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Quick guide: What are career goals?

What are career goals? How do you identify them?

Have you ever been asked what your career plan for the next five years is? It’s a pretty common question once you’ve entered the workforce. Some have elaborate plans written out and annotated. For the rest of us, we’re left wondering “what are career goals?” 

Whether you’re a student, a recent grad, just starting out or feeling the itch for a career change, let’s talk about crafting goals that will set your professional journey in motion!

Defining ‘career goals’

Let’s begin by understanding what we mean when we talk about career goals and their importance.

According to Hays, a career goal is “a clear statement that defines the ultimate job you aspire to throughout the course of your career. Provided it is realistic, a clear career goal allows you to then set yourself an action plan, or personal development plan, to work towards to achieve your professional ambitions.”

Outside of this, you can also define career goals as the professional objectives you aspire to achieve over a specific period. It doesn’t need to be tied to a certain role or job alone, but rather they can be milestones you set for yourself.

Either way, these goals give your career direction and purpose, helping you navigate your professional journey with intention. Whether it’s advancing in your current role, transitioning to a new industry, or starting your own business, defining clear career goals lays the groundwork for strategic success.

So, what are your career goals?

When it comes to career goals, it’s not a one-size-fits-all scenario, as goals vary based on personal aspirations and professional landscapes. Here are some main types of career goals along with a few examples.

Skill improvement goals

Skill improvement goals revolve around honing specific abilities and expanding your professional toolkit–and knowing how, when and what skill to develop is super important! The aim is to stay relevant in a rapidly evolving job market (and that involves some speedy upskilling). For instance, one might set a goal to attain certification in project management, demonstrating expertise in overseeing and executing projects efficiently.

 Another avenue is becoming proficient in a new programming language, an invaluable skill in the tech-dominated landscape. Additionally, developing expertise in data analysis tools can enhance decision-making capabilities, making you an asset in data-driven environments.

Advancement goals

Basically, advancement goals are centred on climbing the corporate ladder within an organisation. These goals often involve securing more responsible roles and leading significant projects. 

For instance, setting a goal to secure a managerial role within the next five years shows your ambition to lead, take on more responsibility, and take charge of project outcomes. 

Leading a cross-functional project team is another advancement goal, demonstrating the ability to coordinate diverse talents toward a common goal. Attaining a leadership position in the department showcases a desire for strategic decision-making and organisational influence.

Entrepreneurial goals

Entrepreneurial goals encompass aspirations related to venturing into business ownership or innovating within an existing business framework. Launching a startup within the next five years is a bold goal that involves navigating the complexities of entrepreneurship, from ideation to execution. 

Expanding an existing business into new markets reflects a vision for growth and market penetration. Another entrepreneurial goal involves developing and launching a unique product or service, showcasing a commitment to innovation and meeting unmet market needs.

Work-life balance goals

These goals address the crucial aspect of maintaining a harmonious balance between your professional and personal life. Implementing a flexible work schedule is a goal geared toward adapting work hours to suit personal commitments better. 

Prioritising self-care and mental well-being involves consciously incorporating activities and practices that promote overall health. 

Establishing boundaries to maintain a healthy work-life balance is a goal that emphasises the importance of delineating professional responsibilities from personal time, fostering a sustainable and fulfilling lifestyle.

Long versus short-term goals

When it comes to setting career goals, understanding the distinction between long-term and short-term objectives is crucial. 

Long-term goals typically span several years and encompass broader career milestones, such as reaching a leadership position, achieving tenure, or starting a business. Short-term goals, on the other hand, are the stepping stones that lead you to your long-term vision. This includes learning new skills or completing a training program. Of course, balancing both is essential for maintaining focus and tracking progress effectively.

How to identify your goals

Identifying your career goals is a nuanced process that requires self-reflection and a keen understanding of your aspirations. Here are steps to help you pinpoint your career goals:

  1. Self-reflection: Take stock of your strengths, weaknesses, and passions. Consider what aspects of your current or past roles bring you the most satisfaction. Try out a personal SWOT analysis.

  2. Define your values: Identify your core values and how they align with your professional pursuits. Assess if your current role or industry resonates with your values.

  3. Set SMART goals: Ensure your goals are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. Break down larger goals into smaller, actionable steps.

  4. Seek feedback: Consult with mentors (if you already have one), colleagues, or career advisors for insights. Use this feedback to refine and clarify your goals.

Goal tracker template

Of course, the best way to put down and keep an eye on your career goals is to have a structured tracker for your progress. This would help you organise your objectives and milestones. Utilising a tracker also helps you maintain focus, celebrate milestones, and adapt to any changes in your professional landscape.

To get you started, here’s a simple template you can adapt and expand according to your needs.

  1. Start by researching the particular career goals you’re interested in to get an idea of how other people have tackled them.

  2. Once you’ve settled on a few goals briefly describe your career goal.

  3. Target timeline and specify the deadline for achieving the goal.

  4. Outline the specific tasks or actions needed. These will be your ‘next steps’.

  5. Record your progress and any challenges you face as you take your steps.

  6. Once you’ve reached your deadline, reflect on what you’ve learned and adjust goals if necessary.

Final thoughts

So, the next time someone throws the “five-year plan” question your way, you won’t be left confused and questioning the meaning of life. Crafting clear career goals is your ticket to navigating your professional journey with more ease.

Remember that it’s not about having all the answers but making deliberate moves towards where you want to go. 



Kahless is a writer with a special interest in sociology. He spends much of his free time travelling, reading, writing, and stopping his cats from ripping apart everything he owns. It’s advised to bring along a strong cup of coffee (3 espresso shots minimum) when approaching him.

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