If the question “What are your career goals?” fills you with dread, you’re certainly not alone. Objectively, we know that goals are important – research even confirms that the simple act of writing them down makes us more likely to achieve them. Yet, as Forbes reported, less than 20% of professionals actually have concrete goals related to work.
Why the discrepancy? For one thing, it can feel overwhelming and difficult to know where to start. Then there’s the practical element; many professionals are juggling multiple responsibilities that take precedence over future planning, and life gets in the way.
The good news is that it’s never too late to get started, and with a little introspection and practical guidance, you can develop and start working towards goals to take your career to the next level. In our work with professionals through the MovingWorlds Institute, we’ve seen that taking the time to set goals is a small shift that makes a big difference: as Global Fellowship alumna Anna shared, “[The Fellowship] was the first time in my entire career that I sat down to write out my goals and purpose. That level of introspection made all the difference – before, I was going with the flow, and now, I was defining the flow for myself.”
In this post, we’ll share a practical 6-step framework to setting, refining, and following up on your career goals, along with examples and resources to help you define the flow of your career for yourself.
[For even more guidance for your career, check out our 10 step career guide.]
A 6-Step Framework to Setting Goals for Your Career
As we share in this post about professional goals, people that set goals, write them down, display them in a visible space, AND have a friend or colleague that is a check-in/accountability partner are scientifically proven to be more likely to achieve their goals. That’s why we developed this practical 6-step framework to start setting professional goals and making them a reality:
We also recommend writing your goals using the SMART Goals format, meaning that each goal is Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timed.
Examples of SMART goals for your career
To make this more real, let’s look at an example. Imagine that you want to make a career change to something more meaningful and compatible with your lifestyle.
A not-so-smart goal would sound something like, “Get a new job at a nonprofit.”
That goal is quite vague – it leaves out the how, when, what, and why. Using the SMART approach, you could reframe that goal into something like, “Find a job with a bikeable commute that contributes to social good, uses my strengths in business and operation process engineering, and provides the opportunity to keep learning from people with more experience, within the next 18 months.”
As you can see, the SMART version of this goal factors in considerations that really matter to this person, like biking to work, building on specific skills, and focusing on continued learning. In addition, by adding the desire to learn from more experienced colleagues, this person will be able to better filter potential organizations by screening for the ability to learn from colleagues during the interview process. Like all good goals, it is also time-bound – providing a timeline for the search to be completed.
Find even more examples of SMART goals for different objectives like getting a promotion, developing as a leader, exploring career opportunities, and more in this blog post.
The bottom line
Setting goals can feel intimidating, but getting started matters more than getting it “perfect” on the first try. As you go through this exercise for the first time, give yourself permission to try, learn, and continue to iterate. As you grow and evolve over time, so will your goals – and that’s ok!
We hope this 6-step approach helps take some of the guesswork out of the goal setting process, and empowers you to grab a pen and paper, a cup of coffee, and let yourself get creative. Looking for additional support in setting and achieving your career goals? Apply to the MovingWorlds Institute for the confidence, connections, and hands-on experience to launch or advance your social impact career.