How to Set Achievable, Kickass Career Goals in 4 Steps (Plus a Free Worksheet)
If you’ve been in the workforce for very long– or hell… a few months– there’s a good chance you’ve found yourself in a position where you don’t feel fulfilled in your career. Especially for those of us who are only recently out of college and just getting started, most people find themselves working a job because they need to, not because they want to.
If you’ve been there, you know what it’s like. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Believe it or not, but you can like what you have to do. It just takes a bit of thinking, planning, and effort to get to where you want to be.
To be clear, I don’t believe that there’s such a thing as a perfect job. Every career is going to have its ups and downs, conflicts and struggles. Yet, when you find the work that you do to be meaningful and engaging, the drudgery of a lackluster job can become a thing of the past.
Step 1- Take An Inventory of Where You’re Currently At
If you’re wanting a career change, there’s a good chance it’s because you aren’t happy or fully satisfied with your current position. Finding an ideal position, however, isn’t as simple as looking for something different. You need to be clear about what you like and don’t like.
The purpose of this exercise is to help you get a clear sense of your own work style. It’s easy to assume that you will like a certain job based upon your current perceptions of it or simply by the prestige of the role, but it’s necessary to critically examine the actual daily tasks associated with each role that you pursue. A common mistake that many people make when they get frustrated or feel stuck in their current role is that they’ll look for roles that are either far too similar or far too different at a new company. If you’re going to set realistic and achievable career goals and make consistent progress, you need to be looking for a career that is (a) doesn’t include the tasks that you dislike in your current job, and (b) has enough overlap with the things you like about your current job that it’s a logical career move.
Step 2- Get Clear About What You Want
As hinted at in Step 1, you’ve got to know exactly what it is that you want in your career. Don’t get caught up on the idea of a job or the allure of a particular salary. Ultimately, you spend about one-third of your life at work, so as you continue to grow in your career, you don’t want to put yourself in a position where you feel like you’re wasting time or dreading the work that you do.
With as much time as you’re spending at work, it’s important to recognize that your career is a central component of your life as a whole. So, when you think about your career progression, it’s important to think about what you want your life and lifestyle to look like along the way.
Ask yourself what you want your life to look like in one year, three years, five years, and so on. As you paint a clear picture of your progress, take down some notes about the personal and professional development goals you’ll need to accomplish along the way. Do you need to learn new skills? Get new certifications? Read a new book?
Step 3- Get Comfortable With Recognizing and Speaking About Your Transferable Skills
“Transferable skills” is one of those buzzwords I heard all the time in undergrad, and it consistently made me roll my eyes. I was looking at a niche study track that led to a niche career path– why the hell would I need to embellish what I knew how to do to make it fit a different industry?
What young, naive me failed to realize was that the path I thought I was on turned out to be one that didn’t bring me joy. So, rather than taking my stellar research and writing skills to a Ph.D. program so that I could eventually teach others how to research and write, I had to start job hunting in other industries. As you can imagine, being able to put in a cover letter that you know how to assess Faulkner through a variety of paradigms and have significant experience with composition pedagogy doesn’t really mean much when you’re looking at jobs in tech, marketing, sales, or really anything other than graduate programs.
At first, it felt like I was just bullshitting my way through job applications by stretching the truth about what I knew how to do from my time as an English major and working in food service. As I got more experience under my belt, however, I realized that the bulk of what we do in a full-time job doesn’t usually fit neatly into the job description.
In a nutshell, you want to think of your transferable skills as the things you do in one job that would be valuable in another.
For example, my skills with reading Faulker and Woolfe wouldn’t come in handy at all in my current day job. But, you know what does? Being able to break down complex problems and communicate them in an easy way. Those are basically the same skills, just wrapped up in a different package.
If you’re unhappy with the job that you’re currently in, or don’t know how to start applying for the jobs you want the experience you have, don’t let yourself get caught in a rut of saying “I have these skills, so I do this kind of work.” Take those skills and examine what they may look like in another context. Don’t lie or stretch the truth to the point that you’ll be exposed as a fraud when you can’t do what you’ve said you have a ton of experience doing– that’s definitely not what we’re advocating.
Instead, be critical and really brainstorm how the skills you’ve acquired can be beneficial in a different scenario.
Step 4- Put Together a Plan
This is where shit gets real. Completing steps 1 through 3 is a great way to get started, but don’t fool yourself into thinking that preliminary work is the only work.
If you want to really begin to affect change in your work life, you’ve got to take the knowledge that you’ve acquired thus far and put it into an action plan. We recommend pairing specific steps with deadlines, and a note about how completing this step will help you reach your overall goals. Hold yourself to these deadlines– get an accountability partner if you’re worried that you won’t be able to hold onto the deadline on your own. Keep in mind that the BlakeWrites Community can be a great place to find the support you need to stay on track. We’re more than happy to provide advice and feedback along the way, or just cheer you on as you crush your milestones.
Written by Blake Reichenbach
He/ Him/ His pronouns. Blake is a writer, gym addict, dog dad, researcher, and general life enthusiast. He's passionate about helping others reach their goals and live happier, more fulfilling lives.