Setting professional goals should be one of the foremost steps you take to build a stable and successful career. Whether you’re writing a list of goals as part of interview prep, or you voluntarily want to plan out the next steps in your life, setting your professional goals can help lead you to a more prosperous future.
Like personal goals you set for other activities in life, professional goals can also assist you in mapping out your direction and defining your path towards the future.
What are Professional Goals?
Professional goals can be defined as specific and long-term goals that help you achieve your career aspirations. It can also be a series of objectives used to evaluate the success of your work. The timeline for setting these goals varies per individual. They can be short-term, long-term and can stretch from a few months to even a decade.
Professional goals are specific objectives that you desire to accomplish in your profession. They are usually a mix of short-term (such as attending a course this month) and long-term goals (like becoming a manager in the next two years).
Long-term career goals serve as a guidepost to work toward, whereas short-term goals divide the task into more urgent and manageable actions.
Why are Professional Goals Important?
Before exploring easy ways we can set professional goals, let’s first understand why setting such goals are essential. A successful career isn’t only measured by the amount of money you earn or the number of years you’ve worked. Other factors, like personal fulfillment and contribution to your specific industry, also come into play.
Having an unfulfilling career leads to pent-up frustration, which over time bleeds into your personal life and, finally, your daily productivity at work. You may end up losing track of deadlines, which in turn leads to even more frustration.
Well thought out and written goals eliminate the blurred lines and ease the panic you feel when you think about what’s next. When your goals are spelled out, it becomes only a matter of completing one step and moving to the next.
It’s all too easy to keep doing what you’ve always done or to seize any chance that comes your way without giving it any thought. However, this can quickly lead to dissatisfaction and a lack of direction in your job.
Setting defined goals forces you to consider what you want, allowing you to pursue a position or career that truly fulfills you. Professional goals, in this sense, give your job direction and purpose, because when you set them, you know you have a plan of action and are working towards something you genuinely want to attain.
How to Set Professional Goals
In setting professional goals, there is no master formula for guaranteed success. You should back up your goals with an action plan that includes tentative deadlines for achieving certain levels. Best practices formulated by experts like S-M-A-R-T can be the framework for your plan.
This way, one can identify the areas needing more improvement and then set targets that will stir you towards the end goal. The following points are easy ways to set professional goals.
1. Create a Mission Statement, Make Your Goals Clear
When you come up with a career goal, it should be specific and realistic. You need to decide what level of success you aim for and what should be prioritized. Your professional goal should be all about making your mark on the world. If you’re not sure what you want to achieve or where that mark should lie, then it’s hard to know what to pursue in the long run.
A common denominator should be what you love and enjoy doing. Your life-defining career goal should be a merger between activities you enjoy and the industry that helps you achieve it professionally.
Think of the best part of your job, what you look forward to every day, and where you excel the most. When the what’s and why’s are clear then it’s time for you to figure out ways to narrow it down for even more clarity.
2. Write Down Your Goals, Apply the SMART Methodology
SMART is a conceptual framework you can build your goals around. The acronym stands for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and timed. Setting SMART goals and writing them down helps you focus on the small details that eventually lead to the main goals.
For example, instead of saying “By the end of every week, I’ll go over the accounting records of my current project,” you can narrow it down to – “On Friday morning, I’ll create paystubs and calculate profits and losses for the weeks’ project.”
The latter is more spelled out and precise than the former, which means there is a greater possibility of you seeing it through to the end. Note that this process is iterative, so you can always make readjustments with time, as long as you don’t deviate from your main goal.
With that personal work completed, setting career goals should be easier. You now have a better understanding of what you value and how those values might apply to your professional career. Let us now translate that information into long-term and short-term objectives.
Long-term objective sample:
- In the following 15 months, become a manager with at least one direct report.
Short-term objectives sample:
- Get coffee with a manager you admire this week and ask for their ideas.
- Discuss prospective leadership prospects inside your existing role with your manager this month, and establish three action items to assist you advance.
- Take a people-management course within the following two months.
Set your long-term goals first, then break them down into more manageable short-term goals. Consider your long-term goals to be the direction you want to go, and your short-term professional goals to be the stepping stones you need to get there. For example, if you value honesty and interpersonal connection, your long-term objective may be to become a manager on whom others can rely. In the short term, this could imply taking a people management course or researching leadership.
Whether your goals are short-term or long-term, they must be SMART. Not in the clever sense, but rather in accordance with the acronym and structure SMART goals: specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-bound.
3. Be Consistent, Use Relevant Tools
Consistency on the right part eventually breeds results, and to be consistent, you need to figure out easier ways to get work done. Working smart and hard simultaneously can help simplify your work process. With the advent of technology, there is available software for almost every tasking activity, and you can leverage this to your advantage.
For instance, to generate an invoice for an employee, you can use available digital tools to get the job done in minutes rather than hours. Repetitive small goals eventually set a precedent for even higher ones.
4. Determine your values
Because you’re striving for something that is truly important to you, basing your professional development goals on your fundamental beliefs might help you feel more fulfilled on a daily basis. When your goals and values are in sync, you are less likely to burn out and more likely to remain motivated.
So, first and foremost, you must determine your values. An excellent beginning point is to consider what is most important to you and what form of work has previously delighted you. Be truthful, and strive to separate your personal values from what you “should” want or what you believe will appear best on a performance evaluation.
If you are stuck, try the following exercises:
Imagine your ideal future self and write lines in the present tense about who you are in that future time. “I am honest,” “I help people improve,” or “I provide fresh ideas,” for example. Try to generate three statements and distill them into their corresponding values (e.g. honesty, leadership, and creativity).
Write out your most proud accomplishments and match them with the ideals they exemplified. For example, if one of your proudest professional achievements was revamping and streamlining your team’s onboarding process, efficiency and organization may be two of your core values.
Success takes time, and while fulfilling our routine, it is easy to fall into redundant patterns that soak the excitement out of activities we used to love. When this happens, it is easy to feel bored and lose focus on what is important. Professional goals serve as a reminder that helps you focus on the bigger picture and channel your energy towards things that matter.