A career goal statement can help you clearly identify your goals for the future and outline realistic, practical steps to get there. A career goal statement typically includes three key features:
- Your specific career goal
- A timeline for accomplishing that goal
- Clear, actionable steps for reaching it
There are plenty of ways to actually write out a goal statement, but the most successful ones typically follow this format:
"I will do X. I will accomplish this by doing Y."
In the above formula, "X" represents the specific career goal you have, and "Y" represents the various steps you'll need to take to accomplish it. Here's an example of how this could look in real life:
“I will open my own practice as a nurse practitioner in 2022. I will accomplish this by finishing my business plan, renting office space, and hiring the employees I need.”
Notice that we use the phrase "I will" in both parts of the statement, rather than softer language like "I'll try" or "I can." When you use strong, definite action verbs in your goal statement, you're making a firm commitment to yourself that this is your goal and here's how you're going to achieve it. Of course, you certainly don't have to use "I will" in your own goal statement, but do try to use strong language that makes you take a firm stance on the goal you're trying to hit.
Now that you know the general formula for writing a career goal statement, we'll walk you through the step-by-step process of actually creating one.
Step 1: Choose your career goal(s).
Your first step will be to choose the career goal (or goals) you want to achieve. Although you may think that your career goals should be only focused on your job status or title, your career goals should also include larger aspects, such as what type of lifestyle you want with your career. Ask yourself the following questions:
- How does my career make me feel?
- What does my work environment look like physically?
- What is my workload like? Is it fast-paced or more relaxed?
- What kind of lifestyle will achieving these career goals help me lead?
- How am I spending my downtime when I’m not at work?
- What is motivating me to reach these goals?
The important part of this step is to let yourself freely dream — don’t hold back! Now's your chance to do some self-reflecting and think about what career goals you want, why you want to achieve them, and how reaching those goals can help improve your life. No goal is off limits here, so don’t self-edit your goals before you even get a chance to go after them.
As you move through this stage, you may notice that you end up with a lot of different goals and that’s OK. As you answer the questions, you will be able to prioritize the career goals that align with the life goals you have. Aim for ending up with one or two key career goals to focus on at a time. Another tip? Focus on five years ahead or less, says John Crossman, CCIM, CRX, and CEO of Crossman Career Builders.
Step 2: Find out what you need to do to get there.
Next, you'll need to do your homework and gather some general intel about what you'll need to do to reach those goals. They don’t have to be specific steps yet — you’ll get to that later. For now, just focus on getting a better understanding of what the path to your goal could look like and what you'll need to do or have to get from Point A to Point B. For example, will you need to go back to school? Will you need to move? Is there a continuing education course you could take or a conference you can attend to sharpen your skills? Will you have to scale back on paid work while you move toward an advanced degree?
This is also a great time to talk to someone who's currently in the position you hope to have. Set up a coffee date or phone call to chat about how they got to where they are, what steps they took along the way, and any insight or advice they have about getting where they are. “Look to people who are 10-20 years ahead in their careers and study them,” Crossman suggests.
Step 3: Use the SMART framework to hone your goal.
Now that you have a general goal in mind, you’ll need to hone in on what you specifically want to accomplish. Enter: SMART goals. According to this particular goal-setting framework, good goals should be:
- Specific: Your career goal should be crystal clear. For instance, instead of saying, “I’d like to advance in my career,” you'd say something like, “I’d like to work as a healthcare administrator.”
- Measurable: Whenever possible, your goal should have a clear benchmark so you know when you have achieved it.
- Attainable: It’s important to set a realistic goal based on your resources and abilities. While you can certainly achieve anything you want to, you’ll need to do it in realistic steps to get there.
- Relevant: Does your career goal align with your life goals? If you’ve always dreamed of being an OB/GYN, but know you hate waking up at night, do you need to reevaluate your goal?
- Time-Bound: Establish a clear timeline for achieving your goal, including a deadline. This will help you break down the steps to get there and ensure that you stay on track.
Step 4: Establish your plan of attack.
Now that you have your target, it's time to figure out how you’re going to hit it. To do this, you'll essentially need to start with your goal and work backward to identify each step you'll need to take and each milestone you'll need to hit along the way. This will also help you figure out what tools, resources, and possibly even education you'll need to move yourself closer to your objective. For instance, if you've chosen a goal that includes career advancement, you may need to go back to school or gain additional certification in your field. “Start with a vision and then work to develop 5 action steps to take,” advises Crossman.
Here are some other things to consider as you make your plan:
- What skills will I need to reach my goal?
- What steps do I need to take to get there?
- Who do I need to help me reach my goal?
- What resources will I require?
Write down every every aspect of your action plan down in this step, from applying to grad school and networking to scaling down the responsibilities you have at your current job. “I break down my goals into [those achievable in] five years, one year, and 90 days,” notes Crossman.
6 Tips for Reaching Your Career Goals
1. Write down your goals.
It’s been proven that physically writing down your goals — with actual pen and paper — is correlated with achieving them. “Written goals are far more likely to be achieved,” Crossman adds. “They give you a focus and a purpose.”
2. If you have a partner or children, have a discussion about what changes they can expect.
Be sure your loved ones know exactly what you achieving your goal might look like for them, as well as what you need from them to succeed. Maybe that means extra chores from the kids or increased childcare from your partner, but either way, make this a team effort.
3. Write down your “why.”
Remembering your reason for working so hard will help you keep going even on the day when it’s hard. (And there will be those days, you can count on it.)
4. Track your successes visually.
Maybe it’s an app on your phone, a calendar on your wall, or, hey, if a sticker chart works for you, then bring on the stickers. The point is, find some way of visually charting your success that helps keep you motivated.
5. Focus on making progress in some small way every day.
One thing that can be helpful for this is to keep a list of things you can do in 15 minutes (send one marketing email), 30 minutes (draft a proposal), 1 hour (study), or 2 hours (complete your certification exam). That way, even if you have a day when all you have is 15 minutes, you can still work toward your goal not experience the discouragement that comes with losing momentum.
6. Immerse yourself in the industry.
To get where you want to go, surround yourself with the industry you want to be in. Follow the people you admire on social media, subscribe to the journals in your aspired profession, and join groups that will help you stay connected. Immersing yourself in the world you want to be a part of will help you get there and feel confident that you belong.