Who Needs Operational Goals?

Have you ever made a New Year's resolution to, say, lose a few pounds or take a writing class? Did you follow through with those resolutions? You may not be surprised to hear that nearly 80 percent of people break the resolutions they make at the start of the new year [sources: Parker-Pope, Sample]. But why? One of the reasons New Year's resolutions are left in the dust is that people don't take time to make a game plan to help them achieve their resolutions -- their operational goals. Setting specific, achievable targets provides direction and acts as a measure of progress. In other words, conceptual plans are just fantasies without operational objectives to support them.

Short-term Career Goals

Now that you've thought about where you want to be a few years down the line, it's time to shorten the scope and think about the things you should be doing now in order to achieve those long-term plans. These intermediate steps are your short-term goals, or things that can be achieved in a short period of time.

Just as you did with your long-term ambitions, you'll want to consider both conceptual and operational short-term aims. When deciding on conceptual short-term objectives, think about things you need and want that can be achieved in five years or fewer.

Ask yourself questions like these:

  • What skills do I need to have in order to achieve my long-term aspirations?
  • What knowledge do I need?
  • What industry should I focus my attention on?

Some examples of short-term conceptual goals include gaining more responsibility in a current position, furthering your education to make you more qualified for a position you want or even finding a source of money to pay for school. Remember, your short-term targets should support your long-term objectives, so you should constantly compare them to make sure they line up.

The last piece of this planning process is developing your short-term operational targets, which are the specific things that you can do in a short period of time that help you achieve not only your short term conceptual ambitions, but all of your long-term objectives as well. These types of goals might include applying to five different publishing companies for an entry-level position, taking a computer class to learn how to design a Web site or asking for an opportunity to lead a project at work. Your short-term operational plan includes the small steps you'll focus on day to day. It'll act as a benchmark for measuring your progress, help you to stay motivated as you accomplish it and go a long way toward helping you achieve your long-term career vision.

We've talked about the planning process -- what to think about first and what to focus on now -- but when it comes to actually naming your goals, how do you make sure they're realistic and that they work for you? On the next page we'll look at a few of the ways you can make sure your career objectives are realistic and, most importantly, achievable.