In my full-time job as an attorney recruiter, I work with a lot of people who are looking for a new job. I often find that job candidates are in one of two positions. Either they spent their entire career moving without much thought from one job to the next and now find themselves in a job that isn’t satisfying and they have no idea what to do next, or they stayed many, many years in a job they didn’t enjoy.
Either way, you’re pigeon-holed. It’s hard to re-define your career after 25-30 years of doing the same thing. It’s possible, but it’s not easy.
One way to avoid that problem is to set career goals and then create a plan to reach those goals. That way you can be sure you are moving along the right path for you, and you will eventually be exactly where you want to be. It’s never too early or too late in your career to set goals. Even if you are 60, you probably have things you want to do between now and when you retire. Use this guide to set career goals that are ambitious and realistic and to create a plan to get there.
The first step is to think big
You might have to do a little brainstorming in order to figure out your career goals. Ask yourself these questions, and remember this is the time to think BIG! Be ambitious as you answer these questions:
1. What would my ideal career look like? Is your current job in line with that ultimate ideal career? Do you need to shift industries or get more training or maybe get licensed?
2. Do I like what I’m doing now? What are my most favorite and least favorite aspects of my current job?
3. What kind of money do I want to make? Be realistic, but ambitious.
4. What’s my ideal setting? Large office with lots of people? Small, close-knit group of co-workers? Do you prefer a fast-paced environment or deliberate, methodical work? Maybe you’d like a job where you can work from home, or one where you travel a lot, or one where you’re out of the office a lot to meet other people.
5. What specific job do I want? The Million Dollar Question!
Give yourself enough time to really think about your answers to the above questions. When you are through, you should be able to have a good idea about your ultimate job goal.
Now turn that big dream into a realistic goal
After you’ve done some brainstorming, it’s time to make your goals very clear. Ask yourself the following questions to help you determine whether your ultimate goal is realistic:
1. Do I have the time that’s needed to achieve my goal? Keep in mind your other commitments and really take a hard look at how much free time you have now and whether you can free up some additional time.
2. Do I have the right education or training to achieve my ultimate goal? If not, is there a way I can get that training? What kind of time and money commitment would that require?
3. Is my ultimate goal one that would fit well with my ideal lifestyle? For instance, maybe your ultimate goal is to be a motivational speaker who travel the world to give speeches. But if you have young kids or want to be available to aging parents, that goal might not fit well with the type of lifestyle you envision for yourself. It’s important to envision the whole picture as much as you can.
4. Can my goals be achieved in the time frame I’ve set? If you’re 28 years old and want to be a doctor by the time you’re 30 but you never went to college, that’s not realistic. But it might be realistic to get there by the time you’re 38. Think about both best case and worst case scenario, and try to set a time frame that seems reasonable.
Create your master plan
Now that you’ve taken some time to dream big and also to make sure those dreams are attainable, you need a plan to get where you’re going. One of the best ways to do that is to make a list of all the intermediate steps you need to take to get from where you are today to where you want to be to reach your ultimate goal.
Think of those steps as mini-goals. For instance, if you currently have a job delivering papers, and you want to eventually run the whole newspaper, what would that take? You’d probably have to finish high school, graduate college with a journalism career, start working as a journalist, ask your boss for more administrative responsibilities, earn enough money for a graduate degree, go back to school, network with the higher-ups, etc.
Once you have an idea of your mini-goals, write them all out in chronological order. Put today’s date at the top and the date you want to achieve your goal at the bottom. Then next to each mini-goal, make a note when you want to have that step achieved and what you need to do to get there. Write down as many details as necessary and be sure to include a time frame for each mini-goal.
You have now created a road map to reach your ambitious and realistic career goal! You’ve already done more career planning than most people do in their lifetime. Keep your road map handy and refer to it often. Tweak it when you must, but also push yourself to reach the goals by the dates and deadlines you set. Keeping on track is the only way to get where you want to be.
Many studies have shown that people perform best when they set goals that are both specific and challenging. They perform much better than people who have goals that aren’t clearly defined such as “do your best” or “do what your boss asks”. Push yourself toward clear and ambitious goals, and you’ll be more highly motivated, do better at work, and move closer to your dream job. Good luck!
We all have ideas about things we want to achieve. Maybe you have small goals like eating healthier or spending more time with your kids. Or perhaps you created a bucket list, and now you want to figure out how to achieve all your dreams. Regardless of all your ideas, you need to have a plan to achieve them. Different people are motivated in different ways, so it’s important to find a way to set goals and stay motivated in a way that fits your personality.
Define your goals in a way that work for you
Some people are very specific and detail-oriented. They often prefer very concise directions when learning to do something new. They are more mathematical, analytical, and logical. If that’s you, try setting your goals by utilizing the SMART acronym. The letters stand for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely
Specific – Set your goals with very clear parameters. Instead of setting a goal of exercising to lose weight, make your goal “I will do a cardio workout for 30 minutes three days per week and do 45 minutes of strength training twice each week.”
Measurable – Create goals that have a numbers element to them – something that you can literally measure to see your progress. Instead of planning to save money by eating out less, plan to cook dinner at home six days per week. Or if you have a weight loss goal, set it in terms of calorie intake or body measurements or percent body fat – whatever is most important to you.
Attainable – Your ultimate goal should be something that is attainable. In other words, something you can work toward and ultimately achieve. Of course, there is very little you can’t accomplish if you put your mind to it, but just make sure it is indeed something you can ultimately see come to fruition.
Realistic – Make sure your goals are realistic in terms of the amount of time you have to spend reaching your goal and also the amount of work you are able to put into it. Don’t plan to wake at 5:00 every morning to workout if you are not a morning person and most likely will just keep hitting the snooze button. Don’t set yourself up for failure!
Timely – Set a time frame as part of your goal, such as “I will read five new books by the end of the summer” or “I will clean out two closets by the end of the weekend.” Adding a time factor to your goal creates a sense of urgency and helps you avoid procrastination.
If you’re not the analytical, logical type and you’re already feeling overwhelmed by all the requirements of setting a simple goal, don’t worry! I have a plan for you too. If you would describe yourself as intuitive and more a feeler than a thinker, you’ll set your goals differently. The steps are simple:
Choose a goal – Think about something you want to achieve and write it down. It might be “I want to get more exercise” or “I want to spend more time with my girlfriends.”
Lay out the steps – On a sheet of paper write your current status at the top (“I occasionally go for a walk, but that’s it for exercise”) and your goal at the bottom (“I want to exercise more”). Then in the space in between, write all the steps it would take to get you from top to bottom. You might need to buy workout clothes, load music on your iPod, recruit friends to join you, and set time in your schedule to go for a walk.
Some people find this method works best if they start writing their steps from the bottom and work their way to the top. Using that method might help you visualize your goal and can keep you motivated to stay on track.
Staying motivated to achieve your goals
Just like goal-setting, different people are motivated in different ways. Find the one you think would work best for you.
Track your progress
This might be another one for the numbers people! Whenever I’m working toward a goal, I find it really helpful to keep a list of what I’ve done toward reaching the goal, and I also like to track my progress in some other way. If you’re like that too, and if you have exercise, healthy eating or weight-loss related goals, there are some great journals you can pick up that provide you with a system to track every metric imaginable.
One is called I Will Get Fit This Time! Workout Journal. It divides all your exercise into categories, so you can track each one and each type. The food log has a space for everything you might want to record, such as calories, fat, portion sizes, etc. It also comes with a pocket journal, so you can keep one with you all the time, and it includes additional information about assessing your fitness level and creating plans to meet your goals.
Another great one is 90-Day Fitness Journal: Your Complete Fitness Companion. If you like LOTS of details, this one’s for you! You can record all your different goals, and then for each day you have spaces to record your daily goals, amount of food, calories, type and time of exercise, calories burned, and much more.
I reviewed both of these books pretty carefully, and I can recommend them both, depending on your needs and personality. Choose the one you think would work best for you and your lifestyle.
If you are someone who gets motivated by having a formal reward system, I suggest you read my article on 5 Simple Steps To Making Life Changes That Last. It contains detailed ideas and suggestions for setting small goals and rewarding your progress along the way. If you know you respond well to mini-rewards along the way, that’s a great way to stay motivated!
Can you already visualize what you might look or feel like when you accomplish your goal? If you’re someone who gets inspired by dreams, I bet you can find motivation by reading other people’s success stories. If you want to start your own business, do a google search on others who have done the same, and read their stories. If one of your goals is to travel the world, look for people who have done that and read about their experiences and how they made it happen.
Sometimes finding your motivation is as simple as reading about others who have already accomplished similar goals. Suddenly you find yourself renewed and recharged to keep moving forward!
What are your goals? What would you like to accomplish this month? What about this year, or in the next five years? Let me know in the comments, or connect with me on twitter at @onemoveforward. I look forward to hearing from you!
You’ve got to be careful if you don’t know where you’re going, because you might not get there. – Yogi Berra