At a glance
The start of a new year is the perfect time to reassess your career aspirations but developing achievable career goals is a tricky task in a business environment under constant disruption.
There is also no guarantee that the role you trained for – and put in the hard yards for – will even be around in five or 10 years.
The flipside of this is that there are many jobs that have yet to be invented.
Against this backdrop, there are techniques you can use to develop a vision for your short-term and long-term working life.
It all starts with asking the right questions. These are our top four.
1. Where are you in your career, and how do you see your future?
The first step of goal setting is to form a realistic view about which goals are achievable, even at a stretch, and which are impossible.
Some goals use our current skill set, mindset and knowledge, and it’s relatively easy to picture them being realised in the short term.
“This might include being selected for a particular project or client engagement,” says Donna McGeorge, workplace and productivity specialist.
Achieving long-term goals might mean you need to develop additional skills or expertise, for example by being appointed to a more senior position in the company for which you currently work.
“These goals are best achieved via a number of stepping stones. Take the view that each step takes you closer to your longer-term goal,” McGeorge says.
2. Why are you working?
Paying the mortgage or rent is one of the main reasons we work, but it’s far from the only reason.
Most of us want satisfaction from our job, but how we achieve this is different for everyone.
Remember, the journey to achieve a meaningful career must be just as fulfilling as your end goal.
“At least once a year, ask yourself, ‘Why do I work?’ and ‘What’s my end goal?’ This helps us to turn up for work every day, even on a bad day, because we have a vision of the future,” McGeorge says.
3. Why do you work where you work?
In a market in which you could get a job almost anywhere, within reason, it’s important to make an active decision about why you have chosen your company and your role.
This puts your job and the business for which you work into the broader perspective of your life.
“Think of your job as an assignment that’s just part of your whole career. In every job, take steps to enable you to move on to your next assignment,” says McGeorge.
- What’s my logical next assignment?
- What do I need to do to prepare for it?
- Who do I need to build relationships with that will help me in my next assignment?
Being able to answer these questions will give you a plan and define the steps to get there.
4: Do your career plans make you spring out of bed?
Many of us are familiar with setting SMART goals: those that are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time bound. This is a useful structure to set out explicit goals.
Magdalena Jensen, an executive coach, takes this a step further.
“It’s important to hold goals lightly and be open to change. I use the SMARTER goal model, with the ‘ER’ at the end standing for exciting and relevant,” Jensen says.
“Goals should work for us, not cause stress.
“If a goal causes you to be too focused on one outcome, like a horse wearing blinders, you could be missing opportunities that are better suited to your purpose,” she says.
5. What happens if you don’t achieve your goals?
This comes back to setting both long-term and short-term goals and being prepared to change them if your plans don’t work out.
It’s a good idea to regularly reassess how you’re tracking against your goals so you can tweak them, should your thinking or your circumstances change.
Finally, take your personal life into account when goal setting.
Setting ambitious goals may be difficult to achieve or unrealistic if you have significant commitments outside work that may draw your focus away from work.
You may need to update intended goals or to your personal life to achieve what you want.
The right goals are different for everyone. What’s important is to think through your ideal future and put in place plans to achieve it.