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Set short-term career goals to improve your career now!

Set short-term career goals to improve your career now!

Artwork by: Veronika Kiriyenko

  • What are short-term career goals?
  • Why are short term career goals important?
  • How to create short-term goals
  • Organizing your goals
  • Suggestions for short-term goals
  • Putting your goals together
  • 10 Examples of short term career goals
  • Achieving your short-term goals
  • Key takeaways

If you want to be successful, you’ll need a plan. In this article, you’ll learn all about setting short-term career goals, including what they are, why they’re important, and examples of goals you can use for your own career.

It's easy to get caught up in career inertia: things might be going well, the pay is okay, and you're content. But maybe you look around one day and notice that your colleagues are moving up or out. If you have any plans to move up the career ladder, you might fight against becoming stagnant by setting short-term career goals. And don't be put off by the term "short term." 

Setting goals, long or short, is vital in reaching the professional targets you desire. But it can be challenging. What's considered a "short-term" goal? What's a realistic goal? No matter your career field, setting short-term goals will help enhance your productivity and give you a clearer path to travel. It might take some effort and commitment, but it will pay off in the future.

In this article, we'll discuss the importance of setting short-term career goals to improve your career and what they can do for you, including

  • What is a short-term career goal?

  • Why are short-term goals important?

  • How to create short-term career goals.

  • Examples of short-term career goals.

What are short-term career goals?

Short-term goals are, by their very definition, goals that can be reached within the near future — days, weeks, or even a few months. These types of goals require laser-sharp focus because you’re working in a narrow time frame. If you create short-term goals that are relatively easy to meet, it will increase your motivation to keep going. They also reduce the tendency to procrastinate. Short-term goals are like bricks in the road, providing a clear direction towards success, and allowing you to work on one task at a time, which sets up a solid skill foundation to get you to your career destination.

Why are short term career goals important?

Short-term goals are smaller than long-term goals and can be achieved in a shorter time frame, which can keep you motivated and focused because there’s always another goal just ahead. They are helpful because they break down the things you want to achieve into more manageable tasks, allowing you to

  • Take immediate action.

  • Get faster feedback so you know if your goals are working.

  • Identify and set deadlines.

  • Categorize and regulate tasks.

Setting short-term goals also builds your self-confidence, because you get to see development and outcomes on a daily or weekly basis, which can help keep you motivated to keep going. Motivation breeds more motivation — achieving your short-term goals ensures you’re always making progress. Think of it like deciding to run a marathon. The goal of finishing it is long-term, but building up your miles every week is the short-term goal.

The use of short-term goals can help you in multiple facets of your career:

  • Team goals, which keep everyone accountable.

  • Productivity goals, which keep you from falling behind.

  • Skill development goals, which help you gain knowledge and experience.

  • Job search goals, which can move you along if your current position lacks opportunities.

Short-term goals give you a sense of immediacy, encouraging you to think, “What can I do right now to help my career?” They also help with time management, because there isn’t much room for procrastination or complacency. Short-term goals might be small, but they can lead to big payoffs in the future.

Expert Tip

Research shows that writing down your goals and holding yourself accountable makes it much more likely that you'll achieve them. So don't just say, "I'll remember." Get your goals on paper and place them where you can see them every day.

How to create short-term goals

Sometimes you might run into something called “decision paralysis,” where you find it difficult, if not impossible, to figure out what your goals should be. The idea of “career goals” might be so overwhelming that you might be tempted to skip it. Don’t. Starting with small, attainable steps can help you to put your goals into actionable steps, mobbing you closer to where you want to end up.

Consider using SMART goals to define what you want your goals to be. Remember, SMART goals are:

  • S - Specific 

  • M - Measurable 

  • A - Achievable 

  • R - Relevant 

  • T - Time-based

Using the SMART goal method as a scaffold helps to provide focus to your actions so that they are practical and useful. Using the SMART goal method can also help you forecast where you may run into issues, allowing you to come up with alternate plans to keep you on track.

Organizing your goals

There are several ways to plan out your goals and keep yourself accountable. The easiest, most basic way is with a prioritized list, moving from easiest to hardest (unless you have scheduled deadlines). You can also write your goals in a journal, taking time each day to reflect on the events of your day. It’s helpful to regularly reread your entries to see if you're still on the right track with your goals, which will help you move on to the next one.

Expert Tip

Don’t forget the joy

In a study by the Harvard Business Review, people were asked online about the goals they set at the beginning of the new year. Most goals were career advancement, paying off debt, or better health. The participants were asked:

- How important was their goal

- Was pursuing their goal enjoyable?

Two months later, researchers found that “enjoyment predicted people’s goal persistence” far more than how important they found the goal to be.

Suggestions for short-term goals

If you’re still not sure what short-term goals you should use, here are a few suggestions to get you on track:

  • Take professional courses or earn a new degree/certificate.

  • Increase your performance metrics.

  • Develop your professional network.

  • Get a new job.

  • Boost your time management ability.

  • Organize and maintain your desk/workspace.

  • Learn new technology.

  • Acquire a mentor.

  • Polish your written and oral communication skills.

  • Advance your industry acumen.

  • Get a promotion.

  • Create a website/online portfolio to highlight your work and achievements.

Creating a concrete plan for your short-term goals allows you to think more deeply about what you want out of your career, allowing you to tweak your career so that it truly suits you. Setting short-term goals that are reasonable, clear, and attainable build the momentum you need to achieve them.

Putting your goals together

However you decide to organize your goals, take your time doing it. Taking the time to put together a clear action plan is much more valuable than jumping in feet first. Ask yourself, “What do I want to accomplish in the next few months” and go from there. Figure out what resources you need, how you’re going to organize your goals, and what you should do if you run into obstacles. And don’t set your goals too high — while you want to challenge yourself, they need to be reasonable and attainable.

10 Examples of short term career goals

Your action plan is your plan of attack. It's one thing to have a goal, but it's another to know how to get there. State a relevant goal, give yourself a time frame, and assign yourself the concrete, manageable steps to reach that goal.


  1. Learn a new skill: this month read a manual for Apache OpenOffice and complete all tutorials.

  2. Cultivate team communication: this week, establish a regular team meeting where everyone can share his or her projects and progress.

  3. Grow your professional network: this week, invite your mentor for coffee, or attend a professional conference next month.

  4. Earn a new certificate: in the next three months, complete an online course that will enhance your knowledge base.

  5. Increase your performance numbers: this month, increase reported customer satisfaction rates by three percent.

  6. Expand your company knowledge: This week, make an appointment with a colleague in a different department to learn more about their job responsibilities and skills.

  7. Reduce your distractions: daily, eliminate non-work related social media use and turn off notifications on your phone.

  8. Ask for help with your goals: at your next performance evaluation, share your goals with your manager and ask for their advice on how to reach them.

  9. Pinpoint a weak area: in the next week, identify a hard or soft skill you need to improve and spend the necessary time to achieve it.

  10. Prioritize continuous learning: today, subscribe to a relevant professional journal (and actually read it!)

Achieving your short-term goals

Setting and reaching your short-term goals might take some work, but it will pay off in the long run. Just like the famous “Marshmallow Test," employing the concept of delayed gratification in favor of future rewards will make it much more likely that you will continue in the right direction on your career path rather than succumbing to professional lethargy. As long as your short-term goals are well defined (and doable), they will allow you to

  • Divide large objectives into straightforward, smaller tasks that are easier to accomplish.

  • Keep your motivation high as you cross each goal off your to-do list and move forward toward your long-term goal.

  • Reevaluate goals and priorities as your circumstances evolve.

  • Maintain focus and keep you from feeling helpless.

  • Express your intentions to your colleagues and demonstrate your desire to be proactive.

Setting short-term career goals is critical to your professional as well as your personal life. These goals might seem small, or even trivial, but they add up and move you in the right direction. Remember that your short-term goals should be a piece of your career puzzle, that when put together, enhance your self-image, boost job fulfillment, and enhance your quality of life. As the Cheshire Cat in “Alice in Wonderland” said, “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.” When you create a solid list of short-term career goals, you can begin to take action and know that you will get to where you want to be.

Key takeaways

  1. Short-term career goals are goals that can be reached within the near future — days, weeks, or even a few months.

  2. Short-term career goals are smaller than long-term goals and can be achieved in a shorter time frame, which can keep you motivated and focused. 

  3. Starting with small, attainable steps can help you to put your goals into actionable steps.

  4. Consider using SMART goals, which are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-based.

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