What are your lifelong ambitions? Work is a big part of our lives, so we often strive to tie our passions with our work. So, this often turns into, what are your professional goals?
What do you hope to accomplish in the next five, ten, or even twenty years?
If you’re not really sure, it might be time to take a step back and reevaluate what you want out of your career.
Otherwise, time is going to pass by and you’ll feel like things are in a rut. This is where setting goals – personal and professional goals come in.
No matter if you’re an intern or entry-level employee or the CEO/President, you will have career goals that you want to reach. So it’s time to take a step back and start taking action.
In this article, we’ll share some examples of professional goals you can talk about in your next interview when you get the “where do you see yourself in 5 years?” (or similar) question.
Defining Professional Goals
Career goals are often known as professional goals.
These will evolve over time. In one year, they might not look significantly different (or they may).
But in ten years, they could look a lot different.
As Bill Gates once said, “People overestimate what they can do in one year but underestimate what they can do in ten years.”
Professional goals might be short-term or they could be long-term. But they’ll motivate you to work hard to get that promotion, big job, or strike out on your own with your own company.
Once you define professional goals, you can set out to get them. You’ll know what tasks to take on and which actions will earn you the things that matter most to you.
In general, professional goals are broken down into two categories:
- professional development objectives and
- career ambitions
Professional Development Objectives
These keep employees engaged in their roles and make them better at their jobs through professional training or learning a new skill. This includes things like going back to school, attending conferences, getting certifications, earning a professional designation, or participating in leadership programs/training seminars within your company.
Your short-term professional development objective might be something like getting your degree through an online program while working full-time so that when you’re ready to change jobs, you’ll be qualified for more roles.
Your long-term professional development objective might be attaining that professional designation or completing another degree after getting your masters in order to get into the industry of your choice.
These professional goals can help smooth out your career path and allow you to climb the corporate ladder more efficiently than taking random steps along the way.
As professional goals are about professional development, career ambitions are about moving up in rank or seniority at a big company or starting your own business.
They’re also known as professional aspirations or professional objectives, but these terms aren’t exactly interchangeable with professional goals because they often involve personal growth – which is what professional goals are all about anyway!
While professional development objectives are all about skills, professional aspirations are about the next level.
So your professional aspirations might be things like getting promoted to senior staff or becoming the company’s CEO one day (potentially making millions in the process). Or it can mean starting your own business and running it successfully for many years.
These professional goals help define what you need to do to get where you want to go in your career.
You’ll know when promotions happen, when they occur, what you have to do in order to qualify for them, and exactly how much of a role each professional goal plays on your way up the corporate ladder.
The right career goals help you land ideal jobs
They will work to push you toward success and growth.
Many people want to grow professionally and grow their careers because it increases their earnings and improves their standards of living or financial security.
But most people set career objectives that aren’t always realistic and can actually impede career development.
Instead, you need a strategic plan to help you set achievable career goals.
Let’s take a look at some examples of professional goals how to avoid setting unrealistic career goals that could lead to disappointment.
Career Goal Examples
When setting career goals, you need to think of long-term ambitions but also set out short-term goals so these achievements can stack up as you work toward the long term.
Accordingly, we’ve listed out some examples of both short-term and long-term goals that you can potentially use as inspiration.
Short-Term Career Goal Examples
1. Developing New Skills
No matter where you are in your career, you can always develop new skills.
The world is always changing and the demand for new skills is always changing accordingly.
The hot coding language to know right now is likely to be supplanted 5 years from now.
Technology is always changing and you need to adapt in order to avoid being left behind.
Looking at the most marketable skills relevant to your current position is key and then identifying the top 1-2 to tackle within a reasonable timeframe.
Millennials now take up almost 75% of the workforce. And nearly 90% of millennials say that growth and development are important in the workplace.
Expanding one’s skill set is always important.
And it doesn’t have to involve an expensive degree either.
2. Networking and Presentation Skills
Remember the fear (or joy, for a select few) of giving a presentation in class or speaking in front of the class?
It turns out all that had a purpose 🙂
Today’s working environment involves a lot of presentations, public speaking, and some networking here and there.
The Covid-19 pandemic also forced more remote work and the adoption of new tools and platforms.
This involves knowing the best platforms for designs and layouts. Knowing your way around the best communication platforms is valuable to help engage with colleagues, clients, and others. This is especially important as more work gets more digital.
Communication is always important, but it can get more challenging if you work remotely. Boosting collaboration should be a goal of every organization – particularly remote ones – because of how easy it is for employees to be more isolated.
Networking involves making the right connections.
Career development can be as simple as finding a mentor or professional to guide you and provide support throughout your professional journey.
There are many networking organizations (e.g., LinkedIn is the overarching online one) that can help you make professional connections.
These professional networks help employees make quality career decisions and grow their expertise more efficiently by connecting them with experts in their fields.
Networking also helps individuals expand their professional circles, which often leads to better employment opportunities, new ideas, licenses or certifications, access to funding for entrepreneurial ventures, or other potential boosts.
3. Gain Experience
When you’re first starting out on a career path, especially for a college student or high school graduate (or yet to graduate), professional growth is your key objective.
While it’s nice to gain from any experience financially, it’s often difficult.
For example, some bare-bones startups literally don’t have the resources to pay employees yet. In fact, the owners can barely pay themselves, let alone the idea of paying others. Just surviving is the goal.
Many successful people started as unpaid interns or lowly paid interns in their fields.
More than 2 out of 3 employees offer full-time positions to their interns.
So if you want to be part of a reputable company, it is highly beneficial to go through an internship program.
Being an intern or apprentice in a company will help you gain work experience that you can leverage for your resume and interviews down the line.
No matter if you’re a new graduate or you want to change industries/careers, getting an internship is often a key stepping stone into your desired field.
4. Establishing Your Personal Brand
Branding is a big part of business. Brands are what stand the test of time.
They created brands that superseded the products themselves.
A brand might be social media. It might be a personal website. Or both.
You should define concrete goals. Such as building a website by a certain date and establishing metrics off that (such as a certain number of visitors, followers, or similar) within a certain timeframe as well.
Setting specific goals will push you to create relevant content or material to keep your followers engaged and attract new ones.
Establishing a personal brand is how you gain exposure, shows what you bring to the table, and helps to draw in new leads, clients, and customers.
5. Starting a Side Hustle or Business
Many employees think of what it would be like to be their own boss and strike out on their own.
It’s never too late. The experience you gain in your job can set you up for starting your own company and managing it with expertise and confidence.
Start researching ahead of time. Businesses always change and evolve but you have to have a plan of action ready as to how you’re going to make revenue and how it’ll be sustainable (i.e., make a profit).
Online businesses are doing more and more as more of the economy goes digital. You need to identify your niche and go with it.
Set goals. Establish a legal structure to make yourself official, open a website, start creating the necessary content to attract your desired audience.
6. Become More Productive
Are you always late? Or falling short every day on what you planned to do?
Are you neglecting certain aspects of your life because you just don’t have enough time (e.g., family, eating well, exercising, travel)?
It’s always a necessity to sharpen your time management skills.
Finding out ways to more productive at work and accomplishing tasks within a certain timeframe is important to keep your workday hours manageable and know when to work and when to take a break.
Tracking software can be very useful to track how much time you’re spending where and to understand where you can tighten up.
These tend to come in useful when monitoring short-term goals, analyzing your performance, and maximizing how much time you have.
7. Understand other departments
If you do decide to start your own business one day, you’ll be wearing many hats, if not all of them, especially if you’re a solopreneur.
There are challenges all workers face and you’ll see how various departments contribute to a company.
Over 90 percent of employees believe that cross-training across different departments boosts their careers.
This can boost your skills and help you get promoted. As you go higher up the ladder, knowing what each department does is key.
Long-Term Career Goal Examples
8. Professional Degrees or Certificates
Earning professional degrees or certificates in your field is often a key part of promotion. There are many programs that accommodate busy schedules, including evening/night classes and weekends.
Any type of advanced education can increase an employee’s income by thousands of dollars per year.
Many K-12 teachers work toward their master’s to improve their salaries.
Some in the financial field work toward the CFA.
Many companies offer career development programs to their employees. Human resources would the right department to inquire to seize every educational opportunity available to sharpen your current skills and acquire new ones.
9. Getting Hired by Your Dream Company
Every worker generally has some companies they aspire to work for.
But it can be intimidating to apply or you may be too inexperienced.
You can always give it your best shot. There are potentially available openings that you may be qualified for. Tailor your resume in light of them.
Gaining new experience and new skills to boost your career is key.
Even if you ultimately don’t make it into a certain company, the act of working on improving yourself will help you become a better version of yourself and open up new pathways you might not have otherwise envisioned.
10. Work your way up into management
Can you motivate teams to become more efficient and productive?
If so, you may want to work on earning your way into a managerial position.
Becoming a good manager also involves a lot more than telling people what to do. There’s a big difference between managing, micromanaging, and not managing at all.
Below are some key roles for any manager:
- Knowing your industry and your competition
- Knowing what drives revenue and how day-to-day projects and their management fit into them
- Knowing your people and who has what skills and abilities and how that translates into who should be chosen to complete what tasks
- Getting in sync with other team members
- Knowing how to effectively delegate
- Knowing how to set reasonable deadlines and understanding where you can be flexible and where there’s less flexibility
- Avoiding micromanagement (if you do micromanage, you don’t gain leverage from them)
- Communicating well
- Having solutions and equanimity when problems inevitably arise
11. Make more money
As we get deeper into our careers, we learn more and we tend to earn more.
Not everything is about money, but getting compensated more as we grow is naturally the expectation.
This is where things like degrees come into play if you’re an employee.
If you’re an entrepreneur, this involves tasks like hiring well, adopting technology, and potentially accepting outside funding might come into play to generate leverage in an effective way.
12. Mentorships (having one or becoming one)
Many successful entrepreneurs had quality mentors that they had to turn to for learning, advice, support, and guidance.
Mentorship can also help you if you’re seeking promotion at a company.
It shows that you are valuable to the company and can help train and work with new employees by helping them develop and plan for their futures. Mentors in a company are highly valuable.
13. Changing jobs
You need to work in a position you find fulfilling. Or else it will be hard to stay motivated and productive and to optimally jive with your colleagues.
Deloitte recently reported that nearly half of all job switchers left their past job at least partially because they felt their skills and abilities weren’t being properly utilized at their previous role.
Nearly 40 percent of respondents cited a lack of career growth as a major driver of their decision.
Life’s too short to settle for mediocrity. Being in the same job for years when you’re not making progress in terms of your career or financially is detrimental and stands in the way of your own evolution.
Switching jobs or employers to something you feel passionate about and pays well (ideally better) is something you’re likely to feel inclined to do.
Setting realistic salary goals and applying for new positions (10-15 per day) with challenging roles that will help you grow personally and financially will be highly rewarding.
14. Accolades in your industry
Success is defined by each individual. But when we commonly think of achievements, we think of industry rewards.
If you’re in literature or journalism, a Pulitzer Prize is a worthy goal. For actors, that might be an Emmy or Oscar.
The Fields Medal is the top accolade in mathematics.
Sports leagues have MVPs and sub-categories to recognize its best.
Practically every industry has reputable rewards that are given to its top performers.
“What Are Your Career Goals?” … “Where Do You See Yourself in 5 Years?” … How to Answer these Interview Questions
Some job interview questions are expected. But they’re so general that they can be tricky to answer.
Questions involving your career goals and where you see yourself in 3, 5, or 10 years are examples of this.
Ideally, you should formulate an answer that shows some loyalty to a company. Some will ask this to see if you plan on staying with them for some time.
It’s hard to onboard, train, and integrate people, so having frequent turnover is inefficient.
They also want to gauge if you’ll bolt if another opportunity comes up. It’s basically a way of trying to ascertain whether you plan to be in their long-term plans.
So try to think of how you can formulate your answer with the company in mind.
Think of your goals as it pertains to the company you are interviewing for. It’s fine to state them in terms of short-term and long-term goals, just as many listed earlier in this article.
What to Avoid When Answering “What Are Your Career Goals?” … “Where Do You See Yourself in 5 Years?”
Of course, avoid any personal plans that don’t align with the company.
If you might want to start your own company one day, it’s best not to share that.
You should avoid talking about salary in an interview, or anything to do with earnings, bonuses, perks, raises, and so on. Don’t make it seem like you’re about the money. That’s part of it and is mutually understood, but that’s not generally for the interview.
It’s also important not to go too far into the details. Having clear goals is great, but oversharing is best avoided.
For example, if your ultimate goal is to get into a certain role, but you’re not interviewing for that position, it’s best to avoid that.
General goals are best, like tasks and responsibilities you’re inclined to handle. That way, you can establish a sense of flexibility while also zeroing on what the company wants.
How Do You Describe Your Career Goals?
Career goals involve coming up with specific statements for how you plan your career going forward.
Here are a few tips for coming up with a list of professional career goals:
What are you most passionate about?
Understanding what you’re most passionate about will help you realize where your career goals lie.
It’s okay if things aren’t crystal-clear.
For example, you might like to write. But how to turn that into a profession or career involves a little more probing. There is content to write about practically everything and there are many options available to you on how to turn your passion into your career.
It’s also okay if you’re not totally sure what you’re passionate about. Feel free to venture into freelance work or even volunteering to find out.
Those experiences can help shape what you’re more passionate about.
Know what’s required
There are lots of different jobs and therefore lots of different skills and abilities required to handle them.
Each industry and each job is different.
It’s important to research them ahead of time so you know what to expect and what’s required.
Then you can help formulate your resume, experiences, and interview preparation in light of them.
Know what questions to ask
When thinking about career goals, you need to ask the following:
- What am I most passionate about?
- What are my principles and how do they align with my career goals?
- What is my nature? What am I like and what should I do to act consistently with that?
- How does my career goals and personal goals match up?
- Who do I want to work with? What types of people and what kind of relationship do I want with them?
- What types of tasks or projects do I like being part of?
- What are my strengths and weaknesses? What should I do and not do?
- Where can I improve and where will it be difficult to improve?
- To achieve the role I’m aiming for, where do I need to upskill?
- Where will my career path ultimately lead me?
Then it’s time to formulate your answers to these questions. Be sure to reflect properly when answering them and be realistic about what opportunities may be available to you.
When looking at career or professional goals, they’re often done under the SMART acronym.
It’s not enough to say you want to get to a certain role or make more money. You have to define how you plan to get there.
This might mean learning new skills or finding ways to become more productive.
So you have a goal. But it can’t be overly nebulous. You have to measure it.
You have to pick what kind of result you want and define the time period for achieving it.
If you want to write 100 articles for your blog, you might choose a 1-3 month time period as something that’s realistic to achieve that.
Goals need to be realistic and achievable so you can take action.
Things that aren’t clear or are impossible to achieve will only set you up for disappointment.
Career goals have to align with your background – your education, skills, abilities, and training.
From there, you establish a track record that makes you qualified for other types of roles.
People have to specialize. Nobody is great at everything. People that pretend to be tend to either fake it, bend the truth, or take credit for other people’s accomplishments.
Be sure that what you’re trying to do matches your qualifications, skills, abilities, and overall background and experience.
Going back to short- and long-term goal setting, breaking things down into more manageable allotments makes the process easier.
Goals should be coherent and follow a series of logical steps to get you there.
In order to get what you want out of your career, it’s important that you have a clearly defined plan with specific start and end dates for what you want accomplished by when. Whether the goal is finding a new job or improving performance at work- there are steps for both!
A great way to start planning would be by writing down all goals and reviewing them every 3 months with an objective eye on where we’re going as well as what things need more attention.
Write down your goals
In order to reach your professional goals, you must first identify them and then plan accordingly.
Think about every step that is needed from where now until reaching those targets – this includes taking courses and gaining experience as well.
Write these in your action plan so they aren’t forgotten.
Once we’ve determined what careers paths interest us most, it’s time for a strategic approach: think through every detail involved with getting closer towards achieving our target career objectives – including going back to school or applying skills forward – and making note of anything relevant here on paper (or in digital format).
Make adjustments as needed
You might have a good idea of what you want out of your career.
Nonetheless, things will change along the way. Your interests, circumstances, motivations, and experiences will shape how your career trajectory goes.
There will be a lot of personal growth along the way. The year to year might change only slightly, but you tend to be in a very different situation at 35 than you were at 25. And like at 45 relative to 35, and so on.
Make the appropriate adjustments as needed.
How to Achieve Your Career Goals
Write them down
As we mentioned previously, it’s important to put your goals into writing. It’s simple but effective.
Make sure you can see them and revisit them to track your progress and motivate you day to day.
It’s hard to achieve goals if you operate without deadlines. These will help you push forward into doing the difficult things necessary for you to accomplish your tasks and goals.
Share your plans
To keep yourself externally motivated, share your plans with your family, friends, or employer.
When you have them out there, it’ll help others set expectations of you to help you follow through.
Visualize your career path
Visualization can help you to achieve anything. Athletes do it all the time and psychologists have recommended it as a strategy.
If you want to achieve your goal, visualizing it will help motivate you and psychologically brace you to follow through.
Goal setting is not easy and can be hard to articulate your goals in a way that makes sense to yourself and others.
However, the tips in this article should help point you in the right direction.