How To Set Short- and Long-Term Career Goals

This illustration shows tips for setting career goals, including having specific goals, making sure those goals are measurable, being positive but realistic, pairing goals with an action, and being flexible.

The Balance / Maritsa Patrinos

You may feel setting long-term and short-term goals is a waste of time. But goal setting is an important part of the career planning process. Increase your chances of reaching your short- and long-term goals by making them measurable, realistic, and more. Not planning for your future can make for a chaotic one.

Let's dive deeper into how you can set and achieve your short- and long-term goals.

Key Takeaways

  • Create a career action plan that acts as your roadmap for achieving your short- and long-term goals.
  • Make your goals measurable, realistic, positive, and actionable.
  • Be flexible—as you progress in your career, your goals may change, and that's OK.
  • Take time to check in with yourself every six months or one year to ensure you're still working toward the goals that are right for you.

How Goals Can Impact Your Career Success

Setting goals is a significant component of the career planning process. To have a successful and satisfying career, define your goals and devise a strategy to achieve them. A roadmap that will take you from choosing an occupation to working and succeeding at it is called a career action plan.

Your career action plan must have both long- and short-term goals. It is imperative to include the steps you need to take to reach each one, along with ways to overcome challenges that might get in your way.

Since career plans and goals, even very well-thought-out ones, don't always work out, it is essential to include alternatives that you can implement when the need arises.

Short-Term Goals vs. Long-Term Goals

Short-Term Goals Long-Term Goals 
Accomplished in 6-36 months  Accomplished in 3-5 years 
Daily or weekly tasks can help you achieve your short-term goal  Short-term goals are necessary to achieve the long-term goal 

Goals are broadly classified into two categories: short-term goals and long-term goals. You will be able to accomplish a short-term goal in approximately six months to three years, while it will usually take three to five years to reach a long-term one. Sometimes you can achieve a short-term goal in fewer than three months and a long-term one may take more than five years to complete.

To achieve each long-term goal, you must first accomplish a series of both short-term goals and additional long-term goals. For example, let's say you aspire to become a doctor. That may be your ultimate long-term goal, but before you can tackle it, you must achieve a few others like completing college (four years), medical school (another four years), and a medical residency (three to eight years).

Along the road to reaching those long-term goals, there are several short-term goals to clear first. They include excelling in entrance exams and applying to college, medical school, and eventually residencies. Since grades matter when it comes to achieving those goals, it is necessary to break your short-term goals down even further, like earning a high-grade point average.

Short-term goals require you to take action every day or every week. For example, if you want to get a new job, you may need to update your resume, scan job boards frequently, and send applications on a weekly basis.

Setting Short- and Long-Term Goals You Can Achieve

Your hard work will play the most prominent role in your success, but if you don't formulate your goals correctly, it will be much more challenging to accomplish them. Your short-term and long-term goals must meet the following criteria:

  • Make your goals specific: You might say, "I want to be successful." Well, who doesn't? But can you define what success means? Success to one person may mean becoming the CEO of a company while to another person it may mean getting home from work by 6 p.m. every day.
  • Your goals must be measurable: Have a timeframe for achieving your goals and a way to determine when you have reached them. You can even break them down into smaller milestones that you can measure along the way.
  • Don't be negative: Your goal should be something you want rather than something you want to avoid. It is much better to say, for instance, "I want to improve my skills over the next four years so that I qualify for a better job" than "I don't want to be stuck in this job for another four years."
  • Be realistic: Your long-term goals must be compatible with your abilities and skills. Stating "I want to win a Grammy Award" if you can't sing or play an instrument may not be the right goal for you. Consider your skills and set goals that make sense for your experience.
  • Take small steps over time to achieve your goal by the deadline: You don't have to have a deadline for your goal, but it may help you stay on track to reach it. Break a long-term goal down into smaller goals. It is better to take baby steps than one big giant leap.
  • Pair each goal with an action: For instance, if your goal is to write a book, sign up for a book writing seminar or practice writing one chapter per week for one month.
  • Be flexible: Don't give up if you encounter obstacles that threaten your progress. Instead, modify your goals accordingly. Let's say you need to continue working to make money, but that it will keep you from going to college full-time. Although it may not be possible to finish your bachelor's degree in four years, you can enroll in school part-time and finish in six or eight years instead. Flexibility also means being willing to let go of goals that are no longer meaningful and instead put your energy into pursuing other ones.

As you progress in your career, your goals may change—and that's OK. Take time to assess your career, education, experience, and skills every six months or year so you can reprioritize your goals that you want to achieve.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Why is goal setting important?

Studies show that setting goals can lead to fewer academic or work-related difficulties. Setting goals also helps people stay on track to reach milestones they set for themselves. Without goals, you may not feel like you're working toward or accomplishing anything. It's important to feel good about the work you do every day, and goal setting can help you get there.

How long are short- and long-term goals?

Short-term goals can range anywhere from a few weeks or months to a couple of years. Long-term goals may take a few years or more to achieve.

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