Counselor Resources

Guide your students through applying to college, obtaining aid, and considering a career.

Set Your Career Goals

Know your goals and you can better manage your career

Whether you're a student earning a degree or a job-seeker new on the market, you probably have a career goal in mind. That goal could be something simple, like getting hired right out of school. Or perhaps it's more involved, like moving up the ladder to management level in a Fortune 500 company. Whatever the case, it's worth your time to think about your goal, even write it down. Here's the value in doing so: In the process, you consider what your goal means to you, develop more commitment to it, and even strategize in terms of how achieve it — all good things for planning your career. To help you articulate your goal, consider the tips below.

The S.M.A.R.T. advantage

You may have heard the acronym S.M.A.R.T. before. The acronym describes a set of traits, which all goals should have to be effective. When setting your own career goal, make sure it has these traits, which include:

  • Specific — your goal should not be vague but rather something you can describe.
  • Measurable — make sure you can show you've achieved your goal, whether it's earning a degree or learning a skill.
  • Assignable — you're the responsible party in achieving your career goal but you may need help from other sources, like a college or a business association that offers industry contacts.
  • Realistic — make sure your goal is achievable, that is, given your skills and training you can earn the job you seek.
  • Time-related — set a timeframe by which to achieve your goal, for example, three to six months for finding a job or four years for earning a bachelor's degree in your field.

Short-term career goal examples

You can have multiple types of goals, including short- and long-term goals. Here are a few examples that can be short-term, though they may lead to other longer-term goals.

  • Network with an industry or trade association.
  • Find a mentor in a given field.
  • Make four job-related calls a day.
  • Take a semester course to sharpen technical abilities.
  • Have a business associate or professional you respect review your résumé.
  • Land two job interviews per week.
  • Pass a professional certification test.

Long-term career goal examples

Long-term goals may take several years and much more work to achieve. They can be final or lead to other long-term goals. Here are some examples.

  • Develop a specific skill.
  • Own your own business.
  • Freelance for a number of years.
  • Become a high-level manager within the information technology field.
  • Get a graduate degree in a related field.
  • Earn an award or other industry recognition for work in your field.

Get a reality check on your career

To a large extent, your career goals determine what your life is like. Your career determines the amount of money you make, the free time you have, and the physical environment you work in, to name a few things. Make sure the career goals you set for yourself are realistic given your values and interests. Here are some questions to ask yourself in evaluating your career and setting goals.

  • Does your career pay a salary you can live with?
  • Will your career offer you opportunities to grow and move up?
  • What is the long-term market need for this career?
  • Do you have to maintain certifications or get annual training to stay competent?


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