Long-Term Career Goals: 10 Examples and How to Set Them

Goal-setting is an opportunity to reflect on what you want, both professionally and personally.

Written by Tammy Xu
Long-Term Career Goals: 10 Examples and How to Set Them
Image: Shutterstock / Built In
Brennan Whitfield | Apr 29, 2024

A long-term career goal is a milestone that someone spends years or even decades working toward. This can look like moving up to a managerial role, breaking into a new industry or earning a higher salary. Regardless of the specific benchmark, long-term career goals help people articulate what they want out of their careers and can influence what career paths they explore.

What Is a Long-Term Career Goal?

Long-term career goals are benchmarks that you strive to achieve in your professional life, taking anywhere from a few years to decades to complete.

What Are Long-Term Career Goals? 

Long-term career goals are objectives set to be achieved in the far future, often years into your career. They take thorough time and planning to accomplish, and tend to be made up of several short-term goals. A long-term goal can take many forms, such as getting promoted to a leadership role or publishing a book. 

Long-term career goals are meant to be flexible — they can change based on new jobs, experiences and career aspirations as employees grow. The purpose of setting long-term goals is primarily to help guide employees’ short-term plans to be realistic and reflect the work experiences they really want to pursue.


Long-Term Career Goal Examples

The best long-term goals always take into account an individual’s ambitions and interests in the current moment and use that to build forward into the future. Here are some long-term goal examples to take for inspiration.

1. Earn a Specific Job Title

One example of a long-term goal is to achieve a certain job title in the future. This often involves building up certain skills and expertise over multiple years, whether it be to take on a specialized role or a role in a completely different field than your current job.


2. Work in a Specific Company Environment 

Finding a job at a specific type of work environment you enjoy is a type of a goal that could take several years to accomplish. Some employees, for example, like to work on small teams in fast-paced environments, while others crave the formal support structures and training available at larger companies. 


3. Work Within a Specific Industry or Sector

Working within a certain industry or sector is a common long-term career goal for those still pursuing an education, and can help provide a vision for what to pursue after graduation. It can also apply to those considering a major career change.


4. Work With a Specific Technology 

Different roles work with different technologies, so setting a long-term goal to work with a specific technology often coincides with reaching a certain role. Say you want to work with quantum computers — what experiences would you need to get to that point? This goal helps determine an overall career path for how to work with a technology of choice.


5. Move From a Technical to a Non-Technical Role

If you’re currently working in a technical role and want to switch to a non-technical role — or vice versa — this can be a viable long-term goal to set. This means having to acquire new skills or even traverse a career change depending on the differences in roles. Maybe this looks like moving from being a software engineer to a visual artist, or the other way around.


6. Get a Leadership Position

After gaining experience in entry-level and mid-level positions, you may want to pursue a leadership position. Leading often involves taking on greater responsibilities and managing a team at work. Setting your sights on a future leadership position can guide what kind of roles you’d like to take on in your early career to get to that point.


7. Become a Mentor

You may want to become a mentor or teacher further into your career. Mentoring others means becoming adept enough in a designated craft or area of expertise to help them, which can take years to achieve. Becoming a mentor as a long-term goal can keep you focused on seeking out leadership opportunities throughout your career to build up mentoring skills.


8. Get a Job You’re Passionate About

The first couple of jobs you take on may not be your dream job. A long-term goal of getting a job you’re passionate about can help you map out what job experience or education you need to get to that ideal position. A job you’re passionate about can come from the work itself or be due to working at a dream company.


9. Win an Award

Winning an award serves as a testament to how far you’ve come in your career. Types of awards and their requirements will vary by the industry and specialty. Knowing what is needed to earn a certain award can let you know what work projects or achievements to strive for.


10. Retire

Retiring means your career has come to an end. Making retirement a long-term career goal can help you prepare for it early on. Traversing your career with this goal in mind can incentivize you to take on certain jobs, make desired financial moves and complete other long-term goals beforehand.

More Career Advice:Career Goals: How to Set Them and 14 Examples for Professional Success


Importance of Long-Term Career Goals

Long-term goals can fulfill a range of personal and professional needs. 

Benefits of Long-Term Career Goals

  • Provide a clear career direction.
  • Help guide what professional skills to acquire throughout a career.
  • Can encourage exploration of different roles and career paths.
  • Working toward long-term goals can improve career motivation and self-esteem.

1. Long-Term Goals Provide Career Direction

They provide a sense of direction, helping someone narrow down their focus to specific benchmarks they can strive for and attain. While reflecting on long-term goals works wonders for professionals of all backgrounds, it can have a lasting impact on those who are navigating the early years of their careers.


2. Long-Term Goals Guide What Skills to Acquire

Setting long-term goals can also give employees a chance to learn critical skills. In the fast-paced tech industry, for instance, long-term goals can motivate employees to stay on top of new technologies in order to earn a high-level technical position in the future.


3. Long-Term Goals Can Encourage Career Exploration

Long-term goal setting is an opportunity to think deeply about what you actually want from your career, rather than only a means to reach the next rung in the corporate ladder.

“Early on in my career, my short-term and long-term goals were, ‘I need to climb this corporate ladder,’” said Ravs Kaur, chief technology officer at Uplevel. “Over time, I’ve started thinking of my career as more of a skills belt. I focus more now on just getting different experiences and learning new skills.” 

Trying out different roles and responsibilities before setting a long-term goal can help people understand their strengths and weaknesses, and prevent them from pursuing paths they later realize aren’t actually what they want.


4. Long-Term Goals Can Keep You Motivated

Professionals often gain more motivation by creating long-term career goals — and receive a boost of self-esteem once they achieve them. Employers who work with employees to set long-term career goals also benefit by having a motivated employee base.

More Career Advice:Here’s How to Talk About Your Strengths In a Job Interview


Tips for setting long-term career goals. Video: Carl Pullein

How to Set Long-Term Career Goals

To set long-term career goals, professionals should begin by asking themselves what they want to achieve in their careers and how they want to go about it. 

These strategies encourage people to take advantage of both self-reflection and their support systems when planning long-term goals.

How to Set Long-Term Career Goals

  • Use goal-setting frameworks.
  • Learn from other people's long-term goals.
  • Develop a long-term vision and work backwards. 
  • Figure out the 'why' of long-term goals.
  • Discuss long-term career goals with your manager.
  • Break big goals into smaller goals.
  • Identify what successes make you happy.

1. Use Goal-Setting Frameworks

While there are plenty of frameworks for goal setting, a popular option is the SMART goals strategy:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Time-bound


2. Take Goal Ideas From Others 

If you’re not sure what kind of long-term goals to set, researching other people’s career paths can spark ideas for your own future. This can involve looking at different professional’s job titles, the companies they work for, and also the types of projects they worked on and certifications they have collected.

“That doesn’t mean you have to follow [those exact paths],” said Kyle Elliott, a software development career coach based in San Francisco, California. “But it can give you a blueprint, an idea of how they got there.”


3. Work Backwards From a Long-Term Vision

When discussing long-term goals with clients, Elliott tells them to imagine themselves well into retirement, rather than five or ten years into the future. How would that version of themselves think back on their life?

This technique helps his clients consider whether the long-term career goals they are currently pursuing feel worthwhile. It also helps people consider what they don’t want from their careers. Taking this view gives people a chance to think about how their jobs affect other areas, such as their families and their health. 


4. Determine the ‘Why’ of Achieving a Goal

Elliott emphasizes with his clients to always dig into the “why” of pursuing a long-term career goal. This can help you step back and determine if your goals are truly meaningful to you, rather than following them automatically or out of expectation.

“People often just have this idea of what they should be doing next, because that’s what career chronology looks like, when often that’s not what everyone wants or needs,” Elliott said. 


5. Brainstorm With Your Manager

Sometimes, the long-term goals you set don’t seem possible to achieve at your current company. In those cases, it’s best to talk to your managers about your long-term career goals because chances are they might be able to support you in ways you may not have considered. Managers can also help with goal accountability and make sure things are still on track.

Your company might allow employees to take time to work on passion projects or attend classes. Employees can also look for opportunities to grow outside of the office, such as volunteering or extracurriculars. 


6. Break Big Goals Into Smaller Goals

One of the most difficult aspects of long-term goal setting is that it’s hard to stay motivated over long periods of time. As such, it can also help to break big long-term goals into smaller ones to make them more manageable and see progress sooner.

Kaur said the trick is to make long-term career goals as specific as possible. A technique that worked for Elliott’s clients was separating long-term goals into short-term goals so they fit into two-week sprints, and only tackling the goals that can be accomplished within that time. 


7. Identify What Makes You Happy

It’s important to celebrate along the way to reaching your long-term career goal too. Apart from enjoying the sense of accomplishment from progressing, it can also be a good way to gauge whether your long-term goals are still right for you. If you’ve achieved something that gets you closer to your long-term goal, but don’t feel any pride or satisfaction, it may be time to recalibrate.

“It’s so important to enjoy the ride,” Elliot said, “so you don’t get to 80 years old, and then you’re like, ‘What was the point of all this if I wasn’t having fun along the way?’”

Frequently Asked Questions

An example of a long-term goal at work could be working within a specific industry or sector, like venture capital or healthcare, or working within a specific environment, like a fast-paced startup or a big-name corporation.

In a job interview, the best way to answer ‘what is your long-term career goal’ is to give an answer that aligns your desires and passions with the responsibilities of the job for which you’re applying.

Sample: My long-term career goal is to eventually manage an enterprise sales team in the biotech sector, but I know that in order to get there I first need to build upon my market knowledge and prospecting skills, which I’m excited to do in this position.

Matthew Urwin contributed reporting to this story.

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