How to Set Career Goals Effectively [Plus 120+ Career Goal Examples]

How to Set Career Goals
Created by CakeResume

Setting and achieving career goals are essential for professional development and fulfillment. 

Before we get to that, it’s important to know that professional goals are different from personal goals. While personal goals are connected to maintaining health, happiness, relationship, and well-being, professional goals are related to accomplishments in education and work. Your long-term personal and professional goals may lead to interdependent or even contradictory results, so it is important to prioritize and set clear milestones beforehand to achieve the best possible results.

People who have clear career aspirations spend their time wisely and are guided to accomplish necessary milestones to reach their ultimate goals. For starters, here are some benefits of clarifying your job goals before and after a job search:

Before a job search, you want to:

  • Think about the challenges and growth that the next opportunity will bring you, not just better a title or salary package.
  • Find a job that aligns with your passion and interests that would fuel your well-being at work.
  • Seek out ways to improve your current skill set to apply for better job opportunities.

After getting the job:

  • Identify your professional values and give priorities to what matters for your work-related goals.
  • You will feel motivated to do your job and make the most out of it, sometimes leading to better performance outcomes than what was asked.
  • With measurable and objective goals, you can immediately see the results and decide whether you need more time to complete a goal or move on to the next challenge, which could mean a promotion or a timely job change.

What Are Career Goals?

Before we get into the intricate details, let’s talk about general meanings.

What is the meaning of having career aspirations? How do we define career goals?

While most may think of career goals as the dream position or job they want to have, career goals or objectives can also be short-term career goals that will take you to accomplish your long-term career aspirations. 

Thus, having career goals means determining your desired career path, and recognizing the stepping stones that would take you to your dream role. In general, you could categorize your goals for the future into short-term, mid-term(optional), and long-term goals.

Short-term Career Goals

These include the skills, experience, or accomplishments achievable in 1 to 1.5 years to help you reach your mid-term career objectives.

Some examples of short-term career objectives are:

  • Acquire a new skill or learn a new language
  • Develop professional contacts with leaders and influencers in your field

Mid-term Career Goals

Mid-term career goals define as 3 to 5 years stepping stones that guide you to your long-term professional goals.

Some examples of mid-term career goals are:

  • Move to a larger city with more decent job opportunities
  • Switch to a different industry to build experience and gain new skill set

Long-term Career Goals

These are your vision and mission statements. They are the future state of your career.

Long term career goals should sound something like these:

  • Being promoted to managerial roles at your dream company
  • Become a CEO of a Fortune 500 company

How to Set Career Goals

Consider the following steps when exploring and setting your career aspirations.

1. Conduct thorough self-assessment.

Examine your career values, interests, skills, experience, and personality traits to formulate your career goals thoughtfully. One could do this by reflecting upon their academic and work history, finding out the activities that they enjoy the most, and determining the skills and personality traits that enabled them to achieve success. 

If you get stuck during the process of determining your career development goals, meet up with a career coach or advisor for guidance when assessing your background and planning out your future career.


Max, a senior student at college, struggled to map out a career plan that suits him and determine his career plans after graduation. He examined his academic and work history and recalled spending a meaningful summer job shadowing for a clinical social worker and volunteering at hospitals. He enjoyed helping out the clients and monitoring their progress over time. After Max conducted his self-assessment, he listed verbal communication, problem-solving, and ethical decision-making skills as key skills that suited his interests and personality.

2. Consider different career paths.

After you’ve created a comprehensive list of personal interests and professional strengths, you can start to brainstorm on the type of career path that fits you, that you can see yourself achieving as your future aspirations. Try taking a career quiz or searching for local or online resources that list out a variety of career options for the particular field(s) that you are interested in. Minimize the list to about 10 careers that you have a strong interest to learn more about.


Ann, a freshman seeking a bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts, is still exploring her options and figuring out the potential careers she wants to pursue. She searched online with “careers for artists” and came down to a list of 5 occupations that she is interested in learning more about including graphic designer, UX/UI designer, illustrator, animator, and photographer. She also found out that many artists acquire additional skill sets in other disciplines for cross-functional opportunities. To diversify her lists, she’s eager to learn more about careers in digital marketing and online teaching as part of her professional career goals.

3. Research your selected career options.

The next step is to research in detail the career options you’ve identified and determine if any of them matches your skills, interests, and career values. You can refer to their career journey when setting your own career goals. 

Some effective ways to get insiders’ perspectives include conducting informational interviews with alumni or people in similar positions on LinkedIn, searching career information online (articles, videos, podcasts), and looking for job shadowing or internship opportunities for occupations that you are most interested in.


Jules researched online and read about the careers she identified. She found out some of the occupations she listed don’t quite suit her interests and personality traits, so she narrowed down her career aspirations selections to two main careers: art director and digital marketer. She wanted to gain a deeper understanding of the two careers, so she reached out to a college alumnus and a local professional in each of the fields to learn more about what their day-to-day looks like and how they’ve planned out their careers.

4. Analyze the pros and cons and decide your career aspirations.

Once you have a better understanding of the career options worth considering, it’s time to analyze and weigh your options to plan out your future goals. List out the pros and cons of the remaining options and pick the ones that best match your key criteria.

Tips on How to Set Professional Goals

One of the most common ways to set professional goals is to follow the SMART goal framework. To create effective career goals, your goals should be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. Let’s take a closer look at how to set SMART professional goals:

💡 Be clear and specific about your career aspirations.

To become successful, you have to first define what success means to you. Making your career goal as detailed as possible would help you decide whether you have accomplished it or if you need more time. 

For instance, instead of saying “I want to learn the Japanese language”, you can say, “I will take two years of Japanese language lessons and pass JLPT N2 level.” 

This will allow you to have a clearer direction of where you want to go and what you want to achieve in terms of your career goals.

💡 Determine how to measure success.

As you set your career goals, make sure to come up with a way to measure your success. Success metrics serve as important criteria for measuring your outcomes. Without it, you won’t know when to move on to the next career objective. 

It could be setting a timeframe or a KPI to your goal. Instead of a subjective statement like “I want to perform better at work this quarter,” put numbers into it by saying “I want to reach $X sales goals this quarter to get a $Y bonus.”

💡 Break goals down into smaller steps.

If you keep setting big goals that you can’t achieve in the short run, you will lose the momentum to keep going because you aren’t seeing immediate results and achievements. Rather, make your career goals attainable by breaking your long-term vision into short-term and mid-term goals. This will also prevent you from procrastinating since it is easier to take smaller steps that accumulate to high aims.

💡 Set realistic but challenging goals.

Your goals have to be relevant and realistic, yet challenging. The goals you set should make sense to your values and your long-term career aspirations. For instance, it wouldn’t make sense for someone to win a medal in the Olympics when he/she isn’t an athlete at all. 

A truly effective career development goal should also challenge you to accomplish great things. Set goals that push your limits and contribute to your long-term career goals.

💡 Set a timeline for goals.

Plan out a timetable for your goals. With a duration date to accomplish a work-related goal, you will be motivated to keep yourself accountable and on schedule. Setting a goal end date will also prompt you to scrutinize your goals and give enough time for potential roadblocks. 

Allow room for change and flexibility when giving your goals a due date. If you didn’t complete a goal on time, it doesn’t mean you failed as long as you are moving in the right direction.

Professional Development Goals Examples

Short-term and Long-term Goals for Students Examples


  • Submit all class assignments a week in advance
  • Achieve good test and participation grades in all courses
  • Get to know and maintain good relationships with professors and TAs


  • Attain a board position in student organization(s) for each academic year
  • Maintain a GPA above 3.75 and attain Dean’s List each semester
  • Complete at least 15 credits per semester to graduate on time

Short-term and Long-term Goals for Freshers


  • Build a LinkedIn profile and hone resume writing and interviewing skills
  • Network and conduct informational interviews with alumni and professionals in the field
  • Plan the college courses to take for each year and join professional student organizations to access more information about college and internships


  • Acquire internship, volunteer, or job-shadowing opportunities
  • Seek out entry-level opportunities to get in-depth hands-on experience
  • Plan for the time to start preparing for grad school and certifications

Examples of Professional Nursing Goals


  • Optimize the quality of patient care and increase work efficiency
  • Improve technical skills by attending in-service training
  • Enhance communication and interpersonal skills


  • Get nursing certifications or an advanced degree in the next 3 years
  • Become a mentor or nursing advocate to share industry insight outside the organization
  • Continue self-education through medical newsletters, publications, forums, and networking events

Career Goals for Accountants Example


  • Attend various training in different aspects of accounting to expand skill set
  • Take management courses to prepare for a higher position
  • Reduce paperwork and improve productivity by transferring all procedures to digital format


  • Help create $X new revenue by securing additional $Y financing
  • Create new policies and procedures that help reduce the average invoice processing time
  • Obtain primary credentials including passing the CPA exam in the next 2 years

HR Professionals Development Goals


  • Boost the percentage of job openings filled within the expected deadline from 40% to 50% this year
  • Increase the annual talent retention rate by 20% this year
  • Promote good company culture and improve employee satisfaction with rewards and recognition


  • Streamline the remote hiring process for greater hiring efficiency
  • Increase the number of available onboarding and training programs in the next 2 years
  • Achieve an average of over 80% participation rate in team-building activities for the next 3 years

Engineering Career Goals


  • Work on at least 2 features using Java and Python
  • Take and pass 1 online course on SQL
  • Get positive feedback from 3 co-workers on technical communication skills


  • Become a Senior Software Engineer in the next 2 years
  • Fix 3 critical-important level bugs as a Senior Engineer
  • Mentor a small group of interns or new hires joining the team

Career Aspirations for Managers


  • Complete all performance reviews within 8 weeks by conducting 6 interview sessions per week
  • Reduce weekly meeting time from 1 hour to 30 minutes each with meeting agenda prepared beforehand to increase efficiency
  • Keep track of team productivity and achieve quarterly KPIs


  • Increase department sales by 20% in the next 2 years
  • Launch 2 new company products in 3 years
  • Attend networking sessions each month to keep up with other industry professionals

Career Aspirations Examples for Software Engineers


  • Get computer security certification this year
  • Deepen knowledge of additional programming languages
  • Complete a coding project from start to finish using JavaScript


  • Become a team lead in the next two years to manage and solve complex problems
  • Obtain a Master’s degree in software engineering in the next two years
  • Earn a promotion to the senior developer within 3 to 5 years

Career Objectives Examples of Social Workers


  • Utilize project management software to increase administrative work efficiency
  • Follow-up with two clients each day to establish a better long-term relationship
  • Implement a tracking plan for clients suffering from alcoholism and review the plan each month


  • Join professional organizations to network with other social work professionals
  • Create a resource platform to spread awareness about social programs and support available for struggling communities
  • Increase authority in the field to advocate change in social policies

Marketing Career Goals


  • Increase collaboration with other departments, promotion channels, and externally outside the organization
  • Connect with customers(interviews, surveys, focus groups, social listening) to deepen market insights
  • Develop a good understanding of horizontal marketing functions and their KPIs


  • Specialize in one or more specific marketing functions
  • Become comfortable setting and managing large marketing budgets
  • Achieve a managerial position and/or spread influence beyond the organization

Finance Career Objectives


  • Develop leadership and project management skills during internships
  • Find a job as a financial analyst postgraduate
  • Optimize company budget by analyzing recurring costs and reducing company expenses


  • Acquire a Master’s degree in Risk Management
  • Enroll and pass all three levels of CFA within 4 years
  • Open own financial consulting company at hometown

Customer Service Career Objectives


  • Increase staffing by 15% for the next budget year by onboarding 3 new call center representatives each month
  • Maintain an average of 95% customer satisfaction score each quarter
  • Become compliant with electronic filing requirements by the end of the year


  • Increase sales by 5% each year for the next five years
  • Maintain Top 5 internal ranking in the next 3 years
  • Master a second language to serve the next prominent customer group 

Career Objectives for Project Managers


  • Prioritize and refine projects backlog for the month
  • Optimize the communication between the team and each stakeholder
  • Deliver projects within time and budget by keeping track of all the progress information in digital format


  • Being promoted to Senior Project Manager
  • Gain a strategic understanding of organizational goals and implement relevant initiatives
  • Build both internal and external networks and get buy-ins from long-term stakeholder relationships

Executive Assistant Career Goals


  • Make sure all meetings are scheduled in time each week and prevent any time conflict from happening
  • Stay organized with all work messages and updates by dedicating 15 minutes each day to clear out any clusters or unclear to-do items
  • Improve technical skills on office computer systems


  • Work proactively and provide effective problem-solving skills when accidents happen or when there’s a sudden change in schedule
  • Being promoted to Senior Executive Assistant in 2 years
  • Get a Master’s degree in Business in 2 years

Teacher Career Goals


  • Plan and revise the curriculum for next semester to comply with remote learning requirements
  • Teach a new course under the same department
  • Successfully manage 3 courses of over 50 students with a TA this semester


  • Complete a Master’s degree in education administration in 2 years
  • Build a strong network with regional and international professors, educators, and lecturers
  • Become department head in the next 5 years

Career Aspirations Examples for Leadership


  • Develop strong interpersonal, decision-making, problem-solving, and critical thinking skills
  • Meet up individually with each person in the team to discuss their career goals and provide effective feedback this week
  • Plan and set milestones for the month and ask for team feedback


  • Become familiar with multiple project management tools and stick to a few necessary ones to streamline the task tracking process
  • Accept more responsibilities by managing a department in the next 2 years
  • Practice listening to diverse feedback and solving them when making decisions

Career Goals Examples for Performance Review


  • Collect at least 5 business cards from new networks at every networking event
  • Schedule meetings with other managers that might be interested in investing in your organization
  • Revamp the office environment to improve employee productivity


  • Improve communication channels across all departments with a better all-in-one communication platform
  • Offer live assistance to customers through phone calls and direct messages
  • Host monthly educational events for employees on topics of interests

Career Plan Examples for Internship


  • Learn how to build professional presentations (storyboard, design, copywriting, etc.) 
  • Gain a working knowledge of Excel data manipulation, formulas, and modeling techniques
  • Learn to conduct online market research with Google Analytics


  • Hone the ability to connect with co-workers and managers
  • Network with other like-minded students
  • Build relationships with supervisors who can serve as career advisers or future reference

Career Development Plan Examples for Postdoctoral Scholars


  • Write and submit a draft of the review article to the mentors by the end of the month
  • Apply for a fellowship by the deadline
  • Attend the professional skills development workshop next month


  • Chair multiple sessions of international meetings
  • Advise graduate students for their theses
  • Seek a tenure-track faculty position at a college or university

Short-term and Long-term Goals in Interview


  • “I will plan the video contents for the month and compose 1 script per week.”
  • “My goal is to earn $100K this year as a manager with flexible work hours to put more time in networking and self-education.”
  • “I want to improve my productivity by prioritizing the work and reducing the time spent on replying to emails and setting schedules.”


  • “My long-term career goal is to lead a regional sales team into the most competitive team in the organization with millions of annual sales in three years.”
  • “I will work my way up the corporate ladder to become a senior executive at your organization.”
  • “I will pursue a Master’s degree in Business Management in the next two years.”

🔑 Key Takeaways:

In this article, we’ve walked through the ways to define career goals, steps to develop professional goals, tips to follow the SMART framework when creating career goals, and career objective examples for different roles and scenarios. While it may seem like a difficult and time-consuming process, having your career goals ready before you apply or accept another convenient job offer would help you make efficient decisions for your career.

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--- Originally written by Sandy Tuo ---

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