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How to Set Career Goals

Long-term Career Goals

As we just mentioned, creating objectives for your career involves working in reverse -- deciding where you want to go and then working backward to figure out the steps that will get you there. Why? To put it simply, it's hard to map a route without first knowing the destination.

To do this, start with your long-term goals, or things you hope to accomplish in the distant future -- say, in five years or more. Then, break these down into two parts: conceptual and operational. Remember, conceptual goals are broad and focus on your wants and needs, and operational ones are the steps you take to meet those wants and needs.

First, think about your long-term conceptual ambitions.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What do I enjoy doing?
  • What am I good at?
  • What characteristics of a job are important to me?

Use the answers to these questions to help develop your conceptual targets, which may look something like this:

  • I want to work from home to be closer to my kids.
  • I want a job in a creative profession.
  • I want to own my own business.

Once you have an idea of what type of things you like, want and are good at, use those as a starting point for thinking about long-term operational plans. Consider specifics about what types of jobs or roles would help you to achieve your conceptual targets. For example, if one of your conceptual goals is to work in a creative profession, an operational aim might be to become a graphic designer for an advertising company.

If you're already in a profession and are looking to advance your career, think about what specific position you would like to have. If you're a recent graduate looking for your first job, you might want to research jobs that support your long-term conceptual aspirations.

Let's say you're a recent college graduate and your long-term operational objective is to become the CEO of a Fortune 500 company. A career accomplishment like that takes many years and many intermediate steps along the way. That's why, in addition to having a long-term vision, it's important to think about the short term, as well. In the next section, we'll look at how short-term steps act as a ladder to reach your long-term aims.