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Setting Goals for Work: Planning Short- and Long-Term Career Goals

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Where do you see yourself a year from now? What about in five years? How about 20?

Envisioning where you'd like to see yourself go in your career is the starting point for laying out a game plan for achieving your dreams. When you have a destination in mind, you can begin to plot out the milestones that will get you there, just like a roadmap. Whether you’d like to start your own business, publish a novel or work your way up the corporate ladder, setting short- and long-term goals is the key to forming an achievable strategy for the trajectory of your career.

Examples of Goals for Work

GraceDonahue and the text GraceDonahue.It can be difficult trying to identify what to think of as a goal. Grace Donahue, a military career advisor at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU), talks to students who are wrestling with this issue every day. The most common trend she sees is students who say their end-goal is their only goal.

But what else do they need to do in order to get there?

“One of the best strategies,” Donahue said, “is to work backwards from the goal and identify what steps need to be taken to get there. If this is done carefully, then you can identify where your main gaps and needs exist in your career (progress).”

If your dream is to become a narrative designer for a major game, you may want to:

  • Think about taking some creative writing courses while you’re still in college.
  • Begin networking with developers in the industry.
  • Arrange an internship with a development company.

Those are three big stepping stones that will help you get to where you want to go that you can add to your checklist of goals.

Approaching this strategically will help you break down the overarching goal and nail down what else you should be looking to achieve along the way. “(You) can gain motivation and clarity of vision from well-established goals,” Donahue said. With your strategic roadmap in mind, you can move forward with the confidence that you know exactly what your next step is.

What are Short-Term Career Goals?

Short-term career goals can best be thought of as milestones. They may be something immediately achievable, such as setting up your profile on LinkedIn or submitting an application for an entry-level job to get your foot in the door. The concept of a short-term goal is relative, though, as it could be something you work on over the course of six months, a year or more. They are actionable steps you can take in order to work your way up toward your dream job.

Some of the most common short-term goals Donahue has seen are:

  • Breaking back into the workforce after a long break (e.g. stay-at-home moms)
  • Finishing a college degree
  • Getting an internship to gain experience and networking opportunities
  • Earning a better paycheck
  • Improving quality of life
  • Paying off student loans

Planning for Long-Term Career Goals

You may have one specific long-term goal that is the pinnacle achievement you’re working toward. You can also have other long-term goals, as well, either relating to your progress toward your dream job or completely separate.

Sonja Moffett and the text Sonja Moffett.Sonja Moffett, an early engagement partner at SNHU, believes in the power of patience when pursuing governmental employment opportunities. “Many of the students I work with want to obtain government jobs. These include city, county, state and federal careers, which have lengthy recruitment processes. I advise those interested in these types of careers to understand what is required of them and plan accordingly,” she said. “Many agencies may require pre-requisite skill assessments, academies, additional certifications and licenses in addition to a degree. So advanced research and planning, coupled with realistic expectations of their hiring processes will help students set goals that are more attainable in due time.”

Moffett sees a lot of students who have to plan important intermediary steps in order to get the job they really want. "Ask yourself what jobs you need to get in the interim," she said, emphasizing that you may need to invest your time in other roles early on.

Work experience can play a powerful role on your resumé. To make the most of this, Moffett urges her students to be open-minded about the gradual advancement strategy: "Take the lower level job to get your foot in the door. Put everything you have into your job, even if it isn't the dream job."

Both Moffett and Donahue see common themes once their advisees go through the process of organizing their long-term goals:

  • Getting the dream job
  • Earning a promotion that will lead to the dream job
  • Developing as a professional within the field
  • Relocating to a region more ideal for work and family needs
  • Pursuing a higher level of education (e.g. master's or doctorate)

Resources for Setting & Achieving Your Professional Goals

Whether you’re still working to figure out what your goals are or have them mapped out, there are some exceptional resources you can take advantage of online to aid in career exploration and setting career goals according to Moffett. Statistics about average salaries, benefits, employee satisfaction, educational requirements and more related to specific fields can be found through the Bureau of Labor Statistics,, and O*Net. This information can help you figure out what you want your end goal to be.

Career advisors and instructors are gold mines of information when you’re organizing your career goals. Donahue recommends reaching out early on in your studies and to keep connecting throughout your program. They can help you formulate a strategy, brainstorm what steps you need to take and tell you about internship and employment opportunities.

Once you have your short- and long-term goals set, you will want to start taking action toward achieving them. Creating a profile on LinkedIn is a priority for giving yourself visibility to potential employers, recruiters and professionals who work in your field. Networking is crucial when it comes to making sure your name is known and the internet facilitates this communication not only as you're starting out, but throughout your career.

Sarah A. Easley '12 '18MA is a professional content writer and proofreader. Connect with her on Twitter or LinkedIn.

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About Southern New Hampshire University

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SNHU is a nonprofit, accredited university with a mission to make high-quality education more accessible and affordable for everyone.

Founded in 1932, and online since 1995, we’ve helped countless students reach their goals with flexible, career-focused programs. Our 300-acre campus in Manchester, NH is home to over 3,000 students, and we serve over 135,000 students online. Visit our about SNHU page to learn more about our mission, accreditations, leadership team, national recognitions and awards.