How To Set Career Goals

Updated 28 December 2022

Goal-setting is a vital part of your personal and professional life. If you want to get a promotion, have more job satisfaction or achieve particular workplace accomplishments, setting goals can help you take actionable steps to reach them. In this article, we focus specifically on how to set and achieve career goals.

Why setting career goals is important

You probably have certain things that you would like to achieve in your career. However, in most cases breaking these down into smaller goals is an important step to work toward and attain your career goals. Setting career goals helps you see your dreams as tangible achievements rather than abstract fantasies. Goal-setting helps you to turn ideas into reality through both short-term and long-term goals.

What are long-term career goals?

Long-term goals are ultimate achievements that generally take a few years to accomplish. They should be ambitious, realistic goals that you can achieve with hard work and commitment.

For example, if you currently work as a clerk at a local bank, you may dream of becoming a bank manager. You may have achieved the first short-term goals since you are already in the right industry, but you can plan the next steps you need to make to get from your position as a bank clerk to a bank manager. These steps will be your short-term goals and your dream of becoming a bank manager is a long-term goal.

What are short-term career goals?

A short-term goal is a series of smaller steps or goals that will help you achieve your long-term goal. For example, if you are a writer, you may dream of one day publishing a book. However, you won't reach this goal overnight; you need to take lots of small steps to get there.

Initially, you may try to improve your writing by taking a part-time course in writing or researching good writing practice and practising independently. This would be your first short-term goal.

Your second short-term goal may be to decide on a topic for your book. Again, this would require a lot of research. Then you may start the actual writing process and set yourself short-term goals for writing a set amount of words or chapters each week.

As you move along the process, other short-term goals may be to finish your first draft, get the book edited, then find a literary agent and publisher. These goals will ultimately help you achieve your final goal of publishing a book.

Related: Effective Short-Term Career Goals (With Examples)

Personal vs professional goals

While you may be working on different goals in different areas, you may want to only focus on one main professional goal at a time.

Personal goals will focus on your life outside of work. These range vastly from person to person, depending on what you typically do outside of the workplace.

Personal goals can include things like:

  • Being able to run 5km in less than 35 minutes

  • Saving up $10,000

  • Buying your first house

  • Reading 50 books in a year

  • Graduating from university with a degree

Professional, or career goals, however, are all about the workplace. While they also vary greatly depending on the person's job description and industry, they often focus on promotions, pay rises and moving into different sectors. They may include things like:

  • Finding an entry-level job

  • Earning a promotion

  • Negotiating a pay rise

  • Establishing a business

How to set career goals

While it may be easy to name a few things that you would like to achieve in your career, actually setting goals can ensure that you steadily work toward them. Follow these steps to set goals:

1. Make sure that your goals are clear and detailed

Once you've decided on your goal, add as much detail to it as possible. The more detailed the goal is, the more likely it is to be achievable.

For example, instead of setting yourself the goal of ‘I want to increase my business turnover', say ‘I want my business turnover to be $500,000 by 2023'.

You might change this goal over time, especially if you have more success than anticipated, but try to meet or exceed the goals when you can. Setting easy measurable goals will help you either reach them or identify room for improvement. If you achieve your goal early, you can celebrate your accomplishment and set a more ambitious one.

2. Decide how you measure success

Plan a way to measure success as you start achieving your short-term and long-term career goals.

For example, if your goal is to become an engineer, you need to achieve a certain level of education and acquire specific soft and hard skills. Make a list of the education that you will need and the skills you should possess.

Every time you take the next step in your education or feel as if you have acquired a particular skill, you will see that you are going in the right direction.

To measure skills, try to test your level first. For example, if you are trying to develop your problem-solving skills, try to give yourself hypothetical situations to address and see how easily you can solve them. Consider using tools such as problem-solving skills tests that you find online.

Related: How to Answer the Interview Question 'What Are Your Goals?'

3. Make sure your goals are ambitious yet realistic

Your career goals should be ambitious, as the point of them is to encourage you to stretch yourself. However, it's essential to make sure you set realistic goals that you are likely to achieve with hard work.

For example, if you want to own an advertising firm, you may not be able to achieve this goal within a year of becoming an advertising assistant.

However, you can aim for a promotion within a year to a slightly more senior role and aim to be an advertising manager within three years. Owning your own advertising firm may be a realistic 5-10 year goal.

Read more: SMART Goals: Definition and Examples

4. Set a timeline of short-term goals that are relevant to each other.

To visualise the route to your long-term goal, create a timeline of short-term goals. These goals should clearly help you reach both the next stage of your goal and, essentially, your long-term goal. By looking at your timeline of short-term goals, you should be able to clearly see which stage you are at and what your next step is. For example, if your long-term goal is to own a successful bakery and you are currently working on a waitstaff team in a restaurant, there are a few clear steps that you need to take.

A detailed plan could consist of the following:

  1. Find a job in a bakery to get real-life bakery experience.

  2. Work in as many different roles in the bakery as possible to learn everything you can about running a bakery.

  3. Work your way up to becoming a supervisor or shift manager to help you learn about the trade.

  4. Work on developing a business plan and a plan for saving or obtaining capital to start your business.

  5. Research the best places to open a bakery. This may require looking in different suburbs or towns or even moving to a different part of the country.

  6. Apply for business loans.

  7. Find a space to rent.

  8. Advertise the bakery in person and through channels like social media.

  9. Start running the bakery and monitor the income every week.

  10. Turnover $300,000 in your first full year.

5. Set an end-date

Set a rough timeline for each short-term and long-term goal, but it is important to not get too wrapped up in dates. Set an ideal time for each of your short-term goals, but make these adjustable; if you don't meet your first goal, you will need to reassess your timeline.

Also, set an ultimate end date for your long-term goal. However, this is also something you can revise if you are ticking off your short-term goals but you find that you need to push back your deadline.

A rough, adjustable end date will help you cement this aspiration as something you will achieve rather than a far-fetched dream.

6. Don't reprimand yourself if you struggle with a goal

Don't criticise yourself if you aren't meeting your goals, if you change a goal mid-way or if meeting your goal doesn't result in the outcome you anticipated. This is normal, and goals change all the time. Use your experience to adjust your ideas and improve the goals you set in the future.

If you are serious about attaining a certain long-term goal, setting short-term goals can help you get there. Follow this guide to set relevant, realistic and detailed short-term career goals, which build up to one long-term goal, to have a much higher chance of turning your ambitions into achievements.


  • 9 Personal Development Goals and How To Achieve Them

  • How To Answer "What Are Your Long Term Career Goals?”

  • How To Create a Career Plan

  • Career Success Tips: A Complete Guide to Excelling at Work


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