Have you ever tried driving across the country to an unfamiliar city without using GPS or a map?
Sure, you could probably get there without any navigation. However, your journey would likely be fraught with U-turns, frequent stops, and miles driven in the wrong direction. It would also take you much longer to get there than if you had something to guide your journey.
Trying to achieve a successful career without setting professional goals is much the same.
“Setting clear and achievable professional goals is crucial in steering your career journey,” says Maggie Henley, MBA, career specialist at Purdue Global’s Center for Career Advancement. “When you set these goals, you create a roadmap for your professional life. This roadmap gives you a sense of direction and purpose, helping you make informed decisions along the way.”
In this guide, we define professional goals, explore why they are important to success, and provide examples that you can use to get started.
What Are Professional Goals?
Professional goals are objectives you set for your career, including skills you want to learn, promotions you want to achieve, salaries you want to earn, and career changes you want to make.
There are two types of professional goals: short-term and long-term goals. Long-term goals can take years to achieve and act as the guiding light for your career. Short-term goals, on the other hand, break up the work needed to achieve the long-term goal, and they usually cover a smaller amount of time.
“Think of your goals as the fuel that motivates you,” Henley says. “They keep you focused on tasks, help you overcome obstacles, and provide a reason to push through challenges.”
Why Goal Setting Is Important for Your Career
Setting professional goals is a proactive and strategic approach to shaping your career. It empowers you to take control of your professional journey, maximize your potential, and ultimately build a fulfilling and successful career.
“Professional goals help you stay focused, give you motivation on the way to reach your long-term goals, and provide a framework for your next steps,” says Dawn Mikalatos, career specialist at Purdue Global’s Center for Career Advancement. “They make mentoring and networking discussions more meaningful as well.”
Setting well-defined, measurable goals also allows you to track your progress over time, celebrating small wins along the way. These celebrations boost your confidence and motivate you to reach those more significant milestones.
A study published in the Psychological Bulletin confirmed this, showing that writing down and monitoring your goals will also increase your chances of achieving those goals.
According to the study, “Progress monitoring had larger effects on goal attainment when the outcomes were reported or made public and when the information was physically recorded.”
Additionally, having clearly defined goals encourages continuous learning and development.
“It pushes you to acquire new skills and deepen your understanding of your field, fostering personal and professional growth,” explains Henley.
In fact, focusing on career self-development by setting professional goals can improve your chances of landing better roles and also make your current job more engaging, according to The National Society of Leadership and Success. It creates a sense of accomplishment and fulfillment, making your career more meaningful.
Types of Goal-Setting Techniques
The most common guideline for goal setting is the SMART goals technique. SMART stands for specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound.
“The SMART criteria offer a well-organized goal-setting structure, assisting individuals in clarifying ideas, focusing efforts, and managing time effectively,” says Henley.
Breaking it down even further:
- Specific goals provide clarity
- Measurable goals enable progress tracking
- Achievable goals sustain motivation
- Relevant goals ensure alignment with broader objectives
- Time-bound goals establish deadlines for accountability
However, the dynamic nature of the working world introduces unforeseen challenges and opportunities. Therefore, supplementing the SMART framework with additional goal-setting strategies becomes essential to enhance adaptability and resilience.
Stretch goals propel individuals beyond their comfort zones, fostering innovation and personal growth.
“Despite not always aligning with the ‘achievable’ criterion of SMART, they stimulate creativity and ambition, leading to breakthroughs in professional development,” says Henley.
Feedback-driven goals also play a crucial role in professional growth, as regular, constructive feedback ensures that objectives remain relevant and aligned with evolving circumstances. Depending on your supervisor’s leadership style and company policy, there are different types of feedback you could receive, including 360-degree feedback, constructive criticism, coaching, and evaluation.
SWOT Analysis-Driven Goals
Another tactic to consider before writing down your goals is conducting a SWOT — strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats — analysis. This offers a holistic understanding of one's capabilities and potential obstacles, guiding goal setting by capitalizing on strengths, addressing weaknesses, seizing opportunities, and mitigating threats.
“Incorporating stretch goals, SWOT analysis, feedback-driven goals, and a long-term vision contributes to a more holistic framework for professional success,” Henley says. “By combining these techniques, individuals can navigate the dynamic landscape of their careers with resilience, creativity, and a strategic mindset.”
11 Examples of Professional Goals
Using the SMART goals technique and the other considerations above, you can begin to craft your own list of professional goals. Here are some examples to help you see this technique in action.
1. Learn a New Skill
Long-term example: I will become proficient in HTML by the end of this year.
Short-term example: Over the next month, I will read a book or take a course on HTML basics.
2. Take on New Responsibilities
Long-term example: I will manage a new company project by the end of the year.
Short-term example: Within the next 2 weeks, I will ask my supervisor where they could use additional help.
3. Work on Weaknesses From SWOT Analysis
Long-term example: I will cross off one of my weaknesses from the SWOT analysis within the next year.
Short-term example: In the next month, I will discuss my SWOT analysis findings with my supervisor or mentor and get their feedback.
4. Improve Communication Skills
Long-term example: I will volunteer to give a company-wide presentation to my department within the next 18 months.
Short-term example: I will join Toastmasters within the next month and regularly attend meetings.
5. Work on Time Management
Long-term example: During the next year, I will use a productivity app while working; after that year, I will compare my productivity then to when I started and set new goals if necessary.
Short-term example: Over the next 3 weeks, I will write down all I’ve done each workday and how long it took to complete each activity to better understand how I use my time.
6. Grow Core Skills
Long-term example: Over the next year, I will earn three Google certifications.
Short-term example: I will take an online course in Google Search Ads and earn my certification within the next 3 months.
7. Advance in Your Company
Long-term example: If a team lead role or an interesting parallel position opens up within my company in the next year, I will apply for it.
Short-term example: I will ask my manager about advancement opportunities within the company and their advice on how to get there during my next one-on-one meeting.
8. Obtain a Higher Salary
Long-term example: Over the next year, I will track my productivity so I can show I’ve earned a raise above the rate of inflation.
Short-term example: In the next 3 months, I will find three ways to reduce company or department waste and present those findings to my manager.
9. Become a Thought Leader
Long-term example: By the end of the year, I will get at least one guest post on a blog about my industry.
Short-term example: Using my LinkedIn account, I will write one article on a solution for a pain point in my industry within the next month.
10. Improve Your Intra-Office Interactions
Long-term example: Within the next 9 months, I will set a recurring meeting with managers from different departments to go over what we’re working on and how we can help each other.
Short-term example: At the next company-wide meeting, I will find an opportunity to give kudos to at least one team member in another department.
11. Share Your Goals with Others
Long-term example: I will find an accountability partner and, over the next year, give them monthly updates on my progress toward my goals.
Short-term example: In my next one-on-one meeting with my manager, I will share my goals and ask them for their advice on how to achieve them.
4 Unconventional Professional Goals to Consider
When crafting a list of professional goals, people often focus on tangible achievements such as salary increases, promotions, or acquiring new skills.
“While these are undoubtedly crucial, there are several less conventional yet equally important objectives that individuals should consider incorporating into their career aspirations,” says Henley.
1. Create and Foster a Robust Professional Network
“Building meaningful connections within and outside one's industry can open doors to opportunities and provide valuable insights,” Henley says.
2. Cultivate a Healthy Work-Life Balance
Even before the pandemic encouraged the national conversation around work-life balance, research showed that people who perceived themselves as having a good work-life balance experienced positive outcomes at work as well as an increased confidence in achieving goals.
3. Don’t Stop Learning and Adapting
According to Henley, including goals related to staying abreast of industry trends, embracing new technologies, and honing soft skills ensures long-term success.
4. Become a Mentor
“Contributing to the community or industry through mentorship, knowledge sharing, or philanthropy adds a fulfilling dimension to one's career,” says Henley.
While these examples give you a jumping-off point to begin writing your own list of professional goals, you don’t have to follow them verbatim. Types of goals and their specifics vary from person to person and by career. Also, a professional goal for you today may not be relevant later.
“People put a lot of pressure on themselves to make the ‘right’ decision,” says Mikalatos. “What is right for you now may not be right for you in 2 to 3 years as you work toward your long-term goal.”
Next Steps After Goal Setting
Revisit and reassess your professional goals regularly. By regularly evaluating your goals, you can ensure they remain relevant and aligned with your evolving aspirations.
“Feel free to adjust your goals as needed,” says Henley. “Flexibility is key in the professional world, and being open to refining your objectives can lead to more meaningful and achievable outcomes.”
And what about when you achieve a goal? It can be tempting to just check it off of your list and move on, but that may not be the right thing to do. Your career is ever-growing and evolving, and your professional goals should be the same.
“It’s OK to take the time to enjoy the moment,” Mikalatos says, “but don’t stay stagnant. Look at potentials for what could be next, personally or professionally.”
While everyone wants to succeed, failure is unfortunately common. Even best-selling authors had to go through hundreds of rejections before achieving their goal of being published. One of the keys to success is perseverance.
“You are more than your goal, and there are multiple paths to success,” says Mikalatos. “If one path doesn’t work out, it may feel like the end of the world, but there are other ways to reach that goal or other paths to follow that will take you across the finish line.”
Let Purdue Global Help You Achieve Your Professional Goals
Even with all of this information, it could feel daunting to start your own list of professional goals. Reach out to Purdue Global’s Center for Career Advancement for help. Our career advisors can provide you with support during and after a degree program.
If additional education is one of your goals, consider earning your college degree or certificate online with Purdue Global. Contact us today to learn more.