A Winning Strategy: Set Effective Goals for Career Success

Are you ready to say goodbye to the dumpster fire that was 2020 and start preparing right now to crush your career goals in 2021? I’m sharing a bunch of tips that you can use right away to fast-forward your progress towards building a career you love.

You can still pursue your goals and dreams during a pandemic

The thing is, when you have your career on the right track, it eliminates a lot of stress in your life. And who doesn’t want to live a happier life, especially one you can feel proud of? Setting goals can be an easy way to reduce stress and fast-track your progress toward a purpose-driven career. Goals give you a clear path forward because you have something to strive for. They allow you to work incrementally so you don’t get overwhelmed and motivation to achieve stays high.

For support to reach your goals, download the free guide.

When you’re ready to choose your goals, make sure they’re S.M.A.R.T.

What S.M.A.R.T. stands for:

Specific: Goals should be simple and clear; for example, I want to ask for a raise or I want to get a new job.

Measurable: your goals should have clear criteria that allow you to measure your progress towards achieving them; for example, each goal should be broken down into parts: job searching involves a schedule of networking, building your resume, and doing research.

Attainable: Your goals should be possible to achieve. For example, saying that you want to be head of the company in the next 60 days might not be feasible if you’re new to the industry.

Relevant: goals should align with your strengths and who you are as a person, plus connect to the context in which you want to achieve them. For example, if you’re an educator, it doesn’t make sense to say you want to improve your sales skills.

Time-bound: Goals should have a clear start date and a deadline for achieving them (it’s OK if deadlines get pushed back, but it’s still important to have something to aim for).

Why setting goals is valuable for your career

  • They give you motivation when you’re feeling stuck.
  • Goals keep you from feeling bored in your job. By following then, you’ll ensure that things won’t stay the same for years on end.
  • Setting goals eliminates the possibility that you’ll live with regrets later in life. You won’t have to think “what if” about everything you could have accomplished. Instead, you can find your version of success and in turn be able to leave some kind of legacy.
  • Also, the performance reviews at many companies will ask you to identify goals and projects to complete each year, so when you’re already used to setting goals for yourself, doing it in that context will come easier and be less stressful.

How to set manageable goals

If you’re like me, trying to create specific yearly sounds overwhelming. Instead, you can break down your goals into any increment. You could do quarterly, monthly, weekly and daily goals or a combination.

I prefer to have a general goal each month and then break it down into the steps I need to accomplish each week. I may have longer-term goals planned for my personal life and business, but I don’t think about them in detail until I’m getting closer to the end of the month and it’s time to plan my next goal.

For example, if you want to ask for a promotion at some point in the next year, you can focus on weekly, or even daily, steps to get there. Those might include networking with someone, volunteering to take the lead on a team project, or asking for pointers from senior colleagues.

The whole point is not to freak yourself out thinking about the work it’s going to take to reach them.

When you set a long-range goal, it can feel like you’re staring at a mountain peak. Trying to figure out how you’re going to hike all the way up there can feel scary. But if you focus on taking it one step at a time, it will feel easier to reach the top because you’re not obsessing over the peak anymore or feeling the exhaustion.

The general process for making a change in your career

  • Step 1: Know and realize you want to make a change
  • Step 2: Do the groundwork to figure out what that change needs to be, at least in a general sense. Do you need to find a job or are you happy with the place where you work but want to move up the ladder?
  • Step 3: Set the goals to get you there. Make sure you’re not picking these particular goals because of expectations, but instead doing it for yourself.

4 tips to set goals and transform your career

Tip #1:

Get to know yourself on a deeper level.

Before starting your next job search or career change, spend time doing self-reflection and exploring who you are at your core so you can market yourself more effectively to get offers.

One way to do this is by taking free online career assessments. I mention 3 of them in the guide, which you can download by clicking the button above this section.

Assessments help you discover potential dream careers and learn about your strengths. One of my favorites is 16 personalities because for me and my clients it’s been scarily accurate. The results tell you about your work and supervision styles, strengths and weaknesses, and ideas for the types of careers that may suit you best.

As a career coach, I do many exercises with my clients, including one that helps them figure out their personal values. Then I compare their values to their other career assessment results and synthesize everything together so potential career paths become clearer. The process doesn’t have to take very long and fast-forwards the success toward identifying your dream job.

Another thing I walk clients through is what I call the purpose equation:

Purpose = interests + skills + abilities + passion(s) + values + legacy 

There are 6 self-reflection questions in the free goals guide, but I’ll share these two in order to give you a taste:

  • What do you enjoy doing?
  • What skills come naturally to you (meaning you haven’t needed formal training to be good at them)?

A great tool for self-reflection is journaling. You can write in a notebook or planner, use an app like journify to record audio notes or if you’re a visual person, you can do mind-mapping (I use miro) or make a vision board (either physical, on canva using pinterest).

You’re 42% more likely to achieve your goals when you write them down and journaling is a great way to do that.

Tip #2:

Determine where you’d like to go with your career and reverse engineer it. 

Once you’ve finished tip #1 and identify some possible career paths, you can go to a site like the US Dept of Labor. They provide info about the skills, required education/training, and growth outlook for almost any profession. That will help you break down the larger goal into more manageable ones and identify a starting point.

Here’s an example of how you would reverse engineer:
Ultimate goal: become a marketing director

  • Step 1: Earn undergraduate degree
    • If you don’t have one already, a degree in Communications is helpful
  • Step 2: Network in the field
  • Step 3: Based on your networking and research, decide what type of marketing you’d like to specialize in (corporate, government, nonprofit, higher education, healthcare, etc)
  • Step 3: Apply for an entry-level position in any marketing department, unless you’re 100% sure of what type of marketing you’d like to do
  • Step 4: Get your first and second promotions
  • Step 5: Earn an MBA
  • Step 6: Continue to advance with your current employer or find a new place where you can move up the ladder

If you instead want to advance in your current company, there are a lot of ways to learn more about how to do that. It depends on the company. Some ideas include: 

  • Ask your senior colleagues for pointers about how they moved up the ladder.
  • Search the company’s HR website for current openings so you can figure out which of your skills to build on to prep for promotions.

Tip #3: 

Get out of your comfort zone. 

Getting out of your comfort zone is one of the best ways to build your confidence and help you formulate your goals.

One way to do that is networking. Use informational interviews to learn about how to get in the door at companies where you want to work.

  • You can ask your family and friends for contacts. 
  • Use the social media platform LinkedIn. It’s one of the best tools for doing this outreach. There’s a downside, which is that it can take time to hear back from people because not everyone uses the site a lot. 
    • To find out who’s active, check their profile, and see if they have activity within the last 90 days.
    • Focus on connecting with people who are a second-degree connection or went to the same college or graduate school that you did. 
    • Always include a nice message with the request that says why you’d like to connect and what you have in common.

Another way to get out of your comfort zone is to do things at work that you normally wouldn’t. That might include telling your supervisor about your career goals, requesting leadership training, or asking for professional development opportunities like trying out new tasks or leading a team project. 

What you do to get out of your comfort zone depends on your personality. Start by thinking about what you’ve held back on doing and work towards that. 

Tip #4 

Manage your expectations

This bonus tip isn’t included in the guide, but it’s just as important as the rest of them. 

A major way that you can effectively achieve your goals is by going into it with the right mindset. Try your very best, but understand that not everything goes according to plan and sometimes you need to make quick adjustments.

The goals you set might not be accomplished perfectly. Or you might later realize that the goals you first set your sights on aren’t the best ones for you. No matter what, those don’t have to be setbacks. 

Part of the whole process is knowing that failure isn’t the end. You can always learn something from the experience and use it to do even better next time. 

While you’re working towards your ultimate career goals, it’s important to take time for self-care and celebrate every small win. Nothing gained is insignificant. 

For these tips and many more, make sure to download the free 2021 Goals Guide:

To connect with my directly, join the free “Find and Build a Career You Love” Facebook group.

You can also follow me on Instagram for more quick tips to help you build a purpose-driven career.

Acknowledgement: I want to thank Tiffany Llamas for giving me the idea to include the S.M.A.R.T. goals format.

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Career Coaching and Career Counseling for Early Career to Mid-level Professionals | Kate Tudoreanu, MS
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