By Christine Song

How to Set Short-Term Career Goals that Will Produce Long-Term Results


Break your biggest dreams down into specific, actionable steps.

You’ve got big dreams for your career. And short-term goals are the key to their success.

Picture yourself 10-15 years from now. You’ve become the professional you aspired to be, acquired the necessary skills, knowledge, and experience. That thing you've always wanted to do — whether it's starting and running your own business, leading a team of professionals, or something else entirely — you've done it!

Pretty great visual, right? But how do you get there? What are the steps you need to take today, tomorrow, next week, next month to move from your present to your desired future?

Big career goals can seem daunting. But one of the best things that you can do so you don’t get off course is to set yourself short-term career goals. Short-term goals will build on each other over time to eventually result in long-term goals. 

Here are our tips for setting killer short-term career goals that will help you get from point A to point B in no time.

Treat long-term and short-term goals the same

The first step of any goal planning session is to write your goal statement(s). To make sure you're setting short-term goals that will build on each other and add up to major progress in the long-run, make sure that you're using the same format for your short-term goals that you would for long-term ones: 

1. Identify and write out your career goal

2. Ask yourself a series of questions:

  • Why do you want to achieve this goal?
  • What resources do you need to achieve this goal?
  • How will you achieve this goal?

3. Turn your ideas and answers from the questions you generated into actionable tasks.

4. Make each task a SMART goal that is measurable, with a deadline. (Get our free SMART goal-setting worksheet here!)

5. Be ready to hold yourself accountable as time passes.

Start big 

First, think about your long-term career goal. What is it? Write it down on a piece of paper. Let’s use the example of starting a small business; it could be what you want as your full-time job or a side business you want to pursue. But no matter what, it’s a big goal that will take time to achieve. Just make sure it’s SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound). For example:

“I want to start and own a ____ consulting business by 2029.”

You can further define in your goal statement what success means to you; maybe it’s selling it after 10 years, having a certain number of clients or profitability, etc. Just be as specific as possible and determine how you will want to measure it over time.

Get granular

With your long-term career goal in focus, drill down into specifics by asking yourself questions and writing down all of your answers.  

This is your short-term goal brainstorming phase, and it will make your big goal feel much more manageable by giving yourself specific, concrete action items you can take in the near future.

You’ll ultimately be less discouraged throughout the process and more likely to achieve your small- and long-term career goals by taking these initial steps. 

Consistent small steps are essential (less stressful) and more important than taking huge, sporadic gigantic leaps!

How can you make your big goal small, then smaller, then the smallest possible? Write out all of the ways you can break down your big goal into smaller parts. You can do this by thinking in terms of time (yearly, monthly, etc.), thinking about one component of your goal at a time, or asking someone you know who achieved what you want to achieve for suggestions and advice as a starting point. 

For example, if you want to start your own business, smaller and smaller tasks and goals might look something like this:

  • What will your business look like and where will it be based out of? Research sites, various locations, and estimate expenses, identify information you need to compare and contrast your options. Ultimately, create a spreadsheet with at least 5 options.
  • Who is your audience/customer and how will you reach them? Discover similar companies and how they are similar/different. Read customer reviews for insight. Make a list of 8 things that your business could do differently, better, etc. that will set you apart
  • What is your brand and logo? What is your inspiration? Create a Pinterest board for inspirational ideas, looks, colors, etc. Research options for bringing a design to life, e.g. hiring a company, preparing items on your own, trading services with another. Contact 3 firms for a consultation.

Set deadlines for each of the tasks you come up with that you narrow down and will be most helpful for you, and turn them into SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound), short-term goals.

What resources do you need, how will you get them, and who can you get them from or who can help you get them? Using the same example as above, make a list of things you don’t have such as:

  • Startup capital
  • Technology or technical support
  • Workspace
  • Manpower
  • Contacts or a large network
  • Physical supplies/inventory
  • Things that you like when you look at other similar business, and want to mirror or improve on

For each of these items, brainstorm ways that you can obtain each missing item. Do you need time to save money or will you seek out investors? Do you need to attend and network at events to meet more people and get your name out there? Do you need to try/touch/experience competitor's products, services, websites, or locations?

As you get more and more specific, prioritize what is most important and estimate how long you’ll need for each task. This can be challenging if you’re not sure, but at a minimum be specific about and set firm deadlines for those things that are within your control.

Of the smaller pieces you identified, what is the best way to prioritize them? What milestones are important? You may need to draft a few different variations to see what will work best and what should truly come before something else, but the more drafts you go through the better your final draft will be. Draft, redraft and think about ways you can improve your timeline and prioritize short-term goals in the best way possible so you ultimately reach your long-term career goal.

For example, if networking events are typically held in the summer, and it’s currently spring, plan and prioritize accordingly. Those items you identified above that aren’t within your control should have firmer places in your timeline.  

You can only do so much in a day on your own and you won’t be successful if you spread yourself thin. Be realistic by being conservative. 

Outline a plan that gives you more time than you think you’ll need. But if things progress smoothly or more quickly, you’ll already have your next goal waiting in the wings that you can simply move up in the schedule. This process is better and less stressful than trying to do too much in too short of a time and feeling behind or doing a poor/incomplete job. 

Set deadlines for each goal each week and put them in your planner. Commit to these weekly goals. Include reminders, daily assignments, and motivation for yourself along the way. This is where looking back at your long-term career goal comes in handy!

Reflect and check in

Check in and reflect on your short-term goals regularly. This is super important! We recommend doing this weekly. Pick a day of the week and set aside 15-30 minutes to do three things:

  1. Reflect and celebrate success! You need to celebrate your successes to stay motivated. Remember to look at the big picture regularly so you don’t lose sight of your long-term career goal.
  2. Identify where you can improve and evaluate whether you’re meeting the goals you set. If things aren’t going well or you’re falling behind, why is that happening? Do you have enough time in the week to commit to your goals, are you avoiding certain tasks, do you need to look at your timeline again and adjust? You won’t catch problems or issues unless you regularly check your progress.
  3. Look at the big picture and your timeline. Are you still on-track? Has your long-term or any short-term career goal(s) changed? Adapt, rewrite and/or re-prioritize your timeline if you need to. It’s better to regroup sooner rather than later if something isn’t working out. 

If you’re ever uncertain about whether you’re spending time on the things that matter or setting the right short-term goals, seek advice from someone who’s been through a similar process or research ideas online. We’re rooting for you!