5 Key Methods To Establishing Long-Term Career Goals

"Where do you see yourself in five years?" Hiring managers love to ask this question—but admit it: the answer you give is probably tailored more to your potential employer's needs than your own. What's your real answer? You owe it to yourself to establish long-term professional goals—those big-picture, big-ticket ambitions that turn a job into a career. Follow these five methods to set achievable long-term goals.

long term career goals

1. Seek Clarity Around Your Purpose And Your Desires

A long-term objective is generally defined as a goal that takes at least 12 months to achieve. It might be achieved in stages and consist of multiple short-term or even other long-term targets. Examples of long-term goals include:

  •  Earning a certification in your field.
  •  Opening your own franchise.
  •  Establishing your own small business.
  •  Changing careers.

Establishing a long-term goal involves self-reflection and a good understanding of your personal values. You need to consider yourself as a whole person—not just a professional. How will achieving your long-term objective affect your partner, family, and outside interests? How much are you willing to sacrifice to achieve your aims? There's no right or wrong answer—just the answer that feels right for you.

As you consider your ambitions, consider whether a potential goal is within your power to achieve. For instance, if you plan to be a print magazine editor, and print magazines are closing left and right to go digital-only, you might need to rethink your plan. You can't fight industry changes.

Also, consider whether your goal is positive or negative. Framing your desires in terms of what you want rather than what you don't want is a far more motivational strategy. If you're going to devote this much time and energy to an endeavor, you want to operate from a positive place.

2. Set A Specific Goal

Once you've established your goal, get specific with it. Don't say "I want to be my own boss." Instead, say "In two years' time, I want to own my own marketing consulting firm, and here's how I'm going to do it." Then, outline the steps you'll need to achieve that goal—everything from filing incorporation paperwork to networking for clients to learning about business taxes.

In other words, be SMART about your goals. Set goals that are S - Specific, M - Measurable, A - Achievable, R - Realistic, and T - Time-based.

3. Determine How You'll Measure Success.

The "M" in a SMART goal is critical. Most long-term goals consist of multiple short-term goals—how will you define achieving them? No matter how you measure success, breaking up your ultimate aim into smaller parts will make an overarching goal feel far more manageable. This satisfaction will keep you motivated for the big payoff. (The opening chapter of Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott eloquently explains this concept. It's daunting to write an entire report on multiple birds, but if you take the report one bird at a time, you'll quickly see progress being made.)

4. Find An Accountability Partner

The person who has enough internal drive to achieve a long-term goal on his or her own is a rare find. Most of us need an extra push—someone to check in on us and remind us of our "why." As you work toward achieving a long-term goal, look for trusted individuals to be your cheerleaders, coaches, and  personal trainers yelling at you to get back to work. This type of relationship might form organically, or you can formalize an accountability partnership through a professional networking group. You might meet weekly with your accountability partners or text them every morning. The key is to find the level of support you need to keep moving forward.

5. Prepare To Be Flexible

"We plan; God laughs" is a Yiddish proverb—and one to keep in mind when you're setting a long-term target. Life happens. You might be pulled away from your objectives by a family illness, a new baby or other unexpected events. The important thing to do is to adjust your goals, not abandon them.

Similarly, you might embark upon your journey and realize it's not right for you. That's OK. Lots of people drop out of law school and medical school each year. This is your career and your life—pursue the path that gives you the most fulfillment, not the one that makes your parents happy or sounds the most impressive at your class reunion.

We all have a limited amount of time and energy on this earth. It's up to us to make the most of our resources. Good luck pursuing your goals!

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