Defined as a specific statement explaining what an individual wants to pursue throughout his or her career, a career goal is an essential part of the greater career development process. Career goals have been found to positively impact the salary and employment status of an individual three years after entry into the workforce (Abele & Spurk, 2009), which includes a positive effect on career satisfaction and hierarchical status. Although career goals are primarily prevalent among first-time job seekers, nurturing them has also been found to have a positive effect on students’ tendency to make positive persistence decisions, resulting in greater school retention rates according to school statistics (Hull-Blanks et al., 2005). This development has led many to believe that having a career goal early on is also a factor for academic success.
Setting a career goal, however, is not a minor undertaking. In planning for career success, one must understand the forces that affect judgment and perceptions, which influence actions in the long run (Rabiu, 2013). A not so successful attempt at setting a career goal can result in poor career development decisions, which can create problems that can leave long-term effects on an individual’s career path.
In this article, we will take an in-depth look at what a career goal is, its role in career development, and how you can craft and manage one to increase your chances of career and/or academic success.
There are a number of career goals—job-related, school-related, value-related, etc.—each one influencing career outcomes. To ensure optimal results, one must construct a career goal to light the path of career development. It begins with the definition of what one seeks to accomplish and how to get there. But in order to start mapping out one’s career path, it is important to understand what a career goal is and how to effectively establish one first.
Fishbach and Ferguson (2007, p. 491) define goal as “a cognitive representation of a desired endpoint that impacts evaluations, emotions, and behaviors.” Brown (2002) further describes the goal as something that contains “important plans of action and encourages proactive behaviors on the part of individuals to meet milestones.”
In terms of career, goals not only pertain to long-term objectives, such as the ultimate professions or positions individuals intend to take, but also to the short-term ones or the milestones being set as they advance in their chosen profession. According to Sadowski & Schrager (2016), personal career goals should be represented by items an individual values from his/her “personal and unique perspective.” They further explained that personal career goals can either be “dreamy” or “practical,” depending on what is determined as ideal.
When it comes to the goal-setting process of students, particularly graduate students, Greco (2016, p. 4) argues that being able to identify with the profession “shapes the career goals of graduate students in professional programs.” Not every goal, however, includes the path of higher education as there are those who skip this part with their own reasons to not go to college. Meanwhile, the process of professional identification is based on the four psychological motives—identity development, control, meaning, and belonging.
The key factor in accomplishing any goal set is to first have a clear vision of what an individual wants to try to achieve before taking action to reach it (UC Berkeley, n.d.). It is, however, important to remember that “there’s no blueprint or timetable for climbing the career ladder” (Doyle, 2020). The path toward the ultimate goal does not need to be a straight line as it includes milestones, such as jobs, timeline, etc., that might change along the way. Also, restarting and refocusing career goals is also not unusual and must not be considered as a sign of failure.
Two of the most important factors to consider when setting your goals is your goals must be reasonable and achievable. This, however, does not mean that you cannot dream big—you can as long as you set realistically feasible goals to accomplish it (Links International, 2019).
There are several helpful strategies when it comes to setting up career goals and working your way toward them. In corporate organizations, goal alignment is one of the driving forces behind achieving company-wide goals. This concept can also be applied to personal career goals, such as the following:
Source: Santander First-Time Buyer Study
Psychotherapist Amy Morin identifies the common obstacles to an individual’s dreams and goals and here are some of them:
Goals are made up of short-term and long-term components. Here are some career goals examples for each category.
These goals involve setting up realistic milestones that are achievable within the foreseeable future usually meant to accomplish immediate improvements, such as the following:
Source: Statista, Kelly Global Workforce Index
These are the goals set to be accomplished within a longer time frame as it involves more planning and can have a more significant effect on the overall career plan. Some examples of professional goals intended for long-term are the following:
Lyons et al. (2015) stated that individuals with a strong self-awareness of their core career competencies tend to be more resilient and experience more satisfaction as they progress toward their career goals. Furthermore, people who possess a high level of understanding of the careers they want to pursue also have more focused and realistic plans for their future “that are based on accurate information about their personal strengths and weaknesses” (Brotheridge & Power, 2008).
But while self-knowledge provides an individual with a certain level of awareness that helps in creating an effective career plan, there is one more component that has a special relationship with goals and that is hope. While hope may sound like putting a dramatic spin on the subject of career goals, Savickas and Porfeli (2012) described it as “a psychological source of career adaptability.” And according to Snyder (1996), hope provides the ability to create clear and meaningful goals, as well as become a powerful source of willpower—both of which are extremely necessary for establishing career goals, and most importantly, in achieving them.