Sometimes it’s smooth sailing and other times life gets a bit hectic, but whatever the circumstances, good or bad or, well, downright crazy, progress is always possible – and it all starts with goal setting. When we think of goals, our minds tend to go right to those long-forgotten resolutions to join a gym, start eating a plant-based diet, or read more books and watch less reality tv. But those are personal goals – and we’re here to chat about professional goals. Same idea, except this time you don’t need to give up watching Big Brother while eating nachos. Sound good? Cool.

What’s the point of a professional goal?

Also known as a career goal, a professional goal gives you something to work towards and guides you on your career journey as you grow and develop professionally. Essentially, these goals act as a kind-of framework, giving you structure and helping you reach new career milestones.

Do I have to set goals to be successful?

Well, no – of course not. But it’ll certainly make things easier. When you set a goal, it forces you to look at where you are, where you want to be and, most importantly, the steps you’ll need to take to get there. Plus, we should mention that goal setters are scientifically proven to be more motivated and more productive, so there’s that, too.

Well, I’m sold. Let’s set some goals!

Easy there, as much as we love the enthusiasm – let’s hit the pause button for just a second. We’ve got to finish going over the basics before we dive into the good stuff, deal? First off, the difference between short-term and long-term goals:

Short-term goals are the steppingstones you’ll need to reach your long-term goals. They’re achievable goals you can meet in the – you guessed it! – short-term.

Long-term goals are your “ultimate objective”, achieved over a longer period and the result of reaching a specific series of smaller goals (the short-term goals) along the way.

A refresher on everyone’s favourite over-used acronym, SMART goals:

  • Specific: is this goal precise, descriptive?
  • Measurable: what does success look like?
  • Achievable: is this goal possible, is it realistic?
  • Relevant: how does this goal fit in with the bigger picture?
  • Time-based: are there milestones to hit, is there a deadline or an end date?

Setting the right goal 

Okay, now we know how to set a good goal – but how do we know if we’re setting the right goal? Before you can decide on a goal, you need to think about what you want – and that requires looking at the big picture (plus a bit of self-reflection). A good way to get started is to host a little informal interview between you and, well, also you.

If you’ll indulge us, try having a quick Q+A, focusing on your career progression:

  • What is your ultimate dream job?
  • What appeals to you about this position?
  • What does a perfect workday look like to you?
  • What do you enjoy doing in your current/last role (or, alternatively, what do you not enjoy doing in your current/last role)?
  • When people have complimented your work in the past, what have they praised you on?
  • Is there anyone in your network that you really look up to? What is it about that person that you admire?
  • What skills are in demand in your industry? What skills would you like to develop?
  • Other than the work itself, what is important to you when you think about joining a new company? Flexibility? Culture? Reputation? Salary? Growth?

Once you have a decently clear idea of what you want to work towards, we’re going to go ahead and work backwards from there. That’ll be your endpoint, your target, your… landing pad? Anyways – to successfully get there, we have to figure out the specific steps.

This is where your short-term goals come into play. If it helps, think of them as little chunks of your long-term goal, break ‘em off and take care of them one by one.

Can we get an example please?

Of course, here’s a very basic example of SMART long-term and short-term goals:

Where I am right now: based in Hamilton, where I’ve been working as a Marketing Coordinator for two years, the job is fine but repetitive and there is no room to grow
My long-term goal: to accept an offer as a Marketing Manager in downtown Toronto
My short-term goals: enroll in an online digital marketing class; attend one industry-specific professional development or networking event per week until [set date]; connect on LinkedIn with 10+ marketing professionals in the Toronto area by [set date]; subscribe to relevant newsletters and/or blogs and spend [set time] per day reading and learning industry insights; find a mentor by [set date]

Write it down + talk about your goal

You know how it feels more real when you write something down? Don’t ask us why that is, but jotting your goals down has actually been proven to make you more committed to achieving them. Wild, right?

If you’re ready to take it to the next step, tell people what you’re up to. It might be your partner, your best friend, your mom, the barista who always remembers that you take oat milk in your coffee – it doesn’t matter who you tell, just that you tell someone. Heck, you can even go ahead and post it on social media, if that’s your thing. The simple act of sharing a goal, putting it out there into the world, will help keep you accountable – and we all need a little help sometimes, right?

It’s okay to ask for help

Speaking of help, go ahead and ask for it! There’s no rule that says you have to do this all on your own. Think about it: if you decided you wanted to learn how something new, say, brush lettering, for example – what would you do? You’d take a class, or at least watch a YouTube video. Seek out people in your network who can offer advice, feedback or even just kind words – it can go a long way in keeping your motivated and on track.

Remember, your goals aren’t set in stone

If you remember one thing from this post, remember this: your goals are not set in stone. There’s nothing wrong with making adjustments as you go depending on what’s working, what’s not and what else is happening in your life at the moment.

Check in with yourself regularly and take note of how you’re progressing. Be flexible, stay positive and be kind to yourself along the way.