How to Set Short-Term Goals to Boost Career Growth

Creating short-term goals for yourself is key to taking charge of your career. Here’s how to set ones that are realistic, manageable and achievable.
Sunny Betz
March 30, 2021
Updated: May 24, 2021
Sunny Betz
March 30, 2021
Updated: May 24, 2021

Do you have a vision of where you’ll be in 10 years or is it a little blurry? Getting where you want to go in your career means setting realistic, achievable short-term goals.

That’s easier said than done.

It’s natural to daydream about a future job — maybe you picture yourself managing a team of software engineers at fintech startup or wondering how you can work your way up to CTO. But it’s much more challenging to set, and stick to, small goals that can get you to those dreams.

“You need to get clear about your goal,” said Steve Polacek, design expert and cofounder of mobile app development company Eight Bit Studios. “That might take some inner work, but you don’t want to just start doing stuff without knowing where you’re headed.”

How to Set Realistic Short-Term Career Goals

  • Don’t set a goal to grow your professional network in a year.
  • Do commit to networking with two new people in your field each month.
  • Don’t keep your goals to yourself.
  • Do let others in on your progress and ask for feedback.
  • Don’t set vague goals that lack a concrete vision.
  • Do create a vision board to keep you motivated.

Reaching the next step is rewarding and provides a sense of accomplishment. Even if you don’t hit the benchmark, know that it’s another data point on your journey. It’ll show you where you might need to improve and what to focus on in the next month.

 

Get It Down on Paper

Close out of the Notes app on your phone. Don’t open another Google doc. Put away the screens. Instead, break out the pen and paper when you sit down to plan out your short-term goals.

“You can’t hit a fuzzy target,” Polacek said.

If words aren’t working, there are plenty of other options. Polacek suggests creating a mood board or drawing out a roadmap. It can be just as valuable to plan each step as it is to envision what it’ll feel like to achieve them. What’s most important is that you create a visual or list to get goals out of your head, Polacek said.

“The more clear you are about what you want, the better your chances are to get there.”

It can be just as valuable to plan each step as it is to envision what it’ll feel like to achieve them.”

Chelsea Mitchell is a fan of vision boards as well and she uses them to maintain focus while working through labor-intensive tasks. As a senior process director for Ascent Global Logistics, her job revolves around the planning and execution of complex, company-wide projects, such as go-to-market messaging and website optimization.

“A vision board really helps you keep your goals at the front of your mind at all times,” she said. Stick an affirmation on the wall above your computer and put a list of goals within your sightline (maybe even as your phone background). “That kind of subliminal messaging for yourself can really help,” she said.

 

Consider How You Work Best

Finding out what motivates you can be an effective tool as you develop your short-term goals. Are you someone who thrives on recognition? Or is it more satisfying to get detailed feedback? Do you enjoy earning more responsibility? Knowing the answer to these questions can clarify how to frame goals in a way that works for your style. Personality tests such as the Enneagram Test and the Myers-Briggs profile test provide insight into your personal strengths, weaknesses and tendencies.

If you’re setting goals that don’t suit your organizational or learning styles, you’ll only wind up feeling discouraged.”

“It’s hard to start the process, but once you do, you can pay more attention to how you’re feeling and be more present,” Polacek said. Learning about yourself on this level means you’ll be able to see what skills you need to build which can make your short-term goals more effective. If you’re setting goals that don’t suit your organizational and learning styles, you’ll only wind up feeling discouraged.

“I think self awareness is key. It ultimately comes down to a person doing the work to be self aware and understand what they bring into situations,” Polacek said. “You have to understand your personality traits, but also be willing to create opportunities to experiment, try new things and get outside of your comfort zone.”

More Career AdviceDon’t Panic. Here’s How to Answer Tough Interview Questions.

 

Strategize Your Path

Set short-term goals that are connected to your big picture. Let’s say you have an idea that’s inspired you to start your own company or you want to conquer a new programming language. Take stock of what skills you have to get you there and what you could be missing. Are there people doing what you want to be? Take a look at the steps they took and see what might apply to your own journey.

Set short-term goals that are connected to your big picture.”

Try scanning open roles from top-tier companies to find out what experience might be required for your dream job. If your aim is to land a manager role in the next three years, do some reading on what technical skills leadership positions demand. Need to learn a suite of social media tools or gain fluency in Python? Find courses to help you hit those goals.

 

Set Strong Metrics

If your goals don’t already have strict deadlines, Polacek urges you to set them for yourself — and to stick with them. “Ultimately, if I have a deadline, and I know I’m gonna have to show something to someone by that deadline, that tends to get me into motion,” he said.

Give structure to your goals and celebrate when you reach the finish line (or recalibrate if you need to).”

Hold yourself accountable to the deadlines you set and track your progress. Mitchell recommends the book The 12 Week Year, which outlines how splitting your annual goals into week-long increments can keep you motivated and make it easier to check accomplishments off your to-do list. “It helps to structure small- to mid-sized goals into really condensed time periods,” Mitchell shared.

Give structure to your goals and celebrate when you reach the finish line (or recalibrate if thats needed).

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Involve Others

Your successes and failures are valuable moments — especially if you share both of them. It can be helpful to get another perspective because it’s easy to get bogged down by the details and miss the whole picture.

Accepting advice from others around you can clarify goals and fine tune them to match your abilities.”

Get outside your bubble and ask for feedback from peers on different teams, Polacek said. “Having people who will root for you, and who maybe see something in you that you don’t see in yourself, is one of the pieces you need to have in the mix,” he said. Accepting advice from others around you can clarify goals and fine tune them to match your abilities.

“Having a supportive community is really important. You should surround yourself with people who believe in you and want to see your future visions come to life,” Mitchell said. Whether it’s through formal mentorship programs, discussions with managers or more casual peer-to-peer check ins, you should let other people in on your goals so that they can hold you accountable, hype you up, and inspire you to grow. “If you have a good connection with people you can bounce ideas off, it will help encourage you to take your next steps.”

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