I have the pleasure and privilege of working with countless managers in all sorts of roles: all at different stages of their careers. While on the surface, these individuals have little in common, I have spotted a surprising commonality. The vast majority of them do not have career goals.
Don’t get me wrong. Many have a broad vision of where they might want to get to in the future. But hard, fast goals that they can measure their progress against? Short term career goals are missing from most managers’ career plans.
Career goals are important.
When I ask managers if goals are important to their business, they all agree. Many will talk about goal setting methodologies, such as SMART, and how important it is to the business that goals are set and measured. But when it comes to their career goals, very few have the same discipline.
There are many reasons for this: a lack of time, a lack of urgency, and a hope and a belief that their employer is somehow managing things for them. But analysis suggests that individuals need to take ownership of their own career development plans, and the first step is to set career goals.
Career goals can’t wait.
Everyone, from interns to directors, should set career goals. As labour markets get more and more competitive, individuals need to give themselves the edge and having better experience, skills and knowledge is one way to do so. And there is no time like the present. I know that it’s hard to find big chunks of time to invest in personal development – we all have busy lives. But it’s a little bit like a savings plan.
Start investing in small amounts as early as possible will yield career dividends in the future.
How to set career development goals?
There are many methods for setting goals, but the one that seems to work best for me and the individuals that I coach, is to think over three time scales.
1. Create a Career Vision.
Think long term. Where do you want to be in three to five years? What sort of job would you like to do? Which type of company would you like to work for? What is important for you at that stage? Security, or adventure? Opportunities to learn and try new things? Being in a position to help others?
There’s no need to be hyper-specific in the vision, but just get a sense of where you want to go, and write it down. Pin it to the wall, in your journal, or somewhere you’ll see it regularly.
2. Set Short Term Career Goals.
Long term visions are great but they rarely create urgency. Most need something more immediate. Think about where you want to be in six months to a year. Ask similar questions to step one, but bring it a little bit closer. What is the next career step? A promotion, or just being awesome in your current role. A move to the private sector? Switch from sales to marketing?
This is the heart of your career goals, and we need to sharpen it. While our vision can be fluffy, short term goals need to be tighter. They need to be specific, measurable and timed. Challenge yourself to describe specifically where you want to be, and when. If you want to be great at your job, how would you measure it? Measure your skills, or perhaps based on feedback from your boss?
3. Plan the First Steps Towards Your Career Goal.
Spend a little time brainstorming out the first few steps you’d like to take against that goal. Don’t try and plan out every last detail yet. Commit to yourself to review your plan in a month for sure, but for now just get a handful of tasks which would get you started towards your career goals.
4. Take Action.
Lastly, decide on the very next step, and take it. Too many goals gather dust until we are ‘less busy’. In my experience ‘less busy’ rarely happens. Make progress now, even if it is a tiny step, so that the journey has begun. You’ll feel much better, and you’ll be much more likely to come back to your development journey soon. It doesn’t matter how significant the step is, just do something. Send an email to a service provider, or download some content. Print off your resume and put it in your bag ready to review that night. Any step, any progress, is more than nothing.
Congratulations! You are on your way to a better, more rewarding career. Don’t worry if you get off plan: just review and adjust as you go along. The fact that you have a goal, and are making progress towards it, puts you in a tiny minority of professional managers. For more career development resources, do subscribe to the our Newsletter.
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