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Career Goal Statement 101: What You Need to Know to Chart Your Ideal Career Journey

2021 career goal planner on a bright yellow table surrounded by office supplies

If you’re looking to reach some new goals in your career or maybe even pursue a new career altogether, the first step you should take is to write down a career goal statement. Your career goal statement is a smart way to help you hone in on the specific goals you want to achieve—and then allow you to work on the concrete steps to get there.

What Is a Career Goal Statement?

So what, exactly, is a career goal statement? A career goal statement is exactly what it sounds like: a specific statement you write down about the career goal you want to achieve. A career goal statement is explicitly clear and includes a goal and an “action plan” step to reach that goal. For instance, “I will earn my real estate brokers license this year by enrolling in an online program.”

The key to composing an effective goal statement is that it needs to be specific, actionable, and clear. While it may be possible for you to pursue more than one career goal simultaneously, each career goal statement should only focus on one goal at a time. That way, you can be crystal clear about the goal you’re pursuing and the steps you need to take to reach it.

In general, there are two types of career goal statements: short-term and long-term. There is no “right” or “wrong” type of career goal statement to make as far as choosing one or the other, and in fact, some experts actually recommend having both short-term and long-term career goal statements. For example, John Crossman, CCIM, CRX, and CEO of Crossman Career Builders, uses a 90-day, a one-year, and a five-year career goal statement for his own goal setting.

Your own, personal career goal statement timelines may differ, especially depending on the goal, but you should consider adding in a short-term and a long-term goal statement so you can envision how the two can work together. This will help ensure the steps you are taking align to where you would ultimately like to end up in your career.

Why Do I Need a Career Goal Statement?

There are a few reasons why you should focus on coming up with a career goal statement as a way to help you take the next step.

Benefit #1: Specificity

The beauty of crafting a career goal statement is that it forces you to hone in on the specific goal you want to achieve—and then devise an action plan to achieve that goal. The problem with having broad career goals, like “moving up the ladder” or “making more money,” is that they don’t actually get you anywhere. With a career goal statement, you have no choice but to zero in on a crystal clear goal that leaves no room for guesswork.

Benefit #2: Direction

When you sit down to write your career goal statement, you might be surprised to discover that your actual goal differs from what you thought it was. For instance, you might assume that you want to have your own healthcare practice. But once you actually write the action plan, you may realize you don’t have the capacity for that goal at the moment and pivot your plan in a new direction. In short, the career goal statement helps you head in the direction you want your life to take. Your ideal career goal statement should be something that aligns with your resources and vision for your life. It should be based on a top priority, says Crossman.

Benefit #3: Inspiration

A career goal statement could help you uncover goals you weren’t even aware you had. And if you aren’t sure you have any goals for your career in the future, a career goal statement can still help you get inspired. Carve out some time to sit with a journal and a cozy drink and test-drive a few career goal statements as a brainstorming activity. It’s a good opportunity to see if any of the career goals you come up with strike some inspiration. Maybe you’ll even stumble upon a career ambition you weren’t expecting!

Benefit #4: Accountability

Lastly, a well-crafted career goal statement is trackable and measurable, Crossman says. That means that just by writing the statement, you are making a plan to be accountable to yourself. It’s a fool-proof solution, especially if you tend to be someone who needs a little extra accountability to hit your goals.

What Does a Career Goal Statement Look Like?

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 components:

  • Your specific career goal
  • A timeline for accomplishing that goal
  • Clear, actionable steps for reaching it

You can think about it in the following formula:

Career Goal Statement = Goal + Action Plan (Timeline)

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] by [Y]. I will accomplish this by doing [Z].”

In the above formula, "X" represents the specific career goal you have, "Y" represents the timeline (or deadline) by which you want to achieve your goal, and “Z” represents the various steps you'll need to take to get there. 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.”

The key to a good career goal statement is that it needs to be as specific and concrete as possible. So, instead of a statement like, “I’d like to move up in my career,” your career goal statement would say, “I will become floor manager within four years by earning my MSN and receiving mentoring from the current manager.”

Also, 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.

How to Write a Career Goal Statement

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.

How Long Should a Career Goal Statement Be?

The beauty of a career goal statement is that it boils down your lofty goal into one simple goal and a few actionable step(s), so it really shouldn’t be longer than one or two sentences. If it’s any longer than that, it will start to become too complicated. As long as your career goal statement includes your goal and a very clear action plan, you’re good to go.

10 Examples of Career Goal Statements

As we mentioned earlier, you can break down your career goal statements into both short-term and long-term career goals. This can be especially helpful if you have a large long-term goal that needs to be broken down into several steps, if you are beginning a new career, or if you are a recent graduate doing some planning for your future. Here are a few examples of what short- and long-term career goal statements can look like.

6 Examples of Short-Term Career Goal Statements

  1. “I will pass my NCLEX by taking two prep courses and studying between 6 p.m. and 7 p.m. every night. I will reserve Sundays to rest and recharge.”
  2. “I will decide on which real estate franchise to buy by researching pros, cons and fees of each brand.”
  3. “I will apply to school by filling out the application, finding letters of recommendation, and paying the fees next Friday on my day off.”
  4. “I will schedule a meeting with my manager to request a raise by the end of the month.”
  5. “I will graduate with my FNP by enrolling in a hybrid program within driving distance from my house so I can continue taking my kids to school every morning.”
  6. “I will launch myself as an independent contractor by the end of the year by getting an LLC, opening a separate business bank account, finalizing my rate structure, and creating a marketing strategy. I will also make sure I have six months worth of expenses saved to lean on while I launch.”

4 Examples of Long-Term Career Goal Statements

  1. “I will become a floor manager within five years by earning my Masters and finding a mentor.”
  2. “I will open my own practice within two years by completing my business plan, finding a rental office, and finishing my certification.”
  3. “I will contribute 40% of my income to my retirement plan by the age of 40 by increasing my income and opening a SEP-IRA account.”
  4. “I will earn 25% more income by starting a part-time technical writing business that I will work on in the evenings and weekends. I will start by creating a basic website on Squarespace and sending out LOIs to my current contacts.”

I’ve Written My Career Goal Statement. Now What?

After you write your career goal statement, you follow it to a T, you reach all your goals in a timely fashion, and you live happily ever after, right? Well, in an ideal world, sure. But in the real world, life can certainly intervene to do its best to thwart your efforts in chasing down your goals.

If that happens, the good news is you can use your career goal statement to reevaluate, reassess, and get back on track, if needed. Your career goal statement is something that is never set in stone and can grow and evolve as necessary.

Use your goal statement for direction and motivation, but don’t be so attached to it that you close off the evolution that may happen as you move through life. Flexibility and adaptability can happen, and that’s actually a good thing. In fact, for long-term goals, especially, you should assess what’s working and what’s not working on a regular basis. That way, you can quickly identify if anything in your life—whether through internal or external factors—has changed your goals and take steps to pivot, as needed.

7 Tips for Writing Great Career Goal Statements

By now, you’re probably convinced that you need a clear and effective career goal statement. Here are some tips to help make that happen:

Tip #1: Use confident and definitive language.

For example, use a phrase like “I will…,” instead of “I hope to…” or “I want to…”*

Tip #2: Be as specific as possible.

For example: “I will specialize in outpatient surgical services,” instead of “I don’t want to work on Med/Surg.”

Tip #3: Pick career goals that also support your personal growth.

Tip #4: Avoid just focusing on making more money.

While increased income can certainly be an attainable and admirable goal, you’ll find more success if you also align your income with your goals and values.

Tip #5: Include a timeline so you have a measurable way to track your progress.

Tip #6: Keep it simple.

Although your career goal statement should be specific, you don’t want to get bogged down by including every single detail you need to do to reach your goals.

Tip #7: Make sure it’s achievable.

As aspirational as it may be to reach for the stars, you want to make sure you get there in manageable steps. Otherwise, you may get discouraged and stop reaching all together.

6 Tips for Achieving Your Goals

Tip #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 says. “They give you a focus and a purpose.”

Tip #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. That might mean extra chores from the kids or increased childcare from your partner. Either way, make this a team effort.

Tip #3: Write down your ‘why.’

Remembering your reason for working so hard will help you keep going even on the days when it’s hard. (And there will be those days. You can count on it.)

Tip #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.

Tip #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), one hour (study), or two 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 and not experience the discouragement that comes with losing momentum.

Tip #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.


Originally published on January 5, 2021.
Updated on June 18, 2021.


Image courtesy of iStock.com/HAKINMHAN


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Berxi™ or Berkshire Hathaway Specialty Insurance Company. This article (subject to change without notice) is for informational purposes only, and does not constitute professional advice.

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