Whether you’re a mid-career professional or new to the workforce, setting goals is a crucial part of career development. By setting goals, you’ll have something to work toward, rather than feeling stuck—or worse, ending up in a job you don’t like.
Simply setting goals and resolutions isn’t enough, however. You also need to accomplish them. There are steps you can take to boost your chances of success, such as writing down your goals or sharing your progress with a friend.
According to a Dominican University of California study, 43% of participants achieved their goals when they didn’t write them down, whereas 76% of participants achieved their goals when they wrote them down, set up action steps, and involved their friends.
Even seemingly small actions can have a major impact on your ability to accomplish your goals and build a fulfilling career.
1. Reflect on What You Want
It’s impossible to set professional goals if you don’t know what you want out of your career. Reflecting on your interests and passions can help you clarify your aims, said Michele Dye, career coach and founder of Dyenamic Career Goals.
“The first step is to get clear on what you want,” Dye said in an email to The Balance. “Sometimes it can be hard to figure out what you want, especially if you’re feeling stuck or discouraged. But doing some self-reflection and career exploration will help you clarify what you want out of your career.”
Think about your personality, the type of work that interests you, and the environment you like best. Personality tests such as Myers-Briggs, Big Five, and Enneagram can be helpful tools for uncovering your preferences. Once you have a deeper understanding of who you are and what you’re looking for, you can begin researching career paths that fit you.
2. Identify Your Core Values
Along with reflecting on your personality and interests, identifying your core values can help you clarify and work toward your career goals. “Your core values are the things that matter to you most in life,” Naomi Rothwell-Boyd, founder of career development company Tribe and Seek, said in an email to The Balance. “When you’re making a decision, your core values should always be taken into consideration.”
“Once you have a good understanding of your core values, you can use them to help guide your career decisions,” Rothwell-Boyd said.
3. Balance Long-Term and Short-Term Goals
While it’s useful to come up with a big-picture vision for your career, you could get overwhelmed if you don’t break up your long-term goal into short-term objectives.
“There needs to be a balance between the long-term goal and the short-term mini-goals that lead up to it,” human resources consultant Daniel Cook told The Balance in an email. “If you focus on the long-term goal alone, it might be easy for you to get discouraged, especially when you’re still starting or when times get tough.”
To avoid burning out, Cook recommended dividing your major goal into a series of minor ones—and celebrating your successes along the way.
“Breaking down your goals to bite-sized pieces allows you to have a small win to celebrate every now and then, which helps you cultivate a positive outlook that will ultimately help you in the long run,” Cook said.
4. Write Down Your Goals
The simple act of writing down your goals is the first step in increasing your chances of accomplishing them. The Dominican University of California study found that if you add action steps to those goals, share your goals with friends, and do weekly check-ins with friends, your chances of reaching your goals go up 56%.
Coming up with a plan of action can turn a daydream into tangible steps while sharing with a friend or family member can provide crucial accountability and support.
5. Set SMART Goals
The SMART goal framework can help you set more effective goals. “SMART” stands for:2
By following these metrics, you can set yourself up for success and avoid the common pitfalls of goal-setting. Some common pitfalls to avoid are setting goals that aren’t measurable or don’t have a deadline, Dye said. She also recommends tracking your progress.
“This is a step a lot of people skip, which can explain why goals go unmet,” Dye said. “If you don’t track your progress, you don’t know what’s working and what’s not. It’s important to be aware so you can make any necessary adjustments. I recommend that my clients check their progress each week and write down what they’ve achieved and what they’ve struggled with.”
6. Upgrade Your Skills
One way to bridge the gap between where you are now and where you want to go in your career is to acquire new skills. Going back to school to earn a degree or pursuing certifications can open doors to a promotion or new job.
You don’t necessarily need to start from scratch; you can upgrade skills you already have. Chances are you’ve already developed some useful skills that could transfer into a new role or industry.
“Transferable skills are the skills that you’ve acquired through your experiences and can apply to other situations,” Rothwell-Boyd said. “For example, if you’re a great communicator, that’s a transferable skill that would be valuable in any job.”
Some examples of transferable skills include:
- Time management
By taking stock of the skills you already possess, as well as developing new ones, you can move closer to your dream job.