How to Set, Track and Achieve Your Career Goals
Even at a young age, children are now being taught to think about their future: what they want to be like when they grow up, what they would like to do, and possibly even what they would want to have.
When the questions are first asked, the child may answer one thing. A few years later, if asked the same question, he is likely to answer differently. Once he reaches high school or even college, his answers may also be different.
More often than not, however, many stick to one answer. Some of them may have different variations along the way, but the end goal remains the same. To be rich, to be successful, to be happy.
The problem with goals is that many people find it hard to stick to them. Due to various circumstances, they tend to change. Some are even left unfollowed and unfulfilled. They abandon it halfway through, perhaps because they are afraid, or they lose heart.
People have a lot of goals in life, and while some of them can be achieved easily, the same cannot be said of others. One of the toughest, and many would probably agree to this, is setting, tracking, and achieving goals related to one’s career.
In this guide, we explore 1) the most common career goals, 2) how to set your career goals effectively (including the SMART goal setting approach), and 3) how to track and achieve your career goals.
THE MOST COMMON CAREER GOALS
Think back on some of the people you know or have met. Maybe you’ve heard some of them complain about their jobs, to the point that they want to quit and look for employment elsewhere. You may have even met someone who openly declared that he hates his job, but is unwilling to quit because he does not know what to do afterwards.
They may have valid complaints, and there are indeed problems with the job, the company, the managers and supervisors, and even their co-workers. Or it could also be that there is nothing wrong with the job itself or its surrounding circumstances. The problem may be because the person is not fully aware of what his career goals are or, even if he does, he may not be acting or making decisions that are in line with the attainment of those goals.
Career goals are often stated in general terms, and they are often more than about “getting a good job”, or “managing my own company someday”, or “being part of senior management within 10 years”. Examples of the most common and basic career goals are:
- Satisfaction. The employee would like to feel completely satisfied with whatever job he is doing. Otherwise, going to work every day and not feeling any fulfillment from accomplishing something will only make him miserable and unmotivated to perform better and advance in his career.
- Financial stability. Career goals are often equated with being more than comfortable in the financial aspect. To put it bluntly, people want to be rich by doing their work. But it could also be the simple matter of being paid an amount that they feel is commensurate to the quality and amount of work they put in. Underpaid employees will have low job satisfaction and, subsequently, underperforming and unproductive. Overpaid employees, on the other hand, may feel motivated, but there is also the risk that they may feel a lot of pressure after. Thus, it is important for many people to get paid what is due them.
- Career stability. For many, the pay and the benefits, as well as the prestige of holding a certain job only come second to stability. They want to be employed in a company where they will not have to worry about being laid-off or retrenched in times of economic crisis. This is why solid companies attract the best and most talented jobseekers, because of the promise of stability.
- New and enriching experiences. Not everyone is comfortable doing the same thing, day in and day out, for five years, ten years, or even longer. There are some people who want to have a career where they will get to experience new things, force them to get out of their comfort zones and face various challenges that they feel will make them grow and become better, not just as workers, but also as individuals.
In the succeeding discussions, we will try to take a closer look at career goals, and how to set them, track them, and get around to achieving them.
Make sure you find a career you love and inspires you.
SETTING CAREER GOALS EFFECTIVELY
If you want to advance your career, you have to set goals first. What do you want to achieve? What do you want to accomplish? By setting your goals, you have a definite end in sight, and you will now be able to start making choices and working towards that end. Every career choice and decision will be made with the objective of reaching that goal.
Before you can set a career goal, however, you have to do the following:
Make an assessment of where you are right now.
Not only that, you also have to take stock of where you’ve been. By taking at look at the present and the past, you will have more than a vague idea of where you want to go.
Professional resume writer Jennifer Owen by suggested creating a “success journal”. Here, you will put all the relevant information that relate to this “status assessment”. Write down information such as your past personal and professional achievements, recognitions and awards received, certifications and accreditations earned, and new skills learned. You should also enumerate your tasks and activities at work, any exceptional accomplishments, any additional responsibilities given to you, and other similar milestones that you deem to have a bearing on your assessment of your career status.
To make the Success Journal even more relevant and reliable, it would be a good idea to keep it on hand most of the time, so that you can list down any new development in your career as they happen, instead of listing them at one time, maybe at the end of the year, when some of the relevant items are already forgotten.
Fill up your Success Journal with your successes, no matter how small or trivial they may seem.
Make an assessment of your career, especially the areas that need improvement.
If, in the previous step, you focused on the successes, this time you will look on the other end of the spectrum.
Take note of the areas where your career needs to improve on. Do you feel that you have been stuck for too long in your current position? Do you think that you are not paid enough, especially compared to your peers or other people in the same industry holding the same position or performing the same tasks?
By identifying these areas, you will be able to determine the areas that require change to be implemented. Those areas will be the focus of your next steps.
After performing these two activities, you can now start working on articulating your goal. This is the part where most people become stumped. They know what they want, or they have an idea what it is, but when they have to put it into words or something concrete, they have a hard time.
In articulating your goal, you may use the S.M.A.R.T. goal system.
THE S.M.A.R.T. GOAL SYSTEM
The S.M.A.R.T. system provides the different criteria that serve as excellent guides in goal setting. It is commonly associated with management by objectives, a concept introduced by Peter Drucker.
You may use this system to help you come up with a goal statement that encapsulates your career goals. SMART is actually an acronym that stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely.
The goal should be specific, concrete and descriptive. Between a goal that is stated in general terms and one that is specific, it is easier to see which one will be easier to accomplish. Here is a comparative example.
General: I want to get a promotion.
Specific: I want to be promoted to Senior Manager in 3 years.
Here is another example:
General: I want to start a business in the future.
Specific: I want to open a restaurant in my hometown in 2018.
The general statements are too broad. There is the intention, but it does not give you any other hints about the intention. “I want to get a promotion” will bring up questions such as “what type of promotion?” and “to what position?”
In order to be Specific, the goal must answer the following questions:
- Who is/are involved?
- What do you want to accomplish?
- Where do you plan to accomplish the goal?
- When do you plan to be able to accomplish the goal?
- Which requirements and constraints will have an impact on the goal and its attainment?
- Why do you want to accomplish that goal?
Feel free to provide as many details as you want about your career goals. That is definitely much better than being vague about it.
You should be able to measure the goal or, to be more precise, the progress towards its attainment. Measuring your progress will enable you to check that you are on the right track and at the right pace toward your goal. It is one way to ensure that you are meeting your target dates or deadlines.
The questions that must be answered include:
- How much?
- How many?
- How will you know when a step is completed or an objective is accomplished?
With proper planning of steps and a time frame, you are increasing your chances of attaining your goal. Some goals may be lofty, to the point that they are deemed to be impossible to achieve.
However, if you are truly determined to achieve these goals, and you have a plan indicating that you are aware how you can get there eventually, that means you have a great chance of making it happen. You just made your goals attainable.
It is entirely up to you to make the goal attainable, even if others may think and otherwise. Steps that are usually taken include:
- Development of a positive and winning attitude and personality that you will be able to achieve your goal;
- Acquisition of skills and abilities that will aid you in the completion of tasks that will bring you one step closer to your goals;
- Improvement of your financial capacity and fiscal ability to reach the goal; and
- Identification of various opportunities that you may have overlooked before, but can actually aid in your plan to attain your goal
In some discussions, R is made to stand for “relevant”, indicating that the goal should matter to you and have a great impact on you, personally and professionally. If it isn’t, then it is not a goal worth striving for.
You should also be careful to set goals that you can actually achieve. If we say that the goal should be realistic, it means that the goal must represent a goal or objective that you are willing and able to work towards. It must be something that you want to achieve, and you have to have the abilities to enable its attainment.
There may be instances when you are told that you are dreaming too high, or that you are “aiming for the sky”. However, if you are determined enough, and you want it badly enough, then no doubt you will find ways and means to be able to slowly and surely get to that place.
Therefore, it is important that you set performance goals instead of outcome goals. Performance goals refer to goals that may be attained depending on your performance or action taken.
Outcome goals, on the other hand, are those that are dependent on factors that are completely out of your control. The economic conditions of markets, for instance, are something that is beyond our control. Even if you perform to the best of your ability, the economic downturn may still mean that the company is in trouble (and so are you).
There should be a defined time period or duration within which you plan on achieving your goal. Stating it in terms such as “in the near future” or “sometime in the future” is not going to cut it. You have to specify a time period, such as “within 5 years” or “when you reach the age of 35”.
The purpose of this is to make things clear: you want to achieve something, and you want to achieve it on this time, or within this period. This also adds a sense of urgency, so that you will be motivated to stick to the plan and take the steps that need to be completed in order to get closer to the achievement of your career goals.
Using the same example used previously,
General: I want to get a promotion.
Specific: I want to be promoted to Senior Manager in 3 years.
General: I want to start a business in the future.
Specific: I want to open a restaurant in my hometown in 2018.
In Example 1, it made it clear that the goal (to be promoted to Senior Manager position) is expected to be achieved in 3 years. The same is true for Example 2. “In the future” can mean anytime within the next 10 years or even 20 years. By specifying a time frame, giving yourself until 2018 before you can open the restaurant, you will be motivated to work harder in the intervening years before 2018 towards planning the restaurant and its operations.
Learn more about how to set smart goals.
OTHER TIPS ON SETTING GOALS
Express your goals positively. Use a positive statement when articulating your career goals. For example, instead of saying “Do not screw up a business deal”, you should say “Execute and implement a business deal properly and successfully”. Instead of saying “Do not lose my job”, you should say “Keep my job”. It sounds better, and the positive aspect of the statement will have an equally positive effect on how you will perceive the goal.
Set priorities for your career goals. This is especially true if you named more than one or two goals that you want to achieve in your career. To avoid confusion, each goal should have corresponding priorities, allowing you to work through them in a systematic manner. Without setting priorities, you are also running the risk of being overwhelmed and pressured.
Write them down. You may pride yourself for having a sharp memory, but there is nothing wrong with writing down your goal. Sometimes, putting it on paper gives it more weight, making it more concrete. It will crystallize things and remind you about your goal, and what you should do in order to achieve it.
TRACKING YOUR CAREER GOALS
You’ve set your goals, and you are now ready to take the next steps toward achievement of those goals. Between those two points, there is a need to track your career goals, in order to see if you remain faithful to your goals, and you are on the right track.
Make an Action Plan.
It is time to come up with your game plan. What are the activities or steps that you plan to take in order to advance toward the goals that you have set previously?
List down the activities or steps that are needed to be taken in order to achieve each of the goals you have set. It would be a good idea to be as specific as possible when you list them down. This list will serve as your checklist later on. This list is not permanent, because you may need to make changes and tweaks later on, such as when you realize that you have another step that you can insert and that will aid you in your achievement of your career goals.
Create and set milestones that you will later on use as a yardstick to measure your progress. These milestones may be dates, events, figures and numbers. Make sure, however, that they are also specific. Milestones are, in effect, major stepping stones that will mark your progress. For example, for someone whose goal is to open a restaurant business in 3 years, the milestones identified may include:
- Acquisition of real property where the restaurant will be constructed.
- Completion of construction of building that will serve as the restaurant.
- Registration of the necessary licenses and permits for operation of business.
- Hiring of key kitchen and dining staff.
Analyze progress by comparing the actual accomplishments with the road map.
This is the time when you will assess whether you are on the right track or not. An employee with a goal of becoming member of senior management as Senior Manager in 5 years listed the following in his roadmap:
Year 1: Work on at least 2 projects with the team.
Year 2: Have my own project proposal approved and implemented.
Year 3: Lead at least one project as Assistant Team Leader.
Year 4: Take the lead in a project as Team Leader.
Year 5: Be promoted to Senior Manager.
When tracking the progress toward your career goals, compare it with the reality, applying any tracking or documentation system that you decide on to analyze your progress.
Document the achieved results.
When you compare your career road map or business plan with the actual activities that have been completed, you will now be able to measure or monitor your progress. However, you have to make sure that the results are properly and completely documented.
Establish a tracking system that will enable you to track your activities in connection with your goals. Tracking may be done daily, weekly, monthly or even annually, depending on the goals.
Learn from NBA legend Chris Webber on achieving your career dreams. Inspiring!
ACHIEVING YOUR CAREER GOALS
Now we come to what may be the hardest part about the entire issue on career goals: achieving them. This is the part that takes a lot of work. In fact, it takes most of the work.
When you think about it, the moment you start setting goals, you are already working towards achieving them. Identifying what you want to accomplish and attain is already half the battle. Once you have set your goals, you can now proceed towards making them happen.
Adjust plans based on tracked results.
Not only do you have to be flexible with your goals, you also have to be flexible with your action plan or roadmap. When analysis of your results shows that you are unable to keep to the plan due to unforeseen or uncontrollable circumstances, you have to adjust accordingly.
You have to always be on your toes. It is quite a cutthroat world out there, and if you do not stand firm and determined in achieving your career goals, then you won’t be able to get anywhere.
Pursue continuous personal and professional growth and development.
Take the initiative to enhance your skills and abilities, and expand your knowledge, paying extra attention on the areas that will help you complete the steps that have to be performed towards your career goals. Some, especially the most determined ones, do not limit their learning sources within the organization. They also look outside for other learning opportunities.
Reading industry books, attending conferences and seminars, and undergoing trainings and workshops… these are only a few of the many options available to employees and career-driven individuals.
Write down the steps you plan to take in order to reach your career goal.
Remember when you had that Success Journal in the beginning? You can actually do a variation of that, listing down the steps that you will take. Keep the list on hand, or within easy reach at all times. Some post it up in a conspicuous area where they can see it every day. They actually gain motivation from seeing their plans and goals spelled out.
To make things easier, it is suggested that the goals should be broken down into small and achievable tasks. Not doing so may be overwhelming. There is also the fact that, if they are in small and practical steps, they will be easier to measure. The individual will also feel more motivated once they see each task completed.
It is all right to take your time and to not rush things, because the undue pressure may make you buckle. However, this does not mean you should take your sweet time about everything.
You should still give yourself a specific time frame within which to achieve your goals. This target date will help spur you forward and motivate you to act today, instead of putting it off for the next day.
Look for a goal partner.
People who are trying to lose weight through working out are encouraged to find a workout buddy. This is so that they will continue to be motivated to continue with their workout regimen. That principle is the same with having a goal partner.
It could be a job coach, a close friend, a family member, or even a co-worker. This person will be your confidant about your goals and the steps you will take. He will discuss them with you and even help you track your progress.
Find a goal partner that you can trust will encourage and even push you towards your goal. Since he is your partner, it is expected that you do the same for him.
Reward yourself from time to time.
You deserve to savor the moment and bask in the feeling of satisfaction of being able to complete a step. With every step you have completed successfully, giving yourself a mere pat on the back may seem enough. However, there is nothing wrong with giving yourself a more substantial reward.
If you are able to receive a commendation, treat yourself to a small shopping spree. If you completed a project successfully, a day at the spa is something you deserve. These rewards will motivate you to perform the steps, and they are also something to anticipate or look forward to.
Review your career goals from time to time.
Over time, one’s core work values may change. This implies that, yes, career goals may change, which is why there is a need to review them. Make the necessary adjustments in view of the current situation or state of things. Remove those that are no longer relevant, or have no importance to you.
Accordingly, changing your goals may require some tweaking on the steps or activities outlined in your roadmap. Effect the corresponding changes to ensure consistency, and to ensure that the steps are aligned with the revised goal.
Practice patience and persistence.
Sometimes, you may feel that it is taking so long for something to actually happen. You may feel that the 5-year window you originally planned is too far into the future, and so you decide to shorten it, and then skip over some vital steps. This impatience may cost you. That is why it is important to be very careful from the beginning, when you plan and create the roadmap that you will follow.
You may not know it, but you may be your biggest enemy, specifically your impatience. Stick to the plan, especially when there is no indication that there is nothing wrong with it, aside from your impatience.
Persistence is key in most success stories. Many give up when they fail once. They are faced with one failure or stumbling block, and they scrap the entire plan completely, or go back to zero without weighing their options.
Having single-minded focus is not a bad thing. In fact, the most career-driven individuals have this in common. They are focused on getting to where they want to be, with little attention to anything that they find irrelevant to their plans. Do not let petty distractions sidetrack you from achieving your career goals.
Often, our personal and professional lives intersect and overlap. Our personal lives may have an impact on how our career paths will go, and vice versa. Therefore, it is also important that you pay attention to your short-term and long-term personal goals, and see that they do not contradict with your career goals. You do not want one getting in the way of the other.
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