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A Guide to Career Planning & Goal Setting

Career planning and goal setting are both essential aspects that contribute towards your professional growth, ultimately helping you climb the corporate ladder or make the career change you’ve always wanted.

Knowing how to set your career goals and defining what is required to get yourself to that point is the key in helping you achieve your ambitions, while allowing you to set actionable and clear objectives that will put you on the right path. Once you have clearly defined your career goals, you can then develop a plan, put things in action, in order to achieve those goals.

In order to define it, career goals are basically clear and realistic statements which identify and define the ultimate career you aspire to have, while allowing you to set an action plan towards achieving your professional ambitions.

This blog serves as a useful guide to aid your career planning and goal setting, helping you devise actionable goals and objectives to reach your professional ambitions.

Male professional smiling

1) Explore all your possibilities

You may be someone who has always known what career path is right for them and what occupation you aspire to have. But, if you’re just as confused as the rest of us when it comes to choosing our professional purpose in life, with several career options not knowing which one would best suit you, then pay particular attention to this step.

The first thing you should do is identify all the career options that most interest you and whose reality you are most comfortable with. It’s so important to be realistic about the ins and outs of the daily tasks you’ll be expected to do with each career option, without getting caught up in a whirlwind of excitement at the prospects of what a job may be like, by reminding yourself what it actually is like instead.

So, start off by researching your job preferences and relevant qualifications, along with the typical career path and skills you would be required to have and compare them to the ones you already have. Make sure, however, that you’re being realistic. Try answering questions like:

  • What personal weaknesses do you need to overcome in order to succeed?
  • Which of your strengths will help you thrive in your chosen career path?
  • Is this truly the right job for you?

Hopefully once you’ve reached the final question, your options will have been narrowed down to 1 or 2, making it much easier for you to choose the right career for you and your capabilities.

Professional meeting smiling notes discussion

2) Work backwards from your end goal

Once you have identified your preferred career, the next step is to define what you want to achieve in that profession, setting out your final end-goal and where you want to get to, to help you devise an action plan, mapping out the steps that will enable you to get there. For example, “In 20 years I want to become the HR Director of a large, international organisation”, could be your career goal.

Writing down your goals helps give a clearer direction of where you’re heading and the actions that need to be taken to get yourself there. However, the process is not over, it’s merely the beginning. For your end-goal to become your reality you must devise an action plan to keep you on track and ensure you achieve the goals you’ve set for yourself. The best way to do that is by breaking up your goal into smaller steps to help organise your thoughts and build momentum. In the words of Martin Luther King Jr:

“Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step”.

Not only that but adopting this approach can make your goal seem less daunting, minimising the possibility of procrastination, since your goal suddenly seems much easier and simple to attain when taking one step at a time.

Professionals meeting notes goal setting

3) Establish your short and long-term objectives

The next step is to break up your objectives into short-term and long-term objectives, where short-term objectives relate to what you can achieve in the next 3-5 years of your career and more specifically in reference to things like:

  • Which qualifications can help you progress unto your preferred career and what industry courses are available for you to consider?
  • What professional memberships are most relevant for you and your goals to enable networking opportunities and keeping up to date with your industry?
  • What should ideally be your next job in order to start working your way up the career ladder and towards your end goal?
  • What experience and skills you should acquire that would make you a suitable candidate to gain a promotion or an entry-level position in your chosen field?

The easiest way to answer these questions is by researching job descriptions from listings related to the job you want. This will help you understand what knowledge and experience employers are looking for and what areas you need to develop in, to gain your dream job.

After that, turn your attention towards your long-term objectives and begin plotting a realistic career progression pathway that correctly defines the level of skill, knowledge, responsibility and seniority that your career goal requires. Essentially, this will act as the roadmap towards your ultimate end-goal.

Seek the advice of a recruiter or reach out to your LinkedIn connections who are on the pathway you aspire to be, in order to understand what you should also be focusing on. In turn, this will allow you to identify the capabilities your role will require along with the soft skills you’ll have to cultivate, the level of experience you’ll need to gain and how long you need to be in the role for, in order to gain the necessary expertise and experiences that will prepare you for a promotion.

Female professionals laptop discussion

4) Remember to stay SMART when it comes to your objectives

 When putting together your career plan, remember to set objectives that are clearly defined. For this, SMART objectives are the best way to go making sure your objectives are:

  • Specific - Try to be as clear as you can with your goals and objectives, avoiding any enigmatic statements.
  • Measurable - Quantify your goals, which will make it easier to track your progress and recognise when you’ve reached the finish line.
  • Achievable - Your goals should remain realistic and attainable, challenging your abilities but remaining possible.
  • Relevant - Make sure your objectives align with your plan and complement your end-goal.
  • Time-bound - Set timeframes for your objectives to help keep you on track, helping you work towards a particular deadline.

5) Put pen to paper on your goals 

Career planning and goal setting will only reach its potential when your path is planned out and clear to follow. Therefore, writing down your goals, ambitions, objectives and means of getting there, while also monitoring your progress, can help streamline the process, making it more manageable, while keeping a clear focus on the end-goal.

Imagine you’re planning an event and how much time you put into organising it, setting it up, coming up with a guest list etc. Well considering that your career will span over the next 30-35 years of your life, it deserves just as much, if not more, attention and planning.

Female professional smiling

6) Stay flexible and keep track of your progress

 Remember that your priorities and objectives can change over time and that’s okay. Whether that may be due to changing competencies and skills employers are expecting for your dream role, or due to your own personal circumstances changing, sometimes things will take an unexpected turn, out with of your control. Stressing out and worrying about not keeping on track with your plan will only get you frustrated, and your drive will take a huge blow. Keep in mind that the road to success is never a straight line. It’s one filled with bumps, obstacles and diversions, so don’t let those bumps deter you from continuing down your path.

The best way to approach this is by reviewing your objectives from time to time, evaluating how far they are still achievable and realistic to your life at that given time, and if they’re not, then go ahead and tweak them accordingly to keep you on track. 

Not only that, but it’s important to give yourself credit where credit is due and not be so hard on yourself. Recognise your wins and what you have achieved by that point, however small or major they are. This will help boost your confidence and re-instil your passion towards your end-goal.

Other than that, reflecting on your objectives every so often is also helpful to identify areas you’re falling behind on, to adjust your schedule accordingly and allocate time to work on and improve those areas. So, schedule a recurring monthly review of your path and stick to it, giving you therefore the opportunity for genuine self reflection. 


As long as you approach your career planning with a realistic and positive mindset, anything you set your mind to is achievable. Stay motivated and enthusiastic, continuously reminding yourself of your end-goal and where you want to get to, giving yourself credit where credit is due.


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