Tips for setting professional goals

While Miss CV caters first and foremost to women in the workplace, the act of setting professional goals is critical for everyone. Men, women, seasoned employees, freshly graduated students, and pretty much anyone else you can think of can benefit from laying clearly defined goals and assigning benchmarks to assess progress.

Why should I set professional goals?

Goals give you direction. It’s the difference between going for a walk wherever your feet carry you and having a destination in mind. When you’re working with a destination, it is easy to look up and say, “look how far I’ve come! Look how far I still have to go!” I know that older, wiser people say that life is about the journey, not the destination, and maybe it is. But if you are lacking that feeling of professional fulfillment in your life, then goals may be the answer.

If you are looking for a higher salary, greater leadership responsibilities, upward mobility, or a promotion, then you should be in the habit of knowing what it will take to reach these items. Wishing that your circumstances would improve through an “if it’s meant to be, it will be” approach is harmful and unproductive. Good things happen to those who work to make steady progress. The belief that you may be stagnating because you deserve to be is detrimental and unfair. If you want to see progress, then take action.

This all said, setting goals is not easy. Here, I have outlined some of the common mistakes that people, but especially women, make when setting goals:

Common goal-setting mistakes

Not setting any goals

“Thank you, Captain Obvious,” you may be saying. But you wouldn’t believe the number of people who lack the professional direction to say, “Here’s where I want to be in two years. Here’s where I want to be in five years.”

If you are struggling to know where to start, envision your most ideal (but realistic) life. Does that include a higher salary? A promotion? Working somewhere different? Working in a different industry altogether? Knowing what you want, even vaguely, can help you set goals. Expecting that things will miraculously unfold in your favor is unrealistic.

Setting too many goals

Conversely, setting too many goals can muddy the waters and make it difficult to prioritize. Moreover, setting too many goals can make you feel like a failure if you can’t reach all of them.

A good rule of thumb is this: Set no more than 2-3 developmental goals for a two year period. Set no more than 2-3 actions every three months.

A developmental goal is something along the lines of a promotion, earning more responsibility, earning more money, or getting a better job. An action is something like being assigned a certain project that you are interested in, or working harder to connect with colleagues.

Aiming too high or too low

Aiming too high can make your goal unachievable. “I want to be CEO by the end of the year” is not an attainable goal for most people. Remember, a goal is not a simple wish list. It’s something that you could conceivably achieve through hard work and focus.

Aiming too low means that your goal will be easy to achieve. For some people, this can be a good start to get your confidence boosted. “I want to eat a salad for lunch every day this week.” Easy enough, right? But professionally, you will not maximize your potential by setting easy goals. Aim higher! Be your best self!

Your goals aren’t specific enough

There is a difference between “I want to earn more money” and “I want a 5% raise.” The first means that you could conceivably reach your goal with a nickel per hour and a Bennigan’s coupon. The other will require strategy, negotiation, and risk.

Here’s another example: “I want to be happier at my job.” What does that mean? What would make you happier? Is this a matter of forging closer relationships with your colleagues or receiving more responsibility?

It is important, when setting goals, to consider the what, but also the how. What is your goal and how will you reach it? If you can’t answer the how, then perhaps you need more specific goals.

Not owning your own goals

In many cases, reaching your goals will require the participation of another party. After all, you can’t just give yourself a raise or a promotion. However, some people make the mistake of only considering this other party and not taking ownership of their own actions.

In order to take ownership, you may have to reframe your approach. If you want a promotion but it seems unlikely, don’t think, “my boss doesn’t see me.” Instead, think, “what can I do to demonstrate my value at work?” They are your goals. You have to be worthy of them, or work to become worthy of them.

Not taking charge of your own professional and leadership development

Tenure is one way to rise the ranks in a company, but women, in particular, are often left behind, even when considering this metric. If you want to be recognized as a valuable asset to your company, development is key. Find ways to grow, either through continuing education (Coursera offers free classes in just about everything), mentoring, or volunteering.

Try to become more integrated into your work atmosphere. Work on your interpersonal communication and relationships. Step outside the box and try something new. Ultimately, when it comes to reaching your goals, if you’ve taken charge of your own growth, then you will have made progress, even if your goal doesn’t pan out.

Do you have any techniques for setting professional goals? Share them with us!

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