job, write what you’re aiming for to start. Don’t worry — you can change this later.
Next, let’s discuss what your career goals should include before you write them down. Keep in mind that you don’t need to have a goal for each of these; it just helps to get a full picture of how you see yourself several years from now.
Income goals: How much money do you want to be making? Do you see yourself making a specific hourly wage, like $25 an hour, or are you aiming to have a certain yearly salary?
Autonomy: How much autonomy do you want to have in an ideal world? Do you feel happier and safer in a job where you're micromanaged and don’t have a lot of autonomy?
Or would you be more fulfilled if you were given the freedom to solve problems the way you see fit and work in the way you prefer? Maybe your goal lies somewhere in between, too.
Skills and strengths: Which weaknesses would you like to work on to gain new skills and strengths? What are some existing skills you would like to develop further?
Career perks: What are benefits, such as health benefits (health, dental & vision insurance), retirement benefits, amount of vacation time, and more that you would like to obtain? Do you want a career in which lots of travel is involved?
Level of training/education: Are you happy with your current level of training or education, or is there another level you’d like to reach? Do you want to get certified in heavy equipment, or perhaps get a bachelor’s degree?
Challenges: In what ways do you want to be challenged during your career? What are some problems you’d like to solve in order to feel fulfilled and improve your skills?
For example, maybe you'd be happy to find more efficient processes that will improve the productivity of your team.
Specific position in a specific type of company: What specific job do you want to occupy? Do you see yourself in a leadership role in a finance company, such as manager, or even CEO? Perhaps you want nothing to do with management and instead want to achieve a specific level of responsibility.
For example, if you want to be a truck driver, you may be aiming for cross-country assignments, so you can see the country instead of only performing short drives within your city.
Now it’s time to think about the future. Before you create short-term career goals, you need to find out where you want to go long-term so that your short-term goals help you get there.
Using the goals you wrote above, paint a picture of what you want your career to look like 5–10 years from now.
You don’t need to include every category, but make sure you include the ones that matter to you.
For example, you may not care about your level of autonomy, but maybe you absolutely want to meet your challenge goals.
When you set your career goals, both long-term and short-term, they should be done the SMART way:
Specific: Your goal should be clear, not vague.
Measurable: You need to be able to measure your progress as you work toward your goal to know when you have achieved it.
Attainable: Your goal should be possible and not too ambitious, yet ambitious enough to provide you with a challenge.
Relevant: Your goal should be related to your career (for example: becoming a great project manager isn’t relevant if your goal is to work in the field of heavy machinery).
Time-based: Your goal should have a timeframe (for example, get a college degree five years from now).
When you define your career goals as SMART objectives, you’ll have a clear, specific idea of where you're headed.
“Writing objectives as SMART statements is the gold standard for goal setting because it gives a clear direction for action planning and implementation,” according to the British Journal of Health Care Management.
For example, if you say you want to become a supervisor in a warehouse job and manage a team of over ten people, it’s easy to know when this goal is achieved.
But, if you write that you want more autonomy ten years from now, what exactly does that look like? It will be difficult to know if you’ve reached your career goals if the goals themselves are vague.
Keep creating your SMART goals until all your priorities are met. There is no magic number of goals you should have — it all depends on what you believe will fulfill you.
If you’re not sure what goals you want to set for yourself, here are nine specific examples of career goals in different fields, each set as SMART goals.
Let’s say you have a specific career in mind. If you want to become a flight attendant, for instance, here is what that would look like as a SMART goal:
Become an international flight attendant at a global airline within three years.
You can aim to learn a new skill, like web development:
Learn how to develop websites using HTML and CSS scripting languages and launch your first prototype within six months.
Whether you’re trying to achieve a leadership position or not, it helps to write exactly what that looks like and when you want to get there:
Become foreman at your current place of work within three years.
Achieving a certification is specific enough, but make sure your goal is time-bound as well:
Get certified to become a project manager (CAPM: Certified Associate in Project Management) within two years.
If you want to grow your network to help you find a new job or grow your career, you should aim not just to attend more events but also follow up with people afterward:
Attend a business event once a month and follow up with ten people after each event by adding them on Jobcase and sending them a personalized note.
Thought leadership can be a vague goal because it’s difficult to pinpoint the moment it happens, but you can set a specific milestone like so:
Become the goto person at work for key situations in 5 years.
If you want to obtain a leadership position, it helps to specify not just what role you want, but also how many people you’ll lead:
Become a supervisor in charge of at least three team leads who each manage five to eight people within the next ten years.
If you have a sales position, you can aim to improve your sales metrics:
Increase gross sales from $4,000/month to $10,000/month within eight months from now.
If you want to start your own business, what would that look like? For example:
Start a moving company that helps individuals move using bicycles and trailers instead of moving trucks. Launch the company six months from now and expand to three movers working under you within two years from launch.
The earlier you establish where you want to go, the earlier you can start on the path toward your desired destination.
Schedule some time in your calendar right now — yes, right now — to set those career goals.
Want to see what types of aspirations other people like you have for their careers? Meet like-minded people to get career goal inspiration by signing up for Jobcase.