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What Are Career Goals?

By Sheri Cyprus
Updated Jan 22, 2024
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Career goals are important objectives or milestones people set to evaluate their progress along their career paths. They can be made both by employed people and those searching for jobs, and include things like acquiring training in specialized fields, or determining to reach a certain level of promotion in a set number of years. Though goals can be very useful, they do need to be periodically assessed to ensure that they don't become counterproductive.

Common Types

People set career goals both before and after they start working. Before a person starts working, he may try to get a certain level of education to become eligible for certain jobs. Someone in a job that he doesn't like may try to get certification in a different area so that he can eventually change jobs. Those in careers that they do like often set time or money-related targets, like working a certain amount of time for a company, or making a specific amount of money. Many people also set goals related to advancement in their company, or for flexibility in their work schedule.

It's usually best to have a mix of ambitions, both short-term and long-term as well as specific and general. Long-term goals tend to be more general, since circumstances may change over time, while short-term ones are more specific, since they can be planned for more easily. General career goals are those related to an end, like "become a doctor" or "work from home", while specific ones are related to the steps needed to reach the desired end. If a person wanted to become a doctor, then his first specific goal would be getting good enough grades to get into medical school.

Goal-Setting Process

When setting targets, it's important to consider the basic motivation and then think about what concrete things need to happen to achieve it. Once a person has a basic list of steps, he should set a time frame for meeting the objective that includes regular milestones and check-ups. Career planners and HR staff can often help make sure that plans are realistic.

For instance, if a person wanted to make $75,000 US Dollars (USD) a year, he would first need to think about whether his company can afford to pay him that much, and if so, what level of promotion he would need to get before that salary would be offered. He would also need to think about what kind of skills he would need to work in that position, and if there are any other things he could do to make himself stand out from others up for promotion. If he saw that all of the people earning that much in his company had worked in the company for five years and all made a particular quota, then his time frame would probably be around five years.

His steps might include taking courses to learn how to improve his quotas and participating in special projects to make himself stand out. He could then determine a timeframe for meeting specific milestones: for instance, increasing his quota by 20% in one year. He could also schedule six-month check-ins to see whether he is making progress and to determine if the goal is still important to him.


It's important to regularly assess career goals to make sure that they're still relevant and useful. As people's priorities change over time, goals need to be updated too. For instance, if a person wanted to be transferred to an office in Madrid, he might make learning Spanish a target. If later on, he decides that he can advance further in his career by not transferring, then learning Spanish might not be as important.

Sometimes running into roadblocks can be a sign that an ambition is unrealistic or needs to be re-assessed. Though some obstacles are to be expected, repeatedly failing to meet a goal or feeling as though it is more trouble than its worth may be a sign that it needs to be revised. It's important to be somewhat flexible with career goals and willing to revise when they're not working out. Being too rigid can limit options and actually be counterproductive, as it can cause people to spend a lot of energy on something that's not really important to them.

As you assess your career goals, one tool that can help refine your objectives is a career test for adults. This test offers an objective, data-driven perspective on your abilities, interests, and potential career paths. For example, you might discover latent aptitudes or uncover new fields of interest. A career test for adults can thus serve as a catalyst for a reevaluation of your goals, or confirm your existing trajectory. Consider this test a valuable instrument in your career planning toolkit, one that can provide invaluable insights in your quest for professional satisfaction and growth.

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Discussion Comments
By anon259862 — On Apr 09, 2012

This is Mohammad from Afghanistan. I agree with the above article and now on I will start putting together my short term and long term career goals. I am trying to have a good career in rest of my life.

By anon241606 — On Jan 19, 2012

Well I have to disagree with this article a bit. Some people feel like this, but not all. I have been in the same job for 11 years and I don't consider it a career; it is a job to me. Maybe being a nurse is a career, but I am a help desk person (not hardware or software) it is just a job to me.

Every year, we have to put "goals" for the upcoming year and when you have worked the same job (thankful!) I really can't think of any more goals. I have no desire to go to school. I did it once and I am done. I want to come in and do the absolute best job I can and will go above and beyond, but once my eight hours a day are over, my day is over. I want to go home and do my own thing.

I have other interests. I love animals and I want to volunteer with animals. I don't want to do "work" or "career" things once I am out of the office.

By anon30731 — On Apr 23, 2009

peace that is a great comment. we are so worried about not holding kids back or making them see how the real world is that we are hurting their ability really be all that they can be. what a bunch of political correctness junk.

By AuthorSheriC — On May 31, 2008

Excellent point! I agree that career exploration issues should be covered more seriously in senior high school.

By peace — On May 31, 2008

i believe that here in the US, there is not enough emphasis on helping kids in school find realistic, viable careers, and getting them on track early so that they can accomplish their goals. we're too concerned about telling them that "they can do anything," that we're shortchanging them. parents and teachers should help the kids focus on career goals in high school to help them make goals that are attainable.

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