Short term career goals are important and powerful.
But they’re also easy to disregard as unnecessary compared to your bigger, long term goals. But each step along the way is important for reaching your ultimate goal, even if the smaller steps don’t seem quite as glamorous.
Achieving your big career goals requires effort, time, and dedication every day. Going from today to 5-10 years from now doesn’t happen overnight and things won’t just land in your lap. Short term goals bridge the gap and provide you with the building blocks of success along the way, keeping you sharp and ready to go.
Why short term career goals are especially effective
Short term career goals are extremely effective because, unlike life, your career can often be somewhat predictable. There are just fewer factors to consider; true, you may change your mind or discover new things along the way, but it is fairly easy to imagine a place where you’d like to end up and you can set new goals as needed to move in new directions.
Plus, short term career goals can help make you more amazing at work. While you’re working towards the bigger goal, short term career goals have lots of other benefits along the way:
Keep complacency at bay. Setting short term career goals keeps you motivated and at the top of your game as you take on the days and weeks. Staying hungry and motivated is an essential component of achieving your long term goals; otherwise, it becomes really easy to settle into a complacent state. Finding ways to motivate and inspire yourself with short term career goals increases your chances of being successful in the long run.
Encourage flexibility and try something new. Short term career goals allow you the flexibility to try new things, take on pieces of a larger project or idea, and build new skills and habits for a short period of time. The result is new space to allow yourself to try something different. And taking on a short term goal (like becoming a lead on an important project) can help you learn things about yourself that can inform the direction you take your career in.
Face change head on. Change is inevitable, especially when it comes to work. Short term career goals keep you nimble and adaptable to all that change - maybe the rules or policies change from above, the law in your state changes, your company changes tactics, the client changes their mind, your team decides to change priorities at the last minute...and maybe your career interests change and evolve over time. Short term career goals keep you comfortable with change and new challenges.
Pieces of the bigger picture. You can set short term career goals that tie into and support your bigger career goals, which is an excellent way to stay on track and mindful of deadlines or milestones you set for yourself and want to achieve. By taking lead on a project, you don’t only boost your resume, but you get real-world insight into what being a manager might be like.
Stay current on your industry. Staying relevant during times of uncertainty and change can be tough, but one of the most important things you can do is find new ways to keep learning and engaging with people and information pertinent to your career.
Anyone can dream of a promotion, a raise, or a company that will advance your career. But to turn those big career goals into a reality, you need strong goals that support your growth to be able to take on that reality. So how do you set them? Below are ideas to get you started.
Setting short term career goals
You can think of a short term goal as being anywhere from one week to several months, but not longer than a year. Think steps, not leaps.
To get started on setting your short term career goal:
Set aside time to brainstorm. Think about your short term career goals regularly. You are learning all the time, so consistently making sure your goals still align with your ambitions is essential for not wasting time. Think about what you want to accomplish, what’s important to you and your career development, what skills do you want to grow or learn? And think about your long term goals - break them down into smaller and smaller bites to see where that leads you.
Time your goal appropriately. Consider when you should start the short term goal. Timing is important, since you don’t want to be working against your environment. If you want to network more, but it’s not the season when your industry hosts most of their conferences, consider pushing that goal until it makes most sense.
Create a goal statement that is SMART. Goal setting is easier and more likely to be successful if you follow this easy and straightforward process:
- Be specific: Your goal statement should avoid vague language like “I want to be more successful in my career” because it doesn’t give you something to work toward. Instead, replace it with a specific statement like “I want to be promoted to Director of Human Relations at my company this year.”
- Make it measurable: It’s important to measure your progress so that you know how you’re doing and if you’re on track. For example, if you want to be the Director of Human Relations at your company, make a list of the job requirements and check them off as you achieve them.
- Ensure it is attainable: Since you're setting a short term goal, it must be something you can complete within a few weeks or few months and realistically be able to achieve. Is it likely you could be promoted to Director of HR this year? What is standing in your way?
- Make it relevant: Does this short term career goal help you work towards your longer term career goals? Don’t get side-tracked by fancy titles or shiny opportunities -- whatever you work on should make sense for what matters most to you.
- Keep it time-bound: A strong goal has a firm deadline, something that you can mark in your planner and work towards achieving.
Short term career goal ideas
1. Get certified
Certifications are a great way to update your skills, stay relevant in your field, show interest, and learn new things. And most of the time they are short in duration, lasting less than a year, making them the perfect short term career goal.
SMART goal statement example: I want to complete a professional writing certificate in the next 12 months at ___ institution, starting this fall.
2. Organize your work life
If you feel like things are getting a little out of control and you’re in need of some organization, set a goal to spend a consistent, regular amount of time organizing your work life. Each day you can tackle a new area, like cleaning up your paper filing system, wiping down all surfaces, getting rid of non-functional office accessories (goodbye old pens), and organizing your digital files.
SMART goal statement example: I want to spend 30 minutes every Monday morning for the next 2 months organizing my work space, inbox, and shared drive.
3. Focus on your next performance review
Similar to getting organized, spend a little bit of time each week reflecting and cataloging your successes and lessons learned. This is a great way to prepare for your next review.
SMART goal statement example: I want to spend 30 minutes every Friday morning for the next 2 months reflecting on the challenges I faced that week, listing things that I learned, and listing areas for improvement.
4. Volunteer for a project
Nothing shows your manager that you’re motivated like volunteering to take on a project, big or small. Take the initiative to solve a problem, show a new colleague around the office, or work on a team that needs another member. Assuming the project you volunteer for is something you can tackle in the near future, this is a great way to try something new and show initiative.
SMART goal statement example: In the next six months, I want to volunteer to take on and/or lead 2 new tasks/projects.
5. Create new networks and relationships
Looking ahead at the calendar, check upcoming networking events and conferences in your field that you can attend to expand your knowledge and expose you to new people. Expanding your connections exposes and introduces you to new ideas and concepts that you may miss if you don’t get out of the office.
SMART goal statement example: I want to attend 2 conferences this fall and meet at least 3 new people at each one.
6. Encourage and support your colleagues
Developing strong working relationships with your team or in your department can be really rewarding. Finding ways to connect, build trust and respect, and support those you work with improves your relationships and reputation as someone that can be counted on. Working well with others is super important and you spend so much of your time with colleagues every day anyways!
SMART goal statement example: I want to compliment or thank one colleague each day for the next 2 weeks.
7. Maximize your hours
Getting to work a little early, even by 15 minutes, can be a simple way to show your initiative, dedication, and allows you to take advantage of quieter times during the day. This short term career goal works well if you’ve recently struggled to find uninterrupted times during the day to focus or complete important tasks. This is one way to build your confidence and expertise in order to achieve your long term career goals; it is not necessarily about changing others' viewpoint of you.
SMART goal statement example: For the next month, I want to arrive 30 minutes earlier than my usual start time to work on [a project, brainstorm, focus on ___].
What short term career goal will you set next?