Goal-setting to take your career to the next level

24 September 2019

"If you want to live a happy life, tie it to a goal, not to people or things." (Albert Einstein)

Whether you agree with Einstein or not, as we return to work and summer holidays fade to a distant memory, the period at work between now and Christmas can stretch ahead interminably for some people.

Many of us feel as if we work hard but don't seem to get as far as we’d like. If that resonates with you, think about doing your own ‘PDR’ - a ‘Personal (not performance) Development Review’, to set some goals focused on what you want to achieve.

How do you start?

One of the reasons why you can feel like you're not making progress is if you haven't spent enough time thinking about what you want from life and haven't set yourself formal goals. After all, you probably wouldn’t set out on a major journey with no idea of your destination, would you?

Why set goals?

Top-level athletes, successful businesspeople and high achievers in all fields set goals. Setting goals gives you a long-term perspective and provides you with motivation to achieve short-term goals. It helps you to organise your time and your resources to focus on the skills and experience you need to succeed in your goals.

By setting clearly defined goals, you can also measure and take pride in the achievement of those goals, and see progress in what might previously have seemed a pointless grind. It can also raise your confidence as you recognise your own ability and competence as you achieve the goals you've set.

How to set goals

Firstly, consider what you want to achieve, both long-term and short-term, and then commit to it: set SMART (specific, measureable, attainable, relevant and time-bound) goals that motivate you and write them down to make them feel tangible. Then, plan the steps you need to take to achieve your goal and cross off each one as you work through them.

Step 1: Setting long-term goals

The first step in setting personal goals is to consider what you want to achieve in the long-term (or at least, by a significant and distant age in the future). Setting long-term goals gives you the overall perspective that shapes all other aspects of your decision-making.

Then, work backwards to break these down into smaller targets that you must hit on the way to reach your lifetime goals ( e.g. five year point, two year point, one year point, six-month stage, one-month stage), and finally, once you’ve created your plan, start working on it to achieve these goals.

Setting career goals

You may have learned how to do a SWOT analysis but how about doing one on yourself?

To give a broad, balanced coverage of all important areas in your life, try to set goals in some of the following categories (or in other categories of your own, where these are important to you):

  • Career – What level do you want to reach in your career, or what do you want to achieve?
  • Financial – How much do you want to earn and by what stage? How is this related to your career goals?
  • Education – Is there any knowledge you want to acquire in particular? What information and skills will you need to have in order to achieve other goals?
  • Attitude – Is any part of your mindset holding you back in your professional or personal life? Is there any part of the way that you behave that you wish to change? If so, set a goal to change your behaviour or find a solution to the problem.

Other more personal factors you may need to consider include: family/partner needs, artistic goals, physical goals, your wellbeing/work life balance; public service – do you want to make the world a better place? If so, how?

Spend some time brainstorming these things and then select one or more goals in each category that best reflect what you want to do. Then, consider reducing these again so that you have a small number of really significant goals that you can focus on.

The following broad guidelines will help you to set effective, achievable goals:

  • Frame each goal as a positive statement
  • Keep interim goals small
  • Set ‘performance’ goals (within your control), not outcome goals 

As you do this, make sure that the goals that you have set are ones that you genuinely want to achieve, not which others might wish for you.

Step 2: Setting smaller goals

Once you have set your lifetime goals, create a shorter-term plan of smaller goals that you need to complete if you are to reach your long-term plan.

Then create a daily or weekly ‘to do’ list of things you need to do to work towards your long-term goals.

At an early stage, your smaller goals might simply be to read books and gather information on the achievement of your higher level goals. This will help you to improve the quality and realism of your goal setting.

Finally, review your plans and make sure that they fit the way in which you want to live your life.

Staying on course

Once you've decided on your first set of goals, keep the process going by reviewing and updating your ‘to-do’ list on a weekly basis. Periodically review the longer term plans and modify them to reflect your changing priorities and experience.

Achieving goals

When you've achieved a goal, take the time to enjoy the satisfaction of having done so. Absorb the implications of the goal achievement and observe the progress that you've made towards other goals, or revise your other goals to take account of what you’ve learned.

Setting personal goals

Goal setting can be really helpful in deciding what you want to achieve in your life, separating what's important from what's irrelevant, motivating yourself, and building your self-confidence, based on successful achievement of goals. If you don't already set yourself personal goals, give it a go.

For more support with any career-related issue, please don't hesitate to contact the WBS CareersPlus team via careersplus@wbs.ac.uk or alumnicareers@wbs.ac.uk for alumni.