Resource Center / Job Seekers / Yes, you need to write a career goals statement, and no, it won’t hurt

Yes, you need to write a career goals statement, and no, it won’t hurt

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by Jennifer Bridges  @JenBridgesRD

A male hand holds onto the crossbar of a red wooden staircase leading to the blue sky

If you’ve ever interviewed for a job, you’ve probably had to answer the standard “Where do you see yourself in five years?” question. While this phrase is so commonplace as to seem trite, setting career goals is vital to success, regardless of your profession.

One effective way to discern your chosen path is to write a career goals statement—a few sentences that describe where you want to go in your profession and what actions you will take to get there.

A well-thought-out career goals statement can do three things:

  • Serve as a roadmap for each step of your career. 
  • Hold you accountable for your career choices. 
  • Show others, including potential and current employers, where your career interests lie.

Here’s how to write a career goals statement that will help you advance in your profession.

How to figure out your career goals

Not everyone has a clearly defined idea of what their goals are, and that’s OK. We’ll show you how to solve that. Read on to learn how to figure out what you want to do and ensure your choice is the correct one. Or if you already know what you want out of your professional life, simply skip down to How to write a career goals statement.

Find out what motivates you

The key to identifying your career goals is understanding what motivates you. You don’t need to restrict this list to work-related activities. Just think about the things that you value or that make you happy. 

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What is important to you?

  • Writing stories?
  • Helping people?
  • Pursuing your hobby?
  • Achieving financial security?
  • Traveling?
  • Retiring early?
  • Solving problems?
  • Spending time in nature?
  • Having a good work/life balance?

Many people, even those who have been in the workforce for decades, have never sat down and thought about this question. However, it’s an important first step if you want to create career goals that you will actually follow through on. 

But, what if you don’t feel especially passionate about any one particular thing? What if all you want is to be financially independent and have enough free time to spend with your family?

Don’t worry. These things are just as valid as dreams of becoming a CEO—and definitely more common. After all, there is no rule that your career goals need to aim for the stars. You merely need to do what gives you satisfaction.

Research career paths

Once you’ve figured out what motivates you, you need to see if your current (or prospective) career path helps you achieve this. If not, then you need to do some research on other professional roles (or a role similar to what you do currently but in a different industry) to see what the day-to-day aspects of the job would be like.

For each role you investigate, ask yourself: 

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  • What kinds of things about this job will I like?
  • What kinds of things about this job won’t I like?
  • Are there any unexpected things about this job that make it a good/poor fit?
  • What type of person tends to succeed in this job?

While you are in research mode, you should connect with people who have achieved success on the career path you might want to take. Ask them what they think about their job:

  • What are their coworkers like? 
  • Do they regret any of their career choices?
  • What’s the most annoying part of their job?
  • What did they have to do to obtain their role? 
  • Where did they find support or inspiration?
  • What about their career are they most proud of?

Verify that your path aligns with your authentic self

After you’ve narrowed down the career path you want to follow, you’ll need to verify that it is a good fit for you. Take a moment to reflect on how well what you’ll be doing matches who you are and what you’re good at.

Ask yourself:

  • Do I have the right temperament and personality to succeed in this role?—For example, if you are an introvert, a job that requires a lot of customer interaction might feel too emotionally draining. Similarly, if a career path, like education or customer service, requires a lot of patience, and you are known for your quick temper, then you should think twice before pursuing it.
  • What challenges does this career path pose for me?—For example, do jobs in the field you are considering usually require a lot of overtime? If your main motivation in life is to spend quality time with your family, then you should bypass jobs in the medical and legal fields, which typically involve long hours. One way to figure out what challenges exist in the career path you’re contemplating is to look at employee review sites, like Glassdoor, to get an idea of what people are complaining about.
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  • Why will I love this career?—Think about rewards (like money or important connections) that come with the job and ask yourself “Will this make me happy?”
  • Does this career path align with my personal brand?Your personal brand is the message you send to the world about what makes you unique and what value you can provide. Taking a job that clashes with your personal brand will dilute your brand message and make you look inconsistent. For example, if your personal brand is about helping people live more sustainably, then you want to avoid working in fields like the fashion industry, which promotes conspicuous consumption.

If you find that your career path veers too far from your core values, passions, and natural abilities, you might need to look for a path that better suits you.

Target a specific career goal

Now that you’ve decided which career path to follow, you need to choose a specific goal you want to achieve. Some common career goals include:

  • Changing careers.
  • Becoming a manager.
  • Being recognized as an authority in your field.
  • Working for a certain company.
  • Launching your own business.

Many people’s career goal is simply the job title they want to eventually obtain. If this is the case for you, be careful about making a final decision until you’ve considered every aspect of the job, including:

  • How much it pays—Make sure this job provides an income you can live with.
  • How often you get to use your unique skills and abilities—Does this job give you a chance to shine in the areas in which you are strongest? If not, you’ll ultimately find the work unsatisfying.
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  • How much it challenges you—Most people only reach their true potential when they work outside of their comfort zones. If nothing about this position makes you nervous, it might not be the right job for you.
  • What kind of benefits it offers—Does this role let you set your own schedule? How many hours will you have to work? Is the job located where you want to live? Will you get to work with coworkers who inspire you and make you look forward to each workday? 
  • How much autonomy it provides—Do you need the freedom to make all your own decisions? Ensure that the job offers enough autonomy for you to do your best work. 

Decide what you’ll do to achieve your goals

Now that you know the goal you want to reach, you need to list the steps you’ll need to take to get there. Be as specific as possible about the education, skills training, or mentorships you may need to undertake. 

For example:

  • Earn an MBA.
  • Complete an internship at a market research firm.
  • Master Excel.
  • Learn HTML.
  • Take a public-speaking course.
  • Complete a certification program in digital marketing.
  • Become a Certified Scrum Master (CSM).
  • Develop expertise in MS Office, MS Project, and Smartsheets.
  • Work at a technology company for two years.
  • Obtain an Associate’s degree in Engineering.

How to write a career goals statement

When you have decided what your goal is and how you’ll accomplish it, it’s time to write your statement down. A good formula to use is “I will achieve x by timeframe. I’ll do this by doing y and z.”

Make your goal SMART

To increase the odds of actually achieving your goals, ensure your goals are SMART goals:

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  • Specific—Be as clear and concise as possible. You don’t want there to be any confusion about what it is you want to achieve.
  • Measurable—You need to set some benchmarks to know when you’ve achieved each step towards your main goal.
  • Attainable—Think about the time and effort you have available to ensure your goal is realistic. 
  • Relevant—Make sure your career goals are in line with the things you are passionate about. 
  • Time-bound—To keep you motivated, your goals should include a long-term deadline. Whether this means five years or 20 will depend upon your background and circumstances. 

For example, “I will be a better web designer” isn’t a SMART goal because it’s too vague, isn’t measurable, and doesn’t have a deadline.

A SMART version of this goal would be 

“I will become a lead web designer at my current employer in the next five years. To achieve this goal, I will obtain certification as an expert in Adobe XD, take advanced courses in HTML and CSS, and take on extra projects to further hone my skills.”

Career goals statement examples

Here are some examples of career goals statements to give you inspiration when writing your own:

  • “I will earn a promotion from content writer to content marketing manager within five years. To do this, I will take courses in SEO and inbound marketing, get hands-on experience with Google Analytics, and ask my superior for additional tasks that will position me as a leader.”
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  • “I will become a project lead at my current company within the next three years. To do so, I will seek out feedback to improve my project management skills, earn my PMP Certification, and convey my desire for a promotion to my manager.”
  • “My goal is to be a self-supporting freelance writer in the next five years. To achieve this, I build up my portfolio by accepting more freelance writing projects, attend workshops to improve my writing, select a mentor to learn from, and read at least three books per year on improving my writing.”
  • “I will gain employment as a paralegal in the next three years. To do so, I will earn my professional paralegal certification, secure an internship with a law firm, attend legal industry networking events, and hone my writing skills.”
  • “I will start my own digital marketing agency in the next five  years. I will achieve this by honing my skills in my current marketing role, networking at community and social events, and soliciting advice from current agency owners.”
  • “I will garner employment as a data analyst at a well-known financial institution within three years. To accomplish this, I will take classes to hone my skills in PowerQuery and Excel  and network with other data analysts to learn how they found their jobs.”

Next steps

Once you’ve created your career goals statement, you should show it to your friends, family, and coworkers to see if they have any suggestions that might improve it. Then, go ahead and post it on your personal website or LinkedIn profile to show other people what you are striving for and what you want to become.

You should also be sure to revisit your career goals statement every quarter or so to see if you are staying on track with your goals. If your circumstances change and your statement no longer works for you, then you might need to revise it. Just follow the same process you went through to write it the first time.

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Now that you’ve created your career goals statement, you might want to learn how to write other types of professional documents. Here are some articles to help you: