Most professionals have long-term career goals they’d like to achieve. The tricky part is figuring out how to make those dreams a reality. Fortunately, there are several techniques that typically work well, allowing professionals to move toward their target with greater ease. If you’re not sure where to begin, here are some strategies that will help you achieve your long-term career goals.
Make Your Goals SMART
Before you focus on pursuing your goals, it’s best to ensure you’re setting yourself up for success from the beginning. SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound) is a framework that helps you refine your goals to make them easier to accomplish.
You want your target to be as specific as possible. For example, if you need to enhance your capabilities to qualify for a higher-level role, don’t make just building skills your goal. Instead, identify an exact skill you’ll need and make that the target.
For measurability, you essentially want to ensure that there’s an associated point or metric that lets you know when success is achieved. When it comes to achievability, that involves choosing attainable targets, as goals that are too lofty become demotivating if you feel you’ll never reach them.
Finally, time-bound means giving yourself a deadline to accomplish the goal. By doing so, it’s easier to keep yourself focused, increasing the odds you’ll take the necessary steps in the proper timeframe.
Break Goals Down into Steps
Many long-term career goals relate to significant forward movement. For example, wanting to reach a management position when you’re currently an entry-level professional means embarking on a substantial journey.
If you want to hit a target like that, break the goal down into a series of milestones. Each step should reflect a specific task or accomplishment you need to hit along the way to reach the ultimate destination, resulting in a roadmap for success.
In some cases, the easiest way to identify the steps is to work backward. Start at the goal and determine what needs to happen immediately before it allows you to hit the target. Then, consider what must occur right before that, continuing backward until you’re where you are currently.
Really drill down and identify single actions you’ll need to take, as that gives you enough detail to make planning for the journey simpler. For instance, if you need to acquire a specific skill, determine how you want to build it. Are you going to take a formal class, use a self-study approach, or learn on the job? If a course is the best option, then you’ll need to take a series of steps to make it happen, including finding a suitable class, enrolling, completing coursework, studying, and passing exams.
Take Advantage of Your Calendar
Once you have a list of steps you’ll need to complete, use your calendar to keep yourself on target. Schedule when you’ll take specific actions. Using the formal class example above, designate time in your calendar for researching your class options. Once you find a course, block out time for enrolling. Then, carve out what you need to handle the course-related responsibilities, such as attending live sessions and studying.
The benefit of using a digital calendar is that you’re not only tracking what needs to happen and ensuring you designate enough time; you can also set reminders to keep you on target. Essentially, you can use notifications to remind yourself about what’s coming next and when steps will occur, making it far easier to remain on the right path.
Celebrate Your Progress
With short-term goals, you get the reward of achieving your objective relatively quickly, which is often enough to keep you motivated during the process. Long-term goals don’t have that going for them. As a result, you need to use another technique to ensure you remain committed and focused.
Often, the easiest strategy is to plan celebrations as you hit milestones along your journey. For example, if you acquire a new skill that moves you closer to your dream job, give yourself a reward. The size and type of reward should vary depending on the significance of the progress and how challenging the step was to tackle, so choose things that give you enough of a boost based on the effort expended to make continuing feel good.
Revisit Your Goals Regularly
While you’ll likely remain highly aware of your long-term goals since you’re actively working to achieve them, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pause and review your target regularly. During your career, you may find that your original dream isn’t the fit you initially envisioned. If that occurs, then it’s okay to change course, allowing you to select a target that’s more suitable based on where you are now.
Plan to reflect on your goal at least twice a year. Assess your progress toward it and decide whether moving forward still feels right. If so, review your upcoming milestones and make sure they still help you go in the right direction, making adjustments if they’re necessary. If not, take what you’ve learned and see whether a new goal is a better fit, and if it is, create a new plan that propels you toward success.
Do you have any other tips that can help people achieve their long-term career goals? Have you tried any of the strategies above and want to tell others whether they worked for you? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
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Tamila McDonald is a U.S. Army veteran with 20 years of service, including five years as a military financial advisor. After retiring from the Army, she spent eight years as an AFCPE-certified personal financial advisor for wounded warriors and their families. Now she writes about personal finance and benefits programs for numerous financial websites.