How to Set Short-Term Career Goals
Updated 5 November 2020
A successful career starts with a well thought out career plan. A roadmap that charts the journey from where you are to where you see yourself in the future.
Part of this plan should be a set of short-term career goals, and in this article, we’ll look at the role these goals play, discuss some short-term career goals examples, and offer tips on how to set and achieve your own.
What Are Short-Term Career Goals?
Short-term career goals are small professional objectives set by an individual to help them achieve their wider career aspirations.
Unlike long-term career goals, which tend to look years ahead, short term goals focus on the near future and are typically achievable within days, weeks or months.
Though our definition of short-term career goals positions them as professional objectives, the actions taken to accomplish them are often personal; for example, building on workplace relationships or attaining further qualifications.
Some may be one-off tasks that take no more than a few hours, whereas others will be ongoing commitments that take several months to accomplish.
Whatever your line of work or hopes for the future, short-term career goals are realistic, relevant milestones that help you move forward.
Why Is It Important to Have Short-Term Career Goals?
Short-term goals are one of the most beneficial career strategies. They are the stepping stones between where you currently stand and where you hope to end up.
Without them, your end goal is likely to become no more than a pipe dream.
Provided your short-term goals are chosen strategically, they can help you to:
Break down overwhelming objectives into small, bite-sized tasks that are easier to manage.
Maintain motivation as you tick each goal off your list and move closer to your long-term aspirations.
Reassess expectations and priorities as your working and personal lives shift.
Keep you grounded and focused on the tasks at hand, instead of losing yourself in the bigger picture.
Demonstrate to those around you that you are committed to a successful career and willing to go the extra mile to make things happen.
Whether you’re a student in the early stages of career exploration or an established professional, continually setting and working towards short-term career goals should be a top priority.
10 Examples of Short-Term Career Goals
The following list of short-term career goals offers a starting point from which to develop your own objectives. Some are achievable within a matter of hours, whilst others require ongoing attention.
1. Arrive Early and Structure Your Day
One of the simplest and most achievable short-term career goals, good timekeeping can have a major impact on your long-term career prospects.
Regardless of whether you’re working remotely or out of an office, arriving at your desk just 10 to 15 minutes early gives you time to take stock and plan your day effectively.
This boosts productivity and leads to an increased sense of accomplishment, which can be a powerful motivator in itself.
Not only that, it paints a picture of a dedicated employee, committed to both their role and wider company objectives.
2. Set and Measure Personal Targets
Whatever your line of work, there will be a set of key metrics integral to your role.
These could be financial targets, customer satisfaction rates or project deadlines.
In many cases, these will be set by your employer, but one of the most beneficial short-term career goals is to work towards personal targets that go beyond expectations.
Setting these goals and measuring your performance has several benefits. It drives you to be better at what you do, demonstrates self-motivation and sets you apart from coworkers only achieving the minimum. It also gives you supporting evidence when seeking a promotion or pay rise.
If one of your long-term goals is to advance your career at a new company, your personal target statistics are highly valuable when answering interview questions on commitment to career.
3. Organize Your Working Environment
Tidying your desk might not seem like the most beneficial of short-term career goals, but clutter is a distraction, and a disorganized workspace means more time spent looking for what you need.
To meet long-term objectives, you need to be productive in the here and now and productivity is best achieved in a well-structured, organized work environment.
It’s not just your physical desk either. It’s also wise to apply organizational skills in a digital context, storing and archiving emails regularly, tidying your desktop display and implementing a smart digital filing system.
4. Grow Your Professional Network
Some of the best opportunities can come from people you’ve met throughout your career, so a great short-term goal is to extend your professional network.
Start with those closest to you and make a point of interacting with coworkers outside your immediate team. Their own position might not seem relevant to your career, but you never know where your next life-changing introduction might come from.
If your company regularly attends conferences or events, ask to be involved, as these occasions often present valuable networking opportunities.
5. Find an Effective Work-Life Balance
Whatever your career aspirations, it’s important that your professional commitments don’t become all consuming. This can be detrimental to your well-being, lead to burnout and, in some cases, lessen the passion you hold for your line of work.
With that in mind, a good short-term career goal is to find a healthy work-life balance, one that allows you time to develop and progress without negatively impacting your health, mindset or personal life.
It can be easier said than done, particularly if you’re aiming for the top of your career ladder, but a few simple steps like taking regular breaks, learning when to switch off and maintaining open lines of communication with your managers can be hugely beneficial.
6. Improve Your Technical Skills
Strong technical skills make you a more well-rounded employee, so are a great area to focus on for short-term career goals.
Digital innovation and software development are continual in almost every line of work, and those that stay up to date with current and emerging technologies are far more likely to achieve quicker career progression.
There are plenty of online resources and instructional videos that can help advance your technical know-how, many of them free to access; but more often than not, the best way to develop this skill set is to get hands on and experiment with the technology in question.
You could also consider a short-term goal of researching alternative solutions to the technologies your company already uses.
In doing so, you may streamline processes, improve performance and lower costs. That’s a win for your employer, and subsequently, a win for your career prospects.
7. Pursue a New Qualification
There are plenty of opportunities available to those looking to gain additional qualifications, from a mini-MBA to short, certified online courses relevant to your field.
This short-term career goal requires dedication and an additional time commitment, unless your employer permits you to study during work hours; however, it could be the difference between securing that promotion, or narrowly missing out.
Personal development through further study can also highlight areas of interest you hadn’t previously explored, widening your horizons and opening up potential new career paths.
It also demonstrates to employers, whether current or future, that you are willing to work hard to get where you want to be.
8. Focus on Interpersonal Skills
You may be the most qualified candidate for a job opening, but if you’re unable to demonstrate strong interpersonal skills, you could well be overlooked in favor of someone who can.
Confidence, body language, effective communication and collaboration are all key qualities that employers look for, so if you feel like this is an area you fall down in, make it a short-term career goal to improve.
If you’re an introverted personality, it’s not always easy to develop these skills, but successful career progression almost always involves stepping outside of your comfort zone.
Get involved in after-hours work activities, take classes in public speaking, practice yoga for improved posture that signifies self-confidence – whatever you can do to improve key interpersonal skills is likely to be of huge benefit in the long run.
9. Read Around Your Industry
Understanding the industry you’re in from a broad, well-informed perspective is of value to you, your employer and your career prospects, and if you’re passionate about what you do, this short-term goal should be one of the most enjoyable.
Subscribe to blog feeds and industry publications, access whitepapers, follow hashtags, read the business pages of national newspapers – there are countless ways to educate yourself on current industry issues, innovations and events.
Armed with this knowledge, you can bring new ideas to the table, keep abreast of any potential opportunities, and impress hiring managers with your industry insight.
10. Polish Your Resume
The last on our list of short-term career goals is a simple suggestion, but one that’s often overlooked.
Updating your resume with your latest experience and making sure it mirrors where you’re at in your career is an easy task, but it’s a highly valuable one.
Your dream job could become available tomorrow, and if you’re not fully prepared to apply, that’s an opportunity missed.
Of course, it’s important to tailor your resume for each job application, but having a well-structured, up-to-date blueprint makes short work of an often laborious task.
How to Set and Achieve Short-Term Career Goals (Key Steps)
Effective short-term career goals are those that tie in with your long-term plans, so start by asking yourself the common interview question, 'Where do you see yourself in five years?'
Once you’ve established this long-term vision, work backward to identify actions that will help you get there, and use the following tips to define and reach your short-term goals:
Take the SMART Approach
Your short-term career goals should be:
Specific – Vague goals are of little to no use. Narrow your objectives down into focused, succinct sentences of no more than a few words.
Measurable – For each goal, find a way to quantify it and track your progress.
Attainable – You need to be sure that you have the skills, time and resources to achieve your goals within the desired timeframe.
Realistic – Don’t set your sights too high. It’s good to be ambitious, but your short-term goals should be fixed in your immediate reality.
Timely – Assign deadlines to each goal and check-in at regular intervals to keep moving forward.
Make Them Visible
Reminding yourself of what your goals are is the best way to keep on track, so find a way to make them constantly visible.
This could be writing them down and pinning them up somewhere prominent, like the refrigerator door, or plotting them out on a wall chart next to your desk.
It’s easy to let things fall by the wayside when only you are aware of what you’re trying to achieve.
Keeping family, coworkers and managers in the loop with your short-term career goals gives you more motivation to reach them.
If a particular goal doesn’t work out or becomes too much to handle, reassess your situation.
Look at our article on career planning tips to help you redefine your objectives and develop more manageable short-term goals.
Short-term career goals are a vital part of both personal and professional development. They are the small objectives that help you work towards your ambitions.
The key thing to remember when setting them is that they must have a purpose in the wider picture and be a part of a bigger plan that ultimately leads to a happier, more fulfilled and rewarding lifestyle.