Career goals – 30 examples & how to set them

Krista Krumina 28.04.2021
career goals examples

Have you set career goals for yourself? If you haven’t, you should.

As the old saying goes, ”if you’re not moving forward, you’re drifting backward.” And clear career goals are a way to make sure that you have something to strive for, don’t stay still, and keep pushing yourself up the career ladder.

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What are career goals?

”Career goals (aka. work goals or job goals) are statements that describe how you plan to progress in your career.”

A career goal can be seen as self-improvement that makes you better at your current position, it can be a milestone you hope to reach in your chosen profession, or it can even be a turning point in your career, such as a complete change of profession.

There are two main types of career goals – short-term career goals and long-term career goals. 

Although there is no generally accepted definition of ”short-term” and ”long-term”, we will assume that short-term career goals are goals that can be reached in one year’s time, and everything else will be considered long-term. 

How to set your career goals

The key to setting career development goals that you actually reach is making them SMART:

S – Specific

There’s a huge difference between a career goal that states ”I want to earn more” and one that states ”I want to earn $80’000 a year”. Be specific about what you wish for, and there will be higher chances to get it.

M – Measurable

When setting your professional goals, be clear about how you will measure progress and success. If you want to earn more, then how much more? If you want to have more time off work for your hobbies, then how many hours a week?

A – Adjustable

No matter how well your career goals are planned, life still happens. That’s why it’s important that you keep them flexible, both time-wise and size-wise.

R – Realistic

It’s good to dream big, however, a bullet-proof way to demotivate yourself is to set work goals that are impossible to reach. Who doesn’t want to become the next Jeff Bezos? But perhaps, for a start, it’s worth settling for simply being an entrepreneur who makes $100’000 a year.

T – Timely

Both short-term and long-term career goals should be meaningful in the long term. Would you learn French from scratch just for a week-long business trip to France? It wouldn’t be worth it. However, if learning French would allow you to become a country manager, that would be a whole other story.

Additionally to making your goals SMART, here are a few more ways to make sure you achieve your career development goals:

  • Write them down. In your memory, your career goals, especially long-term, can become unclear and blurry. So, better write them down because a written word won’t change. And keep them at hand so that you can refresh your memory if necessary.
  • Visualize them. Create a collage or design a simple motivational poster and hang it on the wall in front of your work desk. It will remind you of your priorities at all times.
  • Tell others about them to keep yourself accountable. People who will know about your work goals will also help you stay on track, as they will also remind you of your career resolutions.
  • Start small. Setting yourself big professional goals may feel intimidating and paralyze you when you have no idea where to start. So, divide your goals into smaller steps, starting with something so tiny that you can do right away, that same day.
  • Answer ”what next”. What will happen when you reach your career goals? What will happen when you will earn $1 million a year or work 4 days a week and travel? What comes AFTER that? There must be something even bigger and more meaningful than the goal itself, which will be the actual motivation to keep you going. 

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30 examples of career goals (+ ideas of the first step you can take today)

Now that you know what career goals are and how to set them, the next step is clear – you have to define your personal career development goals. 

Perhaps you already know very clearly what you want. But if you don’t, here we’ve listed 30 examples of career goals – short-term and long-term – that you can use as inspiration. For each of the examples, we’ve also added an idea of the very first step you can take right away that will lead you towards reaching it.

Short-term career goals

As mentioned before, we’ll assume that short-term goals are career goals that you can reach in approximately one year’s time or faster. With that in mind, here are 15 short-term career goals you can set for yourself right now:

1. Learn a new skill

What new skill would make your work life easier or make you more efficient at your work? That skill can be anything from design and video production to speed-reading and brainstorming (yes, even that can be learned!)

Start now: sign up for a free Skillshare or Udemy account, find a class that teaches the skill you want to learn and watch your first video.

2. Learn a new tool

Similar to learning a new skill, knowing how to use certain tools can also make you more productive at your work and more competitive in the job market. Learn to master the accounting program your company uses or study how to use TikTok for business.

Start now: sign up for the chosen tool.

3. Learn a new language

Knowing a new language can literally open new markets for your business. A quick way to learn one? In one TED talk a girl who fluently speaks eight (!) languages suggests watching your favorite TV show in the language you want to learn. ”At the beginning, it’s all just gibberish. [But] after the second or third season, seriously, the dialogue starts to make sense.”

Start now: find your favorite TV show in the language you want to learn and watch the first episode.

4. Learn to speak in public

Oh, public speaking – the phrase that makes 77% of the population feel anxious. Did you know that public speaking is the most common phobia ahead of death, spiders, or heights? Scary or not, this skill is valuable and worth the effort to learn.

Start now: offer to lead a presentation for your colleagues about a work-related topic you feel confident talking about.

5. Improve networking skills

Networking is public speaking’s cousin which is as terrifying as the former but even more unpredictable. Does imagining approaching someone you don’t know and starting a conversation make your palms sweat? Welcome to the club! And yet, 80% of professionals consider networking skills important to career success.

Start now: participate in a Clubhouse chat and ask questions to the speakers, or strike up a conversation with a colleague you don’t know well during the next coffee break.

6. Increase productivity

Do you feel productive at work or do you always leave the office thinking you could have done more? If you’re the latter, this could be one of the job goals to set for yourself.

Start now: start measuring your productivity to understand your starting point – install a productivity tracker, such as DeskTime, on your computer, and start tracking your time.

7. Become more efficient

Being efficient means spending your time on the right things and not wasting it on work-unrelated stuff. Are you efficient at work, or do you get sucked into the social media vortex? If so, becoming more effective could be your work goal…and maybe a life goal, too.

Start now: find and analyze your biggest time thieves that hinder your work efficiency – try DeskTime for this purpose.

8. Achieve a KPI

We all have certain KPIs (key performance indicators) that allow us or our managers to understand whether or not we achieve our work goals. Those can be certain sales results, customer satisfaction rate if you work in client support, or other goals specific to your work position.

Start now: break down the KPI you have to achieve into steps that have to be taken to accomplish them. They’ll be much easier to achieve when you can see the steps in front of you.

9. Get a job in your dream company

Life is too short to waste it working in a company that you don’t love and share similar values with. After all, we spend at least 8 hours a day at work, it better be a place you want to be.

Start now: follow or connect to their HR rep on LinkedIn, let them know you’re interested.

10. Gain hands-on experience in your field

If you’re straight out of college or in-between careers, gaining some hands-on experience in the chosen profession is a crucial first step. You may need to sacrifice your salary expectations or even be ready to do an unpaid internship, but remember that it’s for the future sake.

Start now: list five companies you admire and would be motivated to work for, even if they couldn’t pay you.

11. Build a personal website

Nowadays personal websites replace business cards, so if you work freelance or have a personal brand, this isn’t a nice-to-have anymore. The good news is that building a website has become easy and doable to anyone, even if you have no programming skills whatsoever.

Start now: create an account on one of the website-building tools, such as WordPress, Mozello, or other.

12. Switch to a 4-day workweek

A 4-day workweek might sound impossible at first, especially if you already feel there aren’t enough hours a day. But the truth is – it’s all about setting priorities and delegating. Challenge yourself and choose switching to a 4-day workweek as your work goal.

Start now: make a list of everyday tasks you could delegate to someone else right now.

13. Increase work-life balance

The 4-day workweek could be a way to increase work-life balance, but it’s not the only way. If you’re constantly working overtime, then you should know – it’s not that productive after all and it’s time to set work-life balance as your career goal.

Start now: plan something every day right after work that you cannot cancel, so that you are forced to leave on time. Eg., schedule a meeting with a friend, sign up for a gym class, etc.

14. Become a mentor

A mentor is someone who teaches or advises a less experienced and often younger person, be that your neighbor’s kid or new work colleague. It’s a way to give something back to the community and discover new perspectives yourself.

Start now: inform people that you’re open to becoming someone’s mentor, eg., post on your social media or email to the local university that teaches your profession.

15. Become a teacher

Instead of mentoring one person, you may prefer to teach your skill to many people at once. There are many ways to do it – teach students at a university, offer workshops with you, or offer online lectures that anyone can listen to at any time.

Start now: create an account on Fiverr and start offering private lessons in your area of expertise.

Long-term career goals

Career goals that usually take longer than one year to reach, we’ll be considering as long-term. That said, it doesn’t mean that you can’t reach these long-term career goals faster. 

There are many people who only need a month to land a promotion or half a year to launch their own business. If that’s you, congratulations! Check that goal as done and set yourself a new one.

For everyone else, here are 15 examples of long-term career goals to thrive for:

1. Earn a new degree

A professional degree – such as a college or university degree – usually takes at least a year to complete. And remember that no one is too old to pursue this goal, no matter if you’re in your 30’s or 60’s. If you want to learn a new profession or simply gain new knowledge, just do it!

Start now: open the chosen university website, research programs and application deadlines.

2. Start own business

Are you tired of working for someone else? Then it’s time to consider starting your own business and becoming your own boss. One way to come up with a business idea is to pay attention to things that annoy you and need to be fixed. Perhaps, you could be the person who fixes them!

Start now: write down things that annoy you and ideas how they could be fixed – the first idea that comes to mind will do!

3. Quit working 9-to-5 

There are many ways to quit working 9-to-5 – start your own business, go freelance, agree with your boss on flexible work hours, etc. Consider your options and move forward from there.

Start now: identify what has to happen to stop working 9-5. That could be speaking to your boss, quitting your job, or informing clients of new work hours. 

4. Land a promotion

A promotion can mean many things – a bigger salary, higher status, more power to influence things within the company, and more. Even if you’ve just started a new role in a new company, you can still set landing a promotion as your next career goal.

Start now: talk to your boss (or write an email) and let her/him know you’re open to new responsibilities outside of your current position.

5. Get a pay-raise

Perhaps, you don’t even care about your position, all you want is a pay-raise. This is probably one of the most popular career goals because who doesn’t want to earn more, right?

Start now: start documenting your work successes, so that you have a list of reasons you deserve that raise.

6. Change your career

If you work in a position that you feel isn’t really your thing and you basically live waiting for weekends, start planning your career change right now. There are many people who’ve successfully gone from lawyers to fashion designers or from marketing specialists to chefs. What are you waiting for?

Start now: write down things that you would enjoy doing, even if no one paid you – that’s your true calling. Then, match professions where these things would be valued.

7. Become a thought leader

Thought leaders are people who influence other people’s opinions and actions with their thoughts. Seth Godin, Greta Thunberg, Elon Musk – they’re all thought leaders on specific topics. And when they talk, people stop and listen.

Start now: start expressing your thoughts on professional topics publicly – share them on social media, write a blog post, etc.

8. Grow a social media following

Growing your social media following can be the first step to becoming a thought leader, but also a way to promote yourself, your company, and products and services you’re offering. Organic growth of followers is a long process but provides the highest value.

Start now: join a conversation (eg., tweet a reply, write a comment under a post) to attract attention from people you’d like as your followers.

9. Develop a robust network

A robust network of professional contacts is crucial when building and growing a business, or when thinking of career change. In other words, it’s 100% worth overcoming your shyness and doing some networking.

Start now: define people in your industry you’d like to include in your network. Then, think of ways you could meet them – attend an industry event? Ask someone to do the intro?

10. Win an industry award

The phrase ”award-winning” somewhat gives a person or a company higher reliability. But for you, that would mean that your work is being recognized and valued in your industry, which would give you bigger confidence.

Start now: identify the award and take a look at what the nomination criteria is. You’ll have a better idea of what you need to accomplish.

11. Become one of 40 under 40 

Or 30 under 30. Or 60 under 60 – you got the point. Being included in such a list by a well-known media is an honor and boosts your reputation. 

Start now: identify which xx under xx list you’d want to be on, and take a look at the criteria. Also, find out how nominations work and start thinking of who can nominate you. 

12. Write a book

Imagine being able to write ”published author” in your Twitter bio or in your CV. Who doesn’t want that, right? If you have unique knowledge and lessons to share, writing a book could be your career goal to pursue.

Start now: know someone who’s written a book? Reach out and grab a coffee together (physically or virtually), and ask all the questions about the process of writing a book.

13. Launch a podcast

Are you an avid listener and have always dreamt of recording and launching your own podcast? Or maybe you just feel that all your competitors are hosting podcasts, and your business would benefit from one, too? Stop putting this thought off and make it your work goal of the year.

Start now: listen to your favorite podcast and write down things you like (eg., the type of questions the host asks, intros you like, formats that work well, etc.)

14. Speak at a conference

Speaking at a conference gives many benefits, from the chance to share your lessons learned and promote your business, to a badge that allows you to meet people backstage and attend afterparties that regular attendees can’t.

Start now: search for conferences in your area of expertise that are coming up and make note of the ones that have an open call for speakers. 

15. Create a retirement plan

A retirement plan is a timeline that shows you where your income will come from after your retirement. Just like it’s never too late to study and aim for a new degree, it’s never too early to start planning your retirement income.

Start now: start with your goals – how do you see your retirement? What would you like to do? Live in a country house or travel the world? Then, calculate how much money a month such a lifestyle would require.

Final words on career goals

We hope that by the end of this article you have at least a few ideas about your next career development goals. 

What’s important – you can, and should, have more than one career goal at a time. That will give you more flexibility and something to continue working on if another goal needs to be put off for a while. So, feel free to mix long-term career goals and short-term career goals, and create your tailored approach to moving up the career ladder.

Good luck!

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