Career goals are useless.
To get ahead, professionals need to set goals for their career.
How do you make sense of this contradictory advice about career goals?
What’s your personal experience of setting goals for your career?
One reason for opposing views is that the word goal is used to mean different things.
Before you decide to ditch goal setting, consider these three ways that setting goals helps you with your career.
1. It’s Harder to Prioritize Working on your Career Without a Specific Career Goal
Are you like many people who have mixed feelings about working on career goals (or even any type of goal)? Maybe you love the excitement of thinking about new possibilities, or the idea of being in charge of your career. Or, is there something about setting career goals that you dread? Things like worrying about making the wrong choices. Doubts about options for your career. The disappointment of looking back and realizing that you are not where you expected to be.
One of the reasons that it’s a struggle for professionals to set career goals is that they don’t differentiate between the two meanings of goal. They use goal setting to talk about both the journey and the destination. So what works today for career goals today?
It’s true that the idea of a linear career path is much less relevant today. But you can benefit from goal setting, if you use it as a way to create a structure. A structure that supports action on your career. So once you’re aware what’s more important to you (you have a sense of direction) setting goals can be an empowering process. Rather than restricting you, the structure of your career goals provide both freedom and focus.
Let’s consider an example. Say, one of your values is creativity. You know that you thrive when you have opportunities to innovate. There are many different ways to work on this career goal. But to make progress, you will need to choose how to direct your efforts. The process of setting goals will help you to clarify the options and choose a place to begin.
2. Having Career Goals Prepares you to Respond Rapidly to Organizational Changes
A second reason to be intentional by setting goals for your career is that it means you are always prepared for change. When you hear about yet another restructuring, you may wonder if there’s any point in having career goals when the environment is constantly changing.
But unless you engage with your career, you may find each time your organization changes, you are like a ship at sea in the middle of the storm. Professionals can no longer rely on their employers for their career compass.
Having and making a habit of working on your career goals won’t prevent the storm. You may still feel seasick. But you will be able to take hold of the wheel and change course more quickly. If you’ve been training yourself to manage your own career, you’ll be in a better position to navigate choppy waters.
3. Goals Help you Communicate and Involve Others in Supporting your Career
A third benefit of working of your career goals is that they can help you communicate with others who can support your career. To be successful, it’s not enough just to do good work. It’s not even enough to produce results.
Yes, accomplishments are important. But are you sharing your goals with your peers and key decision-makers in your organization?
You expect to get feedback when things go wrong. Opportunities to talk about what’s going well are less common.
The language of career goals gives you a way to talk about what you are doing. Setting career goals not only supports you to engage more fully with your own career, but also makes it easier to engage others.
By making a habit of discussing your career goals with others, you’re more likely to learn about new opportunities. For example, as you think about where you want to go next, you may become aware of gaps in your experience. Gaps that you could address by, for example, building relationships outside of your department that open new doors for you.
Goals support your career in three different ways.
First, the process of setting goals means that you are making choices about how to direct your energy. This is essential if you want to influence the direction of your career.
Second, goals provide you with a structure for action. By building in a review process for your career goals, you are continually learning from the feedback you get from your actions. You are more prepared to change course rapidly in response to changes in your environment.
Third, your career goals guide your career communication and make it easier to build the support you need for career success.
Career & Work Life Matters, ISSN 2150-6299, Vol 7, no. 01
|Jennifer Bradley, PhD helps professionals lead their own careers, empowered with the information, tools, and resources that they need. She offers individual coaching and consulting, teaches classes, and publishes articles on career development and career transition.
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