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Setting career goals for professional development

Setting goals is a crucial step towards taking control of our careers and driving meaningful progress. Whether you're feeling stagnant in your current position or seeking new opportunities, setting clear and achievable goals can provide the direction and motivation to take the next step.

In this article, we will explore the transformative power of goal setting in improving one's career, diving into practical tips and strategies that can help you create a path towards professional growth and accomplishment.

What makes a good goal?

Goals aren’t worthwhile unless they’re achievable and actionable. If you can’t take action to make it happen, you should reconsider the goal you’re setting. There’s one goal-setting framework - SMART goals - that makes it easy to set a goal and achieve it.

There are 5 parts to a SMART goal:

S - Specific

A goal needs to be specific, so you know what you’re working towards and can build your path to success. You should think about the Who, What, When, Which, and Why of the goal to identify if there are other people needed to help you reach it, know exactly what the end goal is and when you want to reach it, which obstacles may stand in your path and how you will tackle them, and why the goal matters to you. If it doesn’t matter to you, and if you’re not driven to achieve it, it will be difficult to stay motivated.

M - Measurable

Setting an easily measurable goal is critical so you know when you’ve reached it! It’s the difference between “My goal is to be better at budgeting” and “My goal is to create a budget and stick to it, so I can put $50 in my savings account each month.” With the first, you don’t really define what “better” means - so how do you know if you’ve reached the goal? With the second, you can easily track your success.

A - Achievable

Sometimes, people set unrealistic goals because they’re inspirational. In reality, continuously working towards something you can’t achieve often isn’t inspiring - it’s demoralizing. When you can’t (or feel like you can’t) reach your goals, it becomes easy to quit working towards them. Set a goal that you can achieve, and break up larger goals into smaller milestones so you can identify and celebrate your progress along the way.

R - Relevant

A relevant goal will keep you progressing down the larger career path you’ve chosen or want to be on. Ask yourself a few questions:

  • Will achieving this goal be worthwhile?
  • Does this fit with my other career goals?
  • Will I be able to work towards this goal without compromising my ability to fulfill my other commitments?
  • Is this the right time to work on this goal?

If you can answer “yes” to all four of the questions above, your goal is relevant.

T - Time-Bound.

There needs to be a time limit to keep you motivated and working towards your goal. Is it this year? This quarter? Before your birthday, before your work’s busy season, or before your yearly review? As you’re setting your goal, be sure to think about when you want to accomplish it and set a reasonable time limit for yourself. 

Setting Your 2021 Career Goal

Moving on to the good stuff… it’s time to think about what goals matter to you! Consider what will help you build your career, improve your performance, or be happier at work. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

Find a new job.

Sometimes, it’s just time for something new! When you’re writing your goal think about why you want the new job and what actions you need to take to get there. Your SMART goal might look something like this:

  • Update my resume and apply to five jobs each week in order to get a new job in the next six months that will be a good fit for my customer service skills.

Learn a new skill.

New skills can help you improve at your current job or break into a new line of work! When you’re writing your goal, think about why you want to learn this skill and how you’re going to learn it. Your SMART goal might look something like this:

  • Sign up for and take a forklift certification course in the next six weeks in order to get certified and be promoted into a forklift operator position at my company.

Earn a promotion.

In order to earn a promotion, you should focus on exceeding the goals or metrics for your current position, bringing a positive attitude to work, and finding the right opportunity to show how you’ll add additional value in a new role. When you’re writing your goal, think about how you’ll improve your work performance and when the right time will be to ask to be promoted. Your SMART goal might look something like this:

  • Stay focused at work and raise my performance metrics to beat last year’s performance from now until my performance review in May, so I can request a promotion to Production Team Lead based on my performance, attitude, and leadership skills.

Improve a soft skill.

Soft skills, like time management, teamwork, and communication, can be really important for your career. Your soft skills help you interview well for jobs, impress your boss, and even move up at your company. When you’re writing your goal, pick a specific soft skill to focus on and focus on clear steps you can take to improve.

  • Every time my supervisor checks in during the workday, I am going to pause what I’m doing and make eye contact for our conversation to improve our working relationship and communication and to improve my ability to be present in the conversation.

Your goals don’t have to be huge to make an impact. The most important part is just getting started -  setting a goal and working towards it.

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