What are your career goals?

There is one incontrovertible truth in life. If you want to accomplish something -- big or small -- the best way to ensure success is to set goals. 

Life provides several opportunities for setting goals -- planning a wedding, buying a house, picking furniture, and going on vacation. One of the best times to set calculated and specific goals is when you're trying to find a job. By putting pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, you can map out each step that needs to be taken in a calculated way. 

The idea of getting a new job is a simple concept but the process can be demanding, daunting, and stressful. You can make it easier by having a plan. 

Start by answering this question, “What are your career goals?” 

What is a goal?

A goal is quite simply something you want the future to hold. It can be a desire or a need. It can be big or small (i.e., long-term or short-term). 

The most popular career goal is the decision about the type of profession you want to pursue throughout your career. Do you want to be a Chemist, Doctor, Fundraising Expert, Project Manager, a Sales Expert, or something else? If you're unsure of your career goals, give these exercises a try.

It isn't enough to say you want to be a Marine Biologist when you grow up. You have to know how to get there. Knowing your ultimate career goal will allow you to clarify your short-term career goals.

Build your SMART goal

You have to set goals in a very specific way to help ensure that you'll achieve them. Here's an acronym to help: SMART.

If you set goals using the SMART methodology, you'll define a clear path for what you need to do to hit the mark. 

If you decide to go into sales, here's what your SMART goal could look like:

Join a Fortune 500 company as an entry-level sales rep within 1 year.

  • Specific - You want to join a Fortune 500 company.

  • Measurable - You can measure the goal by whether you obtain a role or not.

  • Attainable - You know you can't jump into a position as any type of manager, so you formulated your goal to join on the ground floor of the company.

  • Relevant - It fits within your career mission.

  • Timely - You want to do so within 1 year.

There are different types of goals

It is critical to understand how to establish long term and short term career goals so you can craft an effective action plan. The goal of joining a Fortune 500 company within 1 year is an example of a long-term goal. 

How to develop short term and long term career goals

Your goals need to take into account where you are now, where you want to be, and what you need to do to get from Point A to Point B. Point A being unemployed and point B being gainfully employed, as an example. To accomplish this, you first set a long-term goal and then define all of the short-term goals you need to achieve to reach the long-term one.

Hiring managers look for a combination of education, practical experience, and cultural fit when hiring, so once you know your ultimate goal, you can do your homework on what it takes to be considered a prime candidate. From there, it's a matter of setting and meeting your SMART goals.

Long-term goals

Long-term goals usually take a significant amount of time to achieve -- 1 year, 5 years, 10 years, or more. They include things like wanting to be in a new job within a year of graduating college or going to London on vacation next summer. No matter what your long-term goal is, it will require time and detailed planning.

Often, to accomplish long-term goals, you have to set several short-term goals.

Short-term goals

A clearly defined set of short-term goals is akin to a how-to list. Deciding to join a Fortune 500 company as an entry sales representative within 1 year will require that you obtain the right education and a bit of experience. Depending on which company you apply to, you may even need certifications or licenses. 

Here is a set of short-term goals that would help you achieve your long-term goal:

Research and locate necessary certifications for upcoming sales representative job search.

Sign-up to take classes required to obtain education for passing any licensing exams.

Take a licensing exam for an insurance license within 2 months. 

After passing the licensing exam, apply to the state board of licensing to secure distinction as licensed to sell. 

You can see how the short-term goals stack up to be a how-to guide for achieving your long-term goal. Even though there are already 4 goals listed, you're just beginning to get to a point to reach the long-term goal. 

Goals as they relate to your job search

It is good to have overarching — even aggressive — personal and business career goals, provided you are diligent in putting together an action plan and following it through. Once you have clarified your short-term goals, you can begin to tailor your job-search efforts to land the right opportunity. If you are very clear on what you want, it makes it easier for you to find the right listings and for your network to help you.

Related: Set Goals That Really Matter for Your Career

Tools for a successful job search

Yes, setting the proper short- and long-term goals is essential to get your job search off to a great start. It's impossible to know what to search for if you haven't first defined it. Once you begin that search, you'll need to demonstrate your successful achievement of goals through your resume

Pro tip: Delete the phrase “Responsible for…” from your resume writing vocabulary. 

Hiring managers want to see resumes that have achievements. Let's say that your last job required you to bring in 50 new clients each month. Many job seekers will put something like this on their resume:

“Responsible for bringing in 50 new clients each month.”

Fantastic! But, did you actually do it? 

Technically speaking, bringing in 50 new clients each month is a long-term goal. You had to do something each day to accomplish this. Perhaps you broke up the job into small chunks. Setting a short-term goal to call 75 prospects daily to close 2 sales would take you one step closer to the achievement of the long-term goal of getting 50 clients by the end of the month. 

Describe your short- and long-term goal achievements on your resume, using the STAR method. 

Situation: Bring in 50 new clients by the end of the month.

Action/Task: Called 75 prospects each day to close 2 sales.

Result: Onboarded 52 new clients.

Now, you've turned the phrase “Responsible for …” into an action. Here's what it could look like:

“Exceeded client quota by networking with 75 prospects daily to onboard 50+ new clients by the end of each month.” 

Your career goals should be clear on your resume as well. Make sure they are with a free resume review.

Career goals versus outdated resume objective

You should start demonstrating the achievement of career goals at the very beginning of your resume, though, not just within the description of your professional experience. The beauty of using a professional summary paragraph is that you can also talk about career goals you've yet to achieve as they relate to your job search. 

Everyone knows that the use of a resume objective has gone the way of the Dodo. When you write a career summary paragraph, you're giving details about your career that jumpstarts a hiring manager's thinking as to whether you'd be a good fit for the role/company. 

Personal goals versus professional career goals 

Professional goals can, and should, intermingle with personal goals. There is an upward trend towards more flexible work environments and even remote work. The fact is, people in jobs they find fulfilling are more productive. When you set your career goals be sure to include the type of job that you'd find personally satisfying. 

How to answer “What are your career goals?” in a job interview

The first step to properly answering “What are your career goals?” in an interview is, obviously, first having goals. Next is learning to effectively communicate them to the hiring manager in an interview.

To start, make sure you have a clear and succinct description of your career goals. This description needs to be phrased in a way that outsiders (hiring managers, people outside your existing career) can relate to and understand. Always remember to frame your career goals in a way that is relevant to the company for which you're applying — the hiring manager wants to see if you have a future there and if you envision yourself there.

Next, be prepared to elaborate on how you plan to accomplish (or at least work towards) your career goals. Many hiring managers are trained to dig deeper during interviews, and after stating your career goals, this may be a follow-up question to help the hiring manager learn more about you and your vision for yourself.

Finally, be prepared to demonstrate flexibility and adaptability by discussing how you are ready to adjust your short-term goals to achieve the long-term ones, as necessary. This is another reason it's important to have clearly defined short-term goals. Changing a single step on a path is easier than building a new road. 

One last thing - With whom do you share your goals and when? 

There is a psychological disconnect with sharing your goals with someone. Talking about what you plan to do and getting a positive reaction (i.e., affirmation) from those around you can play tricks on your brain. The satisfaction that comes from positive feedback on your goal makes you less likely to do the work to accomplish it.

Derek Sivers explains this in his TEDtalk “Tips to help you set and reach your goals.” The research suggesting that you keep your goals to yourself dates back to the 1920s. 

The bottom line

Goals are a common part of everyday life, whether we realize it or not. 

Taking the time to set SMART goals just makes things easier -- including your job search. Don't waste your time applying to 100 jobs that won't make you happy. Define what you want and go after it.

Are you planning to land a new job in the short term? We can help with our professional resume writing services, plus cover letters and LinkedIn profile assistance. 

Note: this piece was originally written by Carrie Maldonado and has been updated to include more guidance and information by TopResume contributor Marsha Hebert.

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