Setting Goals to Improve Your Career

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated July 1, 2022 | Published May 17, 2021

Updated July 1, 2022

Published May 17, 2021

No matter what career you choose, setting goals helps you reach certain accomplishments. You can set short-term goals to guide you through smaller tasks, such as a project at work. You can also set long-term goals to guide your path to a promotion, a new career, higher education and much more. Setting goals is beneficial in both your personal and work lives.

In this article, we look at how setting goals can improve your career, the kind of goals you can set and how to achieve them.

Related: Create a 30-60-90 Day Plan for Your New Job

Benefits of setting goals at work

Setting goals in your professional life has a variety of benefits, including:

  • Motivation: setting goals at work motivates you to develop new strategies or skills, learn new things and improve on your current work to reach your desired accomplishment. If you set multiple short-term goals to reach a long-term one, completing them motivates you to keep growing and succeeding.

  • Focus: short-term and long-term goals help maintain your focus at work. With a specific thing to work towards, you can prioritize those tasks accordingly.

  • Guide your career: setting goals is a great way to guide your career path. Goals five or ten years into the future help dictate what career moves to make.

  • Teamwork: individual goals at work are great, but creating goals for a team can also be beneficial. Creating team goals promotes efficient teamwork and helps assign roles to each team member. Having set goals allows managers to see how their team is progressing.

  • Time management: goals with a deadline in mind improve time management. If you know you have a deadline to meet, you'll work harder to prioritize the relevant tasks.

  • Easily completing major projects: if you set short-term goals, reaching your long-term goals, like completing a major project, will be much easier. Setting goals determines the small steps you need to take towards achieving the overarching goal.

What are short-term goals?

Short-term goals are immediate goals to set for yourself. They are usually part of the bigger picture to reaching long-term goals. Short-term goals can range in time, anywhere from a few days to weeks, months, a year or even longer. You may have multiple short-term goals to achieve within one long-term goal. For example, a short-term goal could be to onboard five clients a month while the long-term goal is to earn a promotion.

Related: 14 Short-Term Goals to Improve Your Career Today

What are long-term goals?

Long-term goals are large goals that you can achieve over several years. You can include as many milestones as you need to achieve your long-term goals. For example, your long-term goal could be to receive a promotion to a managerial role in sales. To get there, you need smaller goals, such as further education, meeting certain sales goals or getting a mentor.

Related: How to Set Long-Term Goals: 5 Helpful Steps for Success

Setting professional goals

You can use goals in the workplace to complete certain tasks or achieve bigger goals, such as a promotion or career change. Your manager may even require you to create goals to track your progress. Even if your manager doesn't require you to create professional goals, it's a good idea to do so on your own. This will guide you towards bigger accomplishments. Professional goals can be short-term or long-term and should focus on advancing your career. Here are some examples of professional goals you can set for yourself:

  • creating and implementing a new marketing campaign

  • promotion to a higher-level position

  • coming up with a solution to the team's communication problem

  • getting an employee of the month award

  • switching careers or industries

  • getting hired by your dream company

  • leading a weekly meeting

Setting personal goals

Setting goals is not only useful in your professional life, but in your personal life as well. You can set a variety of personal goals to improve your hobbies, health, skills or education. Improving in these categories in your personal life can also transfer into your professional life as well. For example, if your hobby is writing and your goal is to write a book, your communication skills will become much stronger in the process. Setting and achieving personal goals with professional ones can also make you happier and more focused at work and feel successful in both areas of your life. Having personal goals will help you develop a healthy work-life balance as well. Here are some examples of personal goals you can set for yourself:

  • lose weight by taking at least 10,000 steps a day

  • volunteer at the local animal shelter

  • reduce screen time in the evenings

  • wake up an hour earlier on weekdays

  • learn a foreign language

  • write a daily journal

  • save more money to buy a house

How to use the SMART method to set goals

There are a variety of ways to set professional or personal goals to ensure success. But these five key elements should guide every goal. The SMART acronym outlines these elements and is used to guide goal setting. SMART stands for:

  • specific

  • measurable

  • attainable

  • relevant

  • time-based

Let's look at how to set a SMART goal:

1. Make your goals clear and specific

If your goal is too general, it's harder to attain. Making sure it's specific ensures you know exactly what you're working towards. When creating your goal, the best way to make it specific is to answer the five “W” questions:

  • What do you want to accomplish?

  • Why is the goal important?

  • Who is reaching the goal?

  • Where can you work towards your goal?

  • Which resources do you need?

For example, instead of creating a general goal to earn a promotion, a more specific goal could be, “I want to gain the relevant knowledge and experience to become the lead editor at my publishing company to exemplify my leadership skills.”

Related: How to Use Visualization Techniques to Reach Your Goals

2. Create a measurable goal

It's important to have measurable goals, especially at work, to track your progress and adjust your goal if necessary. Being able to measure your progress keeps you motivated to meet deadlines and achieve your goal. A measurable goal should be able to answer one of these questions:

  • How much?

  • How many?

  • How will you know when it's accomplished?

For example, if your goal is to earn more money, how much do you want to earn to achieve your goal? If you want to get a degree, how many years will it take? If your goal is to become better at public speaking, is it accomplished when you've spoken in front of a crowd of a hundred people? A thousand? Using short-term goals is a great way to measure your progress on the way to achieving long-term goals.

3. Determine whether your goals are achievable

Dreaming big and creating huge goals can be great, but if they aren't realistic or attainable, it's easy to become discouraged. It's important to set goals that are challenging but still possible. This usually means setting a goal with a reasonable timeframe. For example, if you want to get a master's degree in teaching to become a professor instead of a supply teacher, you can't aim to do it in only a year if the program is two years.

Related: How to Achieve Your Goals in 6 Steps (With Benefits)

4. Make sure your goal is relevant

This is similar to ensuring your goal is achievable, but goals should also apply to your life, wants and needs. While it's tempting to create goals that impress your manager or family, your goals should apply to what you want to achieve. To help determine whether your goal is relevant, ask yourself these questions:

  • Is this worthwhile?

  • Does this goal contribute to my long-term goals?

  • Why does this goal matter to me?

  • Does this goal suit my needs?

  • How does achieving this goal improve my life?

5. Set a beginning and end date

Ensuring your goal has a target date gives you a timeline to focus on and work toward. If you have no beginning or end date, it's hard to find the motivation to work towards your goals. Having a timeline helps measure your success and ensure you're hitting the milestones you need to achieve to reach your long-term goals. You can always adjust timelines, so don't put too much pressure on yourself. For example, if your goal is to earn a promotion in one year and you don't, talk to your manager about creating a realistic timeline.

Related: SMART Goals: Objectives for Your Career

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