Career planning isn’t what it used to be. The modern worker changes their profession on average between five and seven times, making it almost impossible to predict a person’s trajectory over the next five to 10 years. Conditions are in constant flux. As markets invent new positions, like CDO, they also eliminate others that have become redundant or obsolete—like switchboard operators.
If you’re considering changing career directions, the first thing you should do is outline a strategy for the upcoming year. Here’s a step-by-step guide for creating a long-term career goal and a few tips on how to ensure your success.
How to Set a 12-Month Goal in 3 Steps
During the first phase, think about what exactly you want to achieve. Consider how your professional choices will affect your lifestyle—for example, your financial standing, work-life balance, mandatory business travel, and daily social interactions.
Then try to untangle why this plan is important to you. Are you motivated by internal or external drivers? Could anything change that would cause you to question or regret your decision? Examine your priorities and motivations before going any further.
In 1981, consultant and business leader George Doran introduced a goal-setting mindset called S.M.A.R.T. He suggested business managers should create goals that are:
Specific: Be specific about what you want to achieve. The goal should be able to answer why, when, where, who, and how questions.
Measurable: How are you going to measure your progress? Your goal will feel tangible and less abstract when you develop a way to track key performance indicators. Break down the overall goal into specific milestones and create deadlines.
Achievable: Think about how to make your goal achievable. What parameters limit your impact? Can you access all the required resources, for example, or do you need to acquire new skills? If you can’t meet your goal within 12 months, analyze the benefits and cost and decide if you should adjust your timeline or your expectations.
Relevant: Focus on ideas that speak to the big picture. How is your goal relevant to your career, company, industry, and overall happiness? How will it give you a sense of purpose? You also need to consider if your career goals make sense within the context of the current market and regulations. For example, do you still want to pursue a board advisory position if more states adopt labor laws like AB-5?
Timely: It’s not enough just to set deadlines—the timing has to be realistic, too. Think about your milestones and how long it will take to progress through each stage. Does your plan account for delays and seasonal changes? Do you anticipate occasional drops in productivity (for example, over a holiday)? Schedule milestones according to these conditions.
After you’ve defined your goals and examined your motivations, the last step is to develop a plan. This proposal needs to be actionable and explain step-by-step how to complete the goal in chronological order.
Write the outline by hand to engage both the left and right hemispheres of your brain and boost creative problem-solving. The simple act of putting pen to paper can force new perspective and focus.
Use the following suggestions to stay on track after you begin working on a goal that will take 12 months or longer to complete.
1. Stay vigilant.
The follow-through is the hardest part. No matter how you feel, believe that things will get better and keep up your momentum.
2. Be flexible.
Life is filled with choices, and your priorities and motivations will evolve over time. It’s okay to change your plans to suit your needs today. Adapt when it’s needed, and try to view your overall career trajectory as a series of improvements, not steppingstones to a static outcome.
3. Take what’s given.
Whether you use Google Calendar, Excel spreadsheets, or a paper checklist, there are lots of tools at your disposal to stay on track. Set up reminders and notifications on your phone or work computer for every milestone.
4. Work together.
If possible, share your plan with a fellow team member or colleague. Ask for their input and listen to their opinions. They could uncover traps you’d otherwise miss.
Just like having a “gym buddy,” telling someone else about your goal also creates a chain of accountability. When you go public with your goals, you’re more likely to stick with them.
5. Celebrate small successes.
One year is a long road. To stay motivated, reward yourself for incremental wins along the way. When you celebrate your achievements, it reinforces your commitment.
6. Embrace the hustle.
Too much stress can paralyze you, but it can also be a good motivator. It pushes you to finish the project that’s due in two days; it compels you to pick up the phone and answer for your report. Let yourself dream big but be kind to yourself too. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither will your career.
Set achievable goals by working one-on-one with a career coach.