Guide to Setting Your Career Goals

Setting Career Goals: 2023 Guide

Setting goals can help you find direction and motivation in your career. Your level of success relies on having a clear vision of what you want to achieve to keep your career plans on track. In this guide we’ll look at what a SMART goal is and the best way to set clear and effective goals. 

What Are Career Goals?

Career goals are a set of objectives curated by an individual or third party that guide your career path. Career goals explain the professional objectives you should pursue in your career. These goals can form the basis of effective action plans. Setting out these resolutions will help you stay motivated in the long run.

Short-term vs. Long-term Career Goals

It’s a good idea to have both short-term and long-term career goals. A short-term career goal is an objective you want to achieve in the near future. For example, in a day, week, month, or year. Long-term career goals may be more of a five-year plan. They require in-depth research and proper planning.

For example, a short-term goal can be to purchase a new phone or sign up for a coding class. Long-term goals can include buying a house, earning a master’s, or retirement plans. These goals demand different kinds of attention. You might find yourself adjusting your short-term goals to fit into your overall career plans.

Before You Get Started

It can be challenging to begin setting your own personal career goals and come up with an action plan. You need a foundation from which to create reasonable and attainable career objectives. Below we’ve listed some key factors that will help give you insight into the direction you should take.

Take Stock of Where You Are

The most important part of setting career goals is to acknowledge where you are in your career. Take note of your weaknesses and strengths. Write down your current achievements and the resources available to help you advance. 

Talk to Someone You Look Up to

When it comes to goal setting, you cannot underestimate the power of getting advice from someone you admire. Established professionals have mastered the best routes for career success. Talking to them can teach you how to set proper career goals and ways to achieve them.

Ask Friends for Examples of Their Own Goals

Talk to senior professionals or friends in the same industry and ask them about their personal career goals. This can give you a rough idea of how to write your own career goals or objectives. Getting an idea of how they have come to set their career goals will give you an in-depth understanding of their process.

How to Set SMART Career Goals

SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely. Focusing on these elements makes your goals easier to attain. Take a look at how you can create your own SMART career goals below.


Your goals must be clear and precise to describe exactly what you need to achieve. This will help you have a sense of direction and remove any ambiguity that may deter you from being successful. 

To be more specific, make sure your goals answer the questions “who”, “what”, “when”, and “why?”. Think about what you want to achieve, why it’s important, who is involved in making it happen, and when you want to achieve them. 


How will you know when you have achieved your goal? Having measurable goals is essential. Any successful professional realizes the power of tracking their actions. Setting out clear ways to measure your success against your goals is another way to remove ambiguity in your career path. 

Formulate clear criteria for establishing your progress towards these goals. For example, it could be achieving a certification or getting a promotion.  


Setting reasonable objectives to achieve in a specific time can be a great source of motivation. However, it is important that you don’t set unrealistic goals which can lead to stress and frustration. 

Things to consider when setting a SMART goal is whether you have the resources available to make it happen. For example, do you have the financial resources to enroll in extensive training? Do you have the time to commit to taking on extra work experience?  


It’s important to make each goal realistic. Whether they are personal goals or even professional goals, you will need to ensure that they are within reach. If you set goals that are way beyond what you can realistically achieve, you’ll end up feeling like you’re going backward. 

Don’t set yourself up to feel like you’re failing. Breaking things down into small, realistic goals is the best way to keep moving forward and stay motivated. 


Attach a timeline to your goals is also very important. This will give you the motivation you need to keep going so you can get the desired results. Without a deadline, it can be difficult to find a sense of urgency to achieve any objective. 

Having a timeline is helpful to reduce procrastination. Make sure you set a realistic timeline that fits into your current schedule and lifestyle. 

How to Achieve Your Career Goals

Write Them Down

Once you’ve followed the SMART guidelines above to formulate your own personal career goals, be sure to write them down. Writing down your goals makes them a reality. Some people pin them somewhere they’ll see regularly to keep them front of mind. 

Share Them

If you want more insight into your list of objectives, you can seek professional advice from career coaches. These professionals specialize in helping individuals achieve their desired goals in their careers. You can also share your goals with family or friends. Telling people about your career goals helps you stay accountable. 

Visualize Your Success

It can be helpful to visualize your achievements before they happen. Many people rely on this technique in their careers. As well as helping you to have more faith in achieving your goals, visualizing the steps involved in getting there is a useful practice. 

Career Goal Examples

To give you an idea of what your short-term and long-term goals might look like, we’ve curated a list of examples of typical career goals to act as a guide. You can use these examples to see how your short-term goals might feed into your long-term goals.

Short-term Career Goal Examples 

Adjust your Work-Life Balance

If you have been suffering from frequent burnouts, it might be an indication that you need to make some changes. Many professionals commit most of their time to their careers and forget to take time for themselves. This can ultimately have a negative effect on all areas of your life, including your career. 

Make sure to create a balance between your work and life. You will see how much the quality of your work and relationship with colleagues will improve.

Earn a Certification 

Sitting a certification exam is an excellent short-term goal that can lead directly towards success for your long-term goals. For example, if you’re an IT professional, gaining a Microsoft certification will give you the industry recognition you need to land more job opportunities. Obtaining a certification can be completed in less than a year.

Socialize with Coworkers 

Instead of having your coffee on your own, ask your colleagues if they’d like to join you. Socializing with coworkers has many short and long-term benefits on your career, from building your reputation, to aiding your learning experience, to helping to develop a valuable professional network.

Join a Bootcamp

Enrolling in a bootcamp is a surefire way to quickly diversify or upskill. For example, joining one of the best coding bootcamps will strengthen and validate your coding skills to employers. They are also a relatively cheap and quick way to build up your formal training. 

Start a Personal Project

Take on a small personal project in line with your career goals. If you want to become a web designer, you can start designing your website from scratch in your spare time. You can also tutor students or take on other independent projects. These can also bolster your resume.

Long-term Career Goal Examples

Gain Leadership Skills 

If you want to pursue senior positions, you should set yourself a long-term goal of developing leadership skills. To gain exceptional leadership skills, explore any opportunities where you can lead or manage a team to solidify these skills. Gaining these skills takes time.

Build a Professional Network 

You can easily expand your professional network by attending seminars, training, discussion forums, or webinars. The more you socialize with your colleagues, the stronger your relationships will be. Building an extensive network can take years.

Land a Managerial Position 

You can easily achieve a managerial role by setting the right career goals. Once you have committed to this as a long-term goal, break it into smaller objectives that may help you get a promotion. Getting certified, attending webinars, and taking on extra supervisory tasks at work can prepare you for a managerial position.

Switch Careers

If you’re not completely happy with your current role, committing to a career change as a long-term goal is the first step. You can then use your short-term goals to make sure you gain other skills and experience to help you diversify.  

Save up for Retirement 

Saving up for retirement takes years. If this is a key priority for you for your work, set it as a long-term career goal you can begin working towards. Find a role that offers impressive retirement savings plans or has a high enough salary that you can start saving now. 

The Bottom Line

SMART goals can help you achieve what you want to out of your career and personal life. It’s easy to lose focus or get on the wrong path when faced with day-to-day career decisions.  Use these clear guidelines to set achievable short and long-term career goals that’ll keep your career on track and help you have a successful career. 

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