Many employees nowadays are chasing career fulfillment, instead of success. We’ve grown to like challenges, and want to get the most out of our careers: constant growth, evolution, and enough free time to appreciate our accomplishments.

But how exactly can we branch out in our careers, without risking failure? Is that even possible?

set career goals cover

It is, through career goals.

Career goals are statements that you set for your professional progress. Maybe you want to perfect your second language to land international clients, or you take up a writing course to improve your blog. Or you want a promotion that demands you make more sales, so you set goals to improve your productivity.

These are just some examples of goals, and there are no limits to how short- or long-term they can be. It all comes down to your personal wishes.

In this article, we’ll be discussing

  • The importance of career goals
  • The different types of them
  • What to ask yourself before any decision
  • How to set career goals
  • How to achieve career goals
  • How to balance out your career goal chase and personal life

Why are career goals important?

Just like life goals, career goals are essential to personal development.

Doing the same job for a minimum of 30 years used to be the norm. People would find their ways to progress within that framework, but they mainly stayed in the same place. Nowadays, there are more opportunities to work in different areas of the same field, and even change careers if we so choose.

Career goals are essential for:

  • Keeping yourself passionate and invigorated about your career;
  • Finding out on time if it’s time for a job change;
  • Learning more about yourself as a person, and
  • Becoming multi-skilled and/or perfecting your craft.

If you’ve never had career goals as such or wondered how to go about establishing them, we’ve made a simple breakdown in the following sections.

What types of career goals are there?

When it comes to career goals, there is no universal distinction into types. However, the mainstream media brings up two distinctions:

  1. Short and long-term career goals
  2. Career improvement goals

There is very little difference aside from the first group classifying goals based on the time required to complete them, while the second group divides them based on the type of improvement you’re after.

Taking a closer look at them, you can find out what kind of direction will be best for setting your own goals.

1. Short-term goals

As the name itself implies, short-term goals are usually set to combat a temporary work obstacle or a current hiccup in your career path. Everything that you can achieve within the next 6 months to a year is considered a short-term goal. What’s more, they are most commonly just steps towards achieving a long-term goal.

Some examples include finishing a course for a new skill set, growing the company’s customer base, reaching a specific deadline, landing a big client, etc.

2. Long-term goals

On the opposite side, we have long-term goals, which are grander and require more patience and work. Additionally, they take longer to achieve, most commonly between 2 to 10 years.

Some examples would be launching a business, learning a new language, paying off real estate, getting certified in a particular field, and so on.

The second way of categorizing career goals considers four career-related niches a person might want to improve:

1. Productivity goals

These are fairly self-explanatory. When you’re setting productivity goals, you want to work on the quality of your results, and the way you tackle tasks. It is constant work on creating a better output.

Productivity goals can be reached by setting deadlines, scheduling brainstorming sessions, working on fulfilling basic needs (so they’re not a hindrance to your productivity level), finding your circadian rhythm, and much more.

2. Education goals

Career goals focusing on education are about acquiring new skills or improving existing ones. We usually set them to ensure promotion, improve our work performance, or reinforce our portfolio/CV for a better position.

Education goals are achieved by attending conferences, enrolling in online courses, finishing university, starting night school, finding a mentor, etc.

3. Personal development goals

For this article, we’re addressing personal development in the workplace, not in one’s private life. These goals are about becoming a better communicator, leader, improving work-life balance, and so on.

Personal development goals are addressed through improving your networking skills, assertive training, self-improvement classes and/or books, finding a mentor (or becoming one), assuming greater responsibility, etc.

4. Efficiency goals

While it can be put in the same basket as productivity goals, efficiency goals aim to not only improve the output of your work, but also the speed of its delivery. The aim is to learn where and how to cut corners without losing out on quality. Meeting deadlines with minimum sacrifices being made – both in resources and manpower.

Efficiency goals are set and reached by working on your focus, precision, timing yourself, and finding skills and software that can automate some of your everyday processes.

How to decide on and set your career goals

What you need is a realistic picture of how you feel about your current job, and what you wish to achieve with new career goals. Whether it’s a full job change, transferring to a different department or wanting a higher position in your current field, you’ll want to make some things clear first.

Following is a set of simple steps that can help you define your career goals:

  1. Separate interests and work
  2. Look at your skills objectively
  3. Be specific with wording
  4. Make the goals achievable

1. Separate interests and work

It is perfectly normal to have interests and hobbies that are different from our job interests and skills. That does not necessarily make them viable options for a different career.

Take into account all the risks and obstacles if you choose to turn your passion into a job. Are you ready to handle a different kind of pressure and a new set of responsibilities? Sometimes, when people change their profession to something they did as a hobby, the joy they used to feel starts to dwindle. What they once did out of love now has a new weight of obligation and responsibility, and it no longer feels fulfilling.

For example:

You work as a content writer, but at home, during your free time, you revel in doing graphic design. Logos, spreads, invites, business cards… it’s not just personal expression, but something you also greatly enjoy. It crosses your mind that you could do this for a living, so you start toying with the idea.

However, can you picture yourself doing it for eight hours a day? Deal with indecisive clients, possible endless revisions, and invoicing processes?

Putting yourself in this fictional situation will help you distinguish what should remain a hobby and what is a feasible career move.

2. Look at your skills objectively

When setting goals, you need to be truthful with yourself. Consider what seems achievable, and what doesn’t.

Aiming too high too fast will create a lot of pressure that can hinder your progress. You should be aware of your schedule, your personal life, and consider what is humanly possible and what isn’t. While our workaholic culture praises individuals with machine-like stamina, it undoubtedly creates a big imbalance between work and private life.

For example:

To meet the deadline, I’ll work two hours of overtime every day this week, but next week I’ll return to regular work hours.

Neglecting personal life to achieve a career goal is okay, in moderation. Deciding to work 10 hours a day for a week will have no consequences so long as you return to your regular schedule next week.

I can’t enroll in a night school since I have a child, but I can take an online course with a flexible schedule. 

In this example, you’re attending classes from the comfort of your home. You’ll be saving time you’d spend getting ready, commuting, and coming back home exhausted. Time that could be spent at home with your loved ones, or attending important personal issues.

3. Be specific with wording

Being as specific as possible makes it easy to maintain a routine and ultimately, progress. You’re less likely to get overwhelmed, giving up before the goal is reached.

When making career goals, do one (or all) of the following:

  • Include a timeframe for achieving it

(days, weeks, months)

  • Specify a skill level

(a B1 level of a language course)

  • Set up signals, to avoid burnout

(once I catch myself losing steam, I’ll take a break)

4. Make the goals achievable

Don’t be afraid to start small.

If you break down big professional goals into manageable, easily-reached milestones, you increase the odds of progressing faster. Also, achievable goals are easier to track. And being able to track your progress is the best-known motivator there is.

For example: you want to start a course on programming and earn a certificate. This step could be broken down into more achievable steps like:

  1. Spend an hour searching for the best course
  2. Enroll the course
  3. Create a study plan
  4. Complete the first week of the course
  5. Complete two weeks of course, etc.
  6. Pass the test for the certificate

As opposed to ill-defined like:

  1. Enroll the course
  2. Get a certificate

When goals are left vague or too broad, we tend to disregard the steps they’re comprised of. We are then unaware of the amount of work needed to achieve a goal, making it more likely to start feeling overwhelmed and give up. The moment you start breaking them down, you’ll make them more achievable and have a clear roadmap ahead of you.

How to reach your career goals successfully

When we’ve learned to set specific career goals, the next hurdle is actually achieving them. We need to put effort, get disciplined and stay consistent.

Here are some points to look out for as you start your journey to better career goals:

  • Find your personal motivation and self-discipline
  • Find support from those close to you
  • Track the progress of your professional goals
  • Take time to reevaluate and to modify your goals as you go

Find your personal motivation and self-discipline

Motivation is a fickle emotion that is very difficult to grasp. We hold the belief that everything we get done is because motivation strikes us at just the right time. Sadly, that is not the case.

We tend to get much more done when we discipline ourselves. Did you know that you can create motivation, instead of waiting for it to come around?

Here are just a handful of them:

  1. Make a reward system for yourself after reaching specific milestones;
  2. Analyze your lack of motivation to find out what prevents you from moving forward;
  3. Have a planner specifically for career goals, and write down everything you’re planning to achieve;
  4. Team up with a friend, or find support with your family;

All these motivation tips are explored in detail in our other article on motivation, and how to find your own.

Find support from those close to you

We’ve mentioned that a friend or a coworker who has similar goals as your own can be a good motivator.

There is something in creating a “tribe” of like-minded people for the sheer support, resource sharing, and help they can provide each other. Additionally, it is great for accountability when you can’t keep your word.

Therefore, if you have a problem acting on your resolutions and promises, then find someone who will hold you responsible for them.

Track the progress of your career goals

We’ve mentioned that the only way to reach your milestones is through discipline and not motivation.

By working towards your goal regularly, you increase your chances of succeeding. Like doing small programming tasks every day to practice for a certification test. However, for the majority of us, forming a habit proves to be much harder.

The easiest way to track your goals is via an application. This is especially useful if the traditional habit tracking doesn’t work for you.

For example: in Clockify, you have the option of planning out your tasks for the entire day or even week. Then as the tasks pop up, you simply start the timer. When you’re done, you stop the timer, and voila! It’s as easy as that.

When the week passes, you’ll have a clean-cut overview of the time spent on career-related goals. These can help you regroup your tasks and make any necessary changes to your schedule.

Take time to reevaluate and to modify your goals as you go

It’s perfectly normal to realize that your professional goals evolve and change over time. Especially earlier in life.

Maybe you’ve been working as a programmer for a few years now and found out in the past few months that you’re gaining interest in QA. Or, it turns out you are really good at mediating between teams and understand the production pipeline well enough to try project management.

How to know if you should change your goals?

When talking about redefining your career goals, this important question always comes up. We take our careers seriously, so, naturally, we’ll question our choices. Let’s take a look at the signs if and when you should modify your goals.

  • The amount of effort you’re putting in overshadows the reward;
  • You no longer find joy in pursuing a goal;
  • It’s beginning to negatively impact your personal life;
  • You realize the goal is actually not as important anymore (e.g. Learning a new language);
  • Unexpected life changes occur;

Make it okay with yourself to come back to your goals and reevaluate them every now and then. Especially if you’ve realized that a different career path suits you better.

Instead of chasing a goal just to achieve it, even though you know it’s a dead-end, is just a waste of time and energy. It’s better to give up, count your losses, and move on in another direction.

How to balance career goals and personal life

It’s not easy to balance work and life, especially if you’re setting new career goals for yourself. And even with a support system within your friends and family, the idea of dedicating so much time to your career can look dark and gloomy.

Not everyone is up for the “grind”.

As a matter of fact, multiple media outlets today are speaking up against the “rise and grind” culture. At Clockify, we’re of the same mindset. There is no real success if you nearly lose yourself by the time you reach it. Health and sanity should always come first. With that in mind, here are some pointers on how to pursue your goals in a healthy, balanced manner:

Decide how far you are willing to go

In time, you’ll want to find out what your absolute limits are and stick to them. If achieving a certain goal will say, have you work 100 hours a week while you can barely manage 60, then you need to know if the goal is worth the sacrifice. If such work hours turn out not to be a one-time thing, then it may be time to set your foot down.

Deciding how far you are willing to go early on will immensely help balance out your work and life.

Try making smarter choices

You don’t have to take every opportunity that comes your way. Some will be beneficial for your career, while others will be a dead end. Take the time to assess which ones to accept, and save some precious time for yourself.

Choose experiences that will move you forward, teach you something new, and add significantly to your life. Everything else will just be pointless.

Find someone you admire to mentor you

How can a mentor help your work-life balance? It’s actually quite simple.

People who have been in your shoes before have seen all the challenges, ups and downs this path brings. They will know best what kind of traps lie ahead. Moreover, good mentors will give priceless advice on overcoming said obstacles and teach you valuable shortcuts and tips on how to choose the best opportunities for yourself.

That alone will save you enough time and energy, instead of learning through trial and error.


While your career path can seem complex, it proves to be interesting and versatile once you begin the journey. Setting goals for yourself is good not only for getting a better position, a promotion, or switching to a higher-paying job. It’s beneficial for your personal growth as well. Career goals can make you learn more about yourself as a person. They reveal your passions, your interests, mental toughness, and your overall outlook on life.

With that being said, this journey should excite you. So, grab the proverbial bull by the horns and good luck!