How to Set Career Goals

Setting Realistic Career Goals

When it comes to planning your future, "realistic" can mean many things. Essentially, setting realistic goals means selecting ones that you can actually achieve. We only have so much time, energy, interest and aptitude for developing our career paths, and if you haven't set realistic targets for yourself, you may feel discouraged. In order to keep your career vision realistic, consider the following questions:

  • Do you have the time to commit to the goals you've set for yourself?
  • Do you have the needed education or skill sets? If not, will you be able to learn these skills?
  • Do you have the resources available to meet your objectives?
  • Do the items on your list suit you as a person -- your personality and interests?
  • Do they fit the lifestyle you have or hope to have?
  • Do your goals complement one another? In other words, does achieving one goal conflict with your attempts to achieve another?
  • Is the market for your chosen career limited?
  • Are your ambitions achievable in the time frame you've set?

Another way to make sure your plans stay realistic is to share your ideas with trusted friends and family members. Ask for an honest assessment of your aspirations from the people who know you well. While it's true that you know yourself better than anyone, it's also helpful to have an outside perspective on such an important decision.

Don't ignore your strengths and weaknesses -- realistic self-assessment is important. Mapping a career path is both an exercise in self praise ("I am fantastic at math!"), and an exercise in humility ("I'm not a very good singer"). You can always learn and develop the skills needed for almost any job, but you shouldn't ignore your natural talents since those are, after all, what you do best.

You can start this planning process at any time. Whether you're a high school student trying to figure out whether or not to go to college, a recent college graduate looking to land your first job, a professional seeking to advance in an existing career or a person who wants to change careers, it's never too soon (or too late) to start planning. To find out more about goal-setting and career planning, the links below will point you in the right direction.

Related Articles


  • Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Charts from the American Time Use Survey." United States Department of Labor. Feb. 23, 2010. (Aug. 18, 2010)
  • Greenhaus, Jeffrey H. et al."Career Management." SAGE. 2009.
  • Harvard Business School. "Setting Goals." Harvard Business School Publishing. 2009.
  • Helms, Jeffrey L. and Daniel T. Rogers. "Majoring in Psychology: Achieving Your Educational and Career Goals." John Wiley and Sons. 2010.
  • Parker-Pope, Tara. "Will Your Resolutions Last Until February?" Dec. 31, 2007. (Aug. 15, 2010)
  • Sahadi, Jeanne. "You may be paid more (or less) than you think." March 29, 2006. (Aug. 17, 2010)
  • Sample, Ian. "New year's resolutions doomed to failure, say psychologists." Dec. 28, 2009. (Aug. 15, 2010)
  • Schreuder, A.M.G. and M. Coetzee. "Careers: An Organizational Perspective." Juta and Company. 2006.
  • Singer, Thom. "Some Assembly Required: How to Make, Grow and Keep Your Business Relationships." New Year Publishing. 2010.