Valerie Delzer

How to set and achieve your long-term career goals

Career development

How to set and achieve your long-term career goals

Artwork by: Alexandra Shevchenko

  • What is the timeline for setting long-term career goals?
  • Know your career path to set up your long-term goals
  • What are examples of long-term career goals?
  • How do I set myself up for long-term career success?
  • What is the S.M.A.R.T. framework for goal setting?
  • Communicate 
  • Key Takeaways

Know what long-term goals you can set and achieve in your particular career using the S.M.A.R.T. method.

To succeed professionally in your career, it’s necessary you set realistic goals within specific time frames. There are short-term goals, and there are long-term goals. It’s the latter we’ll discuss in this article showing how you can not only set long-term career goals but achieve them on your career path.

Topics include:

  • What is the timeline for setting long-term career goals?

  • Know your career path to set up your long-term career goals

  • What are examples of long-term career goals?

  • How do I set myself up for long-term career success?

  • What is the S.M.A.R.T. framework for goal setting?

  • Communicate

What is the timeline for setting long-term career goals?

It’s hard to predict where you will be 10, 20, or 30 years from now in your career. It all depends on where you are now and where you ultimately want to end up before retiring from the workplace. A long-term career goal is where you envision the pinnacle of your success. With it comes a decisive plan we call a career path. 

Know your career path to set up your long-term goals

A career path is the map you create to achieve both short-term and long-term goals. Short-term goals may apply to projects and tasks completed within weeks to months. The completion of short-term goals becomes part of the career plan to achieve long-term goals. Long-term goals generally have a time span of three to five years but are adjusted accordingly as you make progress.

What are examples of long-term career goals?

People are motivated by a variety of reasons to set up their long-term goals, from obtaining a higher salary to achieving a top position in a company or to simply expand their repertoire of skill sets. We’ll look at 12 examples of what long-term career goals look like.

1. Money 

The first one is the most obvious – pay or salary. People would like to live in financial comfort to afford the things they need and want in life. Entry-level jobs provide limited compensation which ultimately spurs a person on to strive for higher pay. That usually requires a job promotion to the next pay grade level, or it means obtaining new skills to try for a new job with higher pay.

2. Learn transferable skills

Upgrade your skill sets by learning new ones. Professional development in your career always involves learning new things applicable to the job. Employers support the learning of new skills whether they provide incentive for it to help you improve your career path, or you learn separately on your own. Either way, consider building your current skill set of both soft and hard skills. This adds great value to your long-term career goals as many skills are transferable between jobs and promotions. 

3. Acquire higher education

Depending on the type of job that fits into your long-term career goal, it may be necessary to get a college degree. It can be an undergraduate bachelor's degree, a master’s degree, or even a Ph.D. The progression of what degrees you need to further your career path and achieve a long-term career goal requires research into the field of your career choice. Figure into the goal the cost of furthering your education. Will a job promotion in the long run help you to pay off student loans, or do you have enough money saved up now to take on a long-term educational goal related to your career?

4. Develop leadership skills

You may be eyeing a senior-management position as your dream job, but it requires a clear demonstration of leadership skills and experience managing people and projects. You can ask at work to lead short-term projects. Leading several projects over the years shows you have leadership capability. You can further this long-term career goal by also taking classes to get certified in leadership skills. 

5. Expand your career network

Join professional organizations specific to your industry. Meeting new people and discussing the field you work in is helpful in gaining new knowledge. It can also help you find new job openings that lead to fulfilling a long-term career goal. You never know who you can meet who can inadvertently help you up the ladder of career success.

6. Make a career change

Through networking, you may even develop a new outlook on your career path that leads to a new career altogether. You may be set on acquiring success in a particular niche of your industry that may also lead you to discover side paths in a parallel industry. Making a career change need not be scary as long as you have a plan to achieve it by setting specific goals.

7. Create a business

It’s possible you have always dreamed of being your own boss instead of working for someone else. If you have the determination and financial means, go ahead and make that long-term career goal a reality by starting a new business. This also requires careful planning and research. A great idea you have may not always translate into a successful business, and many start-ups fail in their first to the fifth year. Still, if you have the entrepreneurial spirit to wear many hats and put in a lot of effort, running a successful business can be quite fulfilling.

8. Coach others

If you have gained a significant amount of knowledge about a particular field or industry, you can coach others to help them succeed on their own career path. You can also join a professional organization that helps mentor others. Even within the company you currently work for, you may find the opportunity to mentor a team. Don’t forget volunteer work outside of your job is an asset too. A long-term career goal doesn’t always have to be about money. There’s joy in giving to others without thought of compensation.

9. Become a thought leader

Show you know how to expertly solve problems. A thought leader is someone who has encountered a variety of challenging workplace situations and found solutions to those problems. If solving problems is a natural talent, you become invaluable to an organization. Your unique viewpoint coupled with actual experience places you as a thought leader showing others how they can think through a problem to solve issues.

10. Publish your solutions 

Similar to becoming a thought leader, if you write and publish solid material in a particular field, it demonstrates your level of knowledge about an industry. On the managerial level, you can publish what is called “white papers” within an industry, becoming known as an expert on specific topics. You can also publish in online trade journals and magazines, or even create a blog showcasing your industry niche. 

11. Diversify through global experience

If you love to travel and learn about cultures, societies, and people, you gain invaluable knowledge about things and places to share with others. You also gain insight into how globalization works through our interconnectedness. Expanding your awareness to include understanding of how global issues affect us all shows you can contribute to an organization in a diverse manner. 

12. Building your brand

Your brand is your image, your reputation. It doesn’t necessarily equate to commercialization the way an “influencer” does. Through the variety of examples we’ve shown so far, you can get a better grasp of how to develop and showcase your particular strengths with your online presence. Whether it's through your LinkedIn profile, your personal blog, publishing platforms, or published documents, you have a voice that becomes branded synonymously with your name. Keep your personal brand aligned with your long-term career goals to drive your success.

How do I set myself up for long-term career success?

It’s essential to understand how to set up your long-term career goals to achieve the professional success you desire. The methodology you use can’t simply be hit-or-miss or else you’ll fail to reach your objectives. You have to have clear planning in place that you can follow and adjust as needed as you progress along your career path. Therefore, we’ll next talk about how to use the S.M.A.R.T. goal-setting system to achieve your long-term career goals.

What is the S.M.A.R.T. framework for goal setting?

An article was published in 1981 by George Doran titled, “There’s a S.M.A.R.T. way to write management’s goals and objectives.” In it, he describes how company managers get caught up on the difference between the words “goals” and “objectives.” He proposed a better method to achieve company goals by using a mnemonic acronym of S.M.A.R.T. where each letter stands for a specific word of action.

This method has been put in place and used by millions of people, not only for workplace management goals but also to propel people’s career paths forward. Let’s look at each word and what it means.

S=Specific. Be precise in defining your career goals. 

M=Measurable. Use quantifying indicators of achievement measured towards your goals. 

A=Attainable. Goals should align with what you can reasonably do in a specific amount of time.

R=Relevant. Goals should be relevant to your career choice as opposed to being abstract. 

T=Timely. Your career path should outline time periods needed to achieve specific long-term goals. For example, you can put down that you want to be the Senior Manager within five years. Each year you will have a subset of goals to achieve that ultimately add up to reaching your primary long-term career goal.

Are your objectives SMART?

Do

Don't

Have a high aim to shoot for in the long term of your career. (Specific)

Don’t set yourself a low bar.

Add up relevant sales or other statistics achieved per project. (Measurable)

Don’t leave out the monetary value or the time spent investing in a project.

Give yourself reachable goals. (Attainable)

Don’t set yourself up for failure with things outside of your control.

Line up a list of goals others have achieved in the same industry, field, or job. (Relevant)

Don’t pick goals outside of your field.

Know how long it should take to accomplish both short and long-term career goals. Set them up to be reached realistically so you mark off each achievement and continue your momentum. (Timely)

Don’t think it should take x amount of time to finalize a goal without setting realistic expectations.

Communicate 

If you are unsure about setting up these goals for your specific job progression, talk with your supervisor or manager. They’ll be pleased you did, as it shows you are considering a long-term approach to your career within the company. Your manager might be happy to mentor you in your progress as well. 

Keep in mind that no matter how well you plan out your long-term career goals, there can be obstacles and setbacks occasionally. It’s all a part of the learning plan for your career and becomes a valuable source of knowledge you can apply to help others. In the process, you’ll be helping yourself achieve the long-term career goals you set.

Key Takeaways

  1. Know your long-term career goals specific to your career path.

  2. Learn how to create and apply them to your specific career progression.

  3. Organize your goals using the S.M.A.R.T. methodology.

  4. Talk to someone whose accomplishments you respect and who could offer good advice.

  5. Remember to be realistic. There’s a saying: “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” Develop your inner patience, remaining poised and focused on the long-term career goal you want.

Valerie Delzer

Valerie is a freelance writer adept at content creation for diverse industries in business, career, tech, and lifestyle. She is a seasoned travel professional with her company brand name, Travalerie (Travel + Valerie). She has a Bachelor of Arts in Applied Science (BAAS) degree from the University of North Texas. When she’s not writing, she enjoys nature hikes and e-bike rides.

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