E Career Strategy Library E Planning Your Career E Setting long-term goals

How to Set Long-Term Career Goals Effectively

Setting long-term career goals

Greg used to be a successful accountant but he recently decided to change career paths and landed a brand new role in sales. His end goal is to become a sales manager, but he is aware that he should gain sufficient expertise first, in order to accomplish it. This requires both time and effort. How can he ensure that this long-term career goal will once become reality?

If you’re going through a career change or facing a similar career challenge yourself, you can probably empathize with Greg. Compared with a short-term career goal, which is usually more readily accessible in terms of knowledge and resources, a long-term career goal requires thoughtful planning, increased effort, and more time to nurture. Below, we’ve listed six top practices that will help you set the right career objectives for the future and watch them come to life.

Long-term career planning: A comprehensive guide

1. Visualize your future self

Where do you see yourself five years from now? What will your job be like and what tasks will you tackle on a daily basis? Greg, for example, decided to become a sales manager because he is an extroverted professional, who likes to negotiate and interact with people. He’s also a great coach and loves helping others accomplish their goals. 

Let’s move to your story now: Create a picture of yourself in the future and imagine how your work life could be. Write down your thoughts in the form of free association and avoid censoring yourself. Think about your skills and passions and how you would like them to evolve.

2. Align vision with strengths

Now that you’re one step closer to forming your long-term career goal, consider if and how this career objective fits your lifestyle and strengths. If this goal flows harmonically with your abilities and values, then chances are higher that you’ll be motivated to achieve it down the road.

For instance, Greg’s enthusiasm for negotiation was key to his career planning. He can also thrive in a fast-paced, competitive environment. Not everyone would feel at ease in this setting though, especially people who savor predictability at their work. 

So name your top three strengths and make sure they’re part of your long-term planning. If you find it difficult to define them, you can implement 360-degree feedback. Ask your friends and colleagues what your prevailing strengths are – it can clear the air. You can also complete psychometric assessments online, such as the VIA character survey.

3. Set short sub-goals 

A long-term career goal needs time to realize. You cannot reach your target in a single breath and your growth in most cases will not be linear, but complex. To stay on the right track, it’s important to be able to measure your progress regularly. You could divide this big goal into smaller sub-goals and take one step at a time. The quality and quantity of those short-term goals vary, depending on the nature of your long-term goal.

Here’s another example: Let’s imagine that you’ve decided to make a smooth career change from content marketing to marketing analytics (i.e. long-term goal). What do you do?

We present a possible pathway: You can kick off with an e-learning course in data analytics (i.e. first sub-goal) and optimize your LinkedIn profile and resume to make them more suitable for job positions in analytics (i.e. second sub-goal). Once you make this transition, you can gradually step up the ladder by transferring your previous skills from content marketing to this new field (i.e. third sub-goal). Thus, these subsequent short-term goals will systematically lead you to the long-term ones.

4. Follow the SMART goal framework

As you may understand, not all career goals are the same and equally attainable by all professionals, when taking their experience and education into account. If you want to feel confident with the goals you’ve set and make them as concrete as possible, you can adhere to the so-called SMART goal rules. This framework applies to both long- and short-term career goals, and it will enable you to set and evaluate them efficiently. In brief, here’s what SMART stands for:

  • Specific: The more clear the goal and its purpose is to you, the easier it will be to accomplish it.
  • Measurable: Set certain criteria that will help you measure your progress from time to time.
  • Achievable: Make sure that you have the skills and resources to attain this goal in the long run.
  • Realistic: Your targeted goal should be realistic and accessible to you, both in terms of the resources and efforts you’ll need to spend.
  • Timely: Set a reasonable timeframe to achieve your goal and try to commit to it.

5. Adopt a growth mindset

A growth mindset is a belief that someone’s abilities are malleable and can improve with deliberate practice. People with a growth mindset become resilient and persistent and hence, adapt better to uncomfortable events. The road to a long-term career goal is not an easy one and you might lose your motivation in the process. However, if you perceive setbacks as opportunities to learn and grow, then you’ll be more likely to keep going against all odds.

To reach your desired career goal, it’s critical to be flexible and agile. Not everything will go as planned and hurdles may take you off track. By sustaining a growth mindset and a learning motive, you’ll be able to bounce back sooner, re-evaluate each situation, and adjust your career plan accordingly. Remember, switching to a plan B does not mean that you’ve failed – instead, view it as an opportunity you weren’t able to witness before.

6. Ask for support and feedback

If you find it difficult to stick to your career strategy and acquiring a growth mindset does not help you, find the way out, and seek professional support. A career coach or strategist can help you remap the whole process and find gateways you had not thought of so far. You can also find a mentor you look up to who can guide you through their valuable experience in the field.

Plus, don’t forget how valuable networking is, to grow professionally. Connect with experts and thought leaders and learn from the best. Never lose a chance to exchange ideas with colleagues, whether that’s face-to-face or virtual.

To sum up

So if you’re in Greg’s shoes and you’re planning your next big career adventure, then you probably understand how overwhelming and challenging long-term career goal setting can be. Now that you know the basics, get ready for a jumpstart. Remember to plan wisely and take it to step by step. Stay optimistic, be flexible, and be kind to yourself along the way – in the end, it will all be worth it.