Those two words sum up the first five years of Julie Lemieux’s professional career as a UX designer.
“For the first five or six years of my professional career in tech, it was like, ‘This is an awesome party. I get paid to be creative. How terrific is that?’” said Lemieux, vice president of product experience at Sigma, a cloud-based collaborative analytics company. “But then all of a sudden, people were getting promotions and changes were happening. I realized I couldn’t just roll with it anymore. I had a mindset shift. This wasn’t just a job. This was actually laying down the tracks of my life.”
What Are Short-Term Career Goals?
Realizing her career was something that needed to be nurtured and tended to, Lemieux established a two-year timeframe to achieve her goal of landing her first leadership role. To get there, she set short-term career goals to build her leadership skills and cross-functional experience.
It worked. Within two years, Lemieux became a UX manager and eventually became a vice president, thus surpassing her initial long-term goal to be a director.
What Are Short-Term Career Goals?
“I grew up sailing and the act of tacking allows you to move toward the desired direction,” said Aliza Carpio, technical evangelist director at Autodesk. “Short-term goals are like tacking.”
Short-term goals set up expectations they will be achieved in the near future, which could range anywhere from a day, a week, a month, a year or even several years. These short-term goals also advance your career and move you toward your long-term career goal.
18 Short-Term Career Goals
- Explore career options.
- Expand your professional network.
- Find a mentor.
- Connect ambitions to goals.
- Voice short-term and long-term goals.
- Hone written and oral communication skills.
- Build capacity and credibility.
- Gain cross-functional experience.
- Build business acumen.
- Listen and be heard.
- Get to know change management frameworks.
- Improve industry knowledge.
- Know your competitors and frenemies.
- Highlight your work.
- Update your resume and LinkedIn profile.
- Transition to a new industry or field.
- Land a promotion.
- Find a new job.
“A short-term goal should impact your day-to-day work and be easy to track and measure success,” said An Vu, chief marketing officer of Zynga’s Small Giant Games, in characterizing the traits of a short-term career goal.
For example, your short-term career goal could be to cut the average number of bugs in a software update by half. That goal is measurable and can be tracked. It would also positively affect your daily work.
Iteeah Pounds, internship and co-op program and operations manager at the Georgia Institute of Technology said these goals vary in length from achievements desired within a month to the span of a couple years.
Why Are Short-Term Career Goals Important?
Setting short-term goals is crucial even if you are not sure of which direction you want your career to move toward, said Pounds, adding one of the first short-term career goals could be to explore your career options to determine your longer-range goals.
Short-term goals also help guard against getting passed over for the opportunities you want, said B.J. Engelhardt, senior director of career services at Illinois Institute of Technology. Short-term career goals also help determine which skill sets to build upon and get you to where you want to be, he added.
“The more you achieve your short-term goals, the closer you are to your long-term goals ... The more you declare your long-term goals, the easier it is for you to determine your short-term goals.”
Other leaders in tech agree.
“Short-term goals are very helpful during your long-term journey. For me, a series of small wins generate the momentum to propel you toward a larger aim. Being successful with a few discrete and doable goals helps build confidence to continue the journey, and if you happen to not crush one or two goals, it’s totally okay,” Vu said.
Career goals are also far-reaching and should be reflected as you create your annual goals and discuss them with your manager during your one-on-one sessions, Carpio advised. By taking this step, you declare for yourself and for your team where you want to be in the not-so-distant future.
“The more you achieve your short-term goals, the closer you are to your long-term goals,” Carpio said. “The more you declare your long-term goals, the easier it is for you to determine your short-term goals.”
How to Define Short-Term Career Goals
It can be a little daunting to think about what you need to tackle in the short term to achieve your long-term career goal. But Carpio gave this advice in defining which short-term goals to pursue.
“When I coach or mentor others, I break it down into realistic, bite-size steps. Sometimes, I don’t even call them short-term goals but ask, ‘What do you want to learn that can help you in the future?’ It’s a question I ask myself and others who come to me about how to set professional goals,” she said.
Short-term goals serve as the roadmap that takes you from where you are to where you want to be. But it’s important to note there’s not a single right path to get there and that path is rarely straightforward.
“I think people can often run into decision paralysis in trying to define and prioritize the right goals. What’s more important is to actually begin putting your intentions into action — any short-term goal that moves you in the general direction of where you want to be is a viable step in your roadmap,” Vu said.
Taking action not only builds personal momentum but also unlocks new opportunities and routes that will ultimately lead to your intended destination, or perhaps even toward an option you hadn’t previously seen for yourself, she added.
When defining short-term career goals, determine which long-term goals you want to pursue but also which ones to avoid. That’s what happened to Steph Bacon, senior director of portfolio strategy at Red Hat, when he was evaluating his next step before joining the open source technology company Red Hat.
Bacon had spent a number of years as a vice president of engineering and vice president of development at other companies when he thought his next career move should be a CEO position.
“As part of my micro-goals, I actually started paying more attention to what my CEO and friends who were general managers did on a daily basis — where did they spend their time and what were they doing?” Bacon said. “After looking at what they did, I realized I wasn’t going to be passionate about that. So, I made an explicit decision that I didn’t want to pursue that path.”
How to Set Up Short-Term Career Goal for Success
Setting short-term career goals is one thing, but to accomplish them, write them down, establish an action plan, forward that plan to a friend and commit to sending them weekly progress reports is another, according to research by Gail Matthews, a psychologist and adjunct professor at the Dominican University of California in San Rafael, California.
Be Accountable When Setting Short-Term Career Goals
The research was based on a survey of 149 global participants, including entrepreneurs, educators, attorneys, bankers and employees to executives. Based on their response, participants were divided into five groups.
The first group only thought about their goals, while the second group wrote down those goals. The third group wrote down the goals and developed an action plan to achieve them. Survey participants in group four shared their action plans with a friend, while group five sent weekly progress reports to the friend who had a copy of their action plan.
After four weeks, the participants noted if they had achieved their goals.
“The positive effect of accountability was supported,” Matthews wrote. “Those who sent weekly progress reports to their friend accomplished significantly more than those who had unwritten goals, wrote their goals, formulated action commitments or sent those action commitments to a friend.”
Consider using a SMART goal format to set up your short-term goals, said Yasmin Kothari, a product lead at Asana, a work management platform for teams.
What are SMART Goals?
- S - Specific goals
- M - Measurable goals
- A - Achievable goals
- R - Relevant goals
- T - Time-based in when they are to be completed
Kothari uses Asana’s goal feature when setting her short-term career goals, writing out the tasks needed to complete the goals, setting a due date to achieve them and checking them off when they’re done. “I actually can keep myself accountable for my goals,” she said.
Visualize Your Short-Term Career Goal Set-Up
Organizing and prioritizing a number of short-term goals all at once may seem challenging, but Vu uses a workflow visualization kanban tool to map out her weekly, monthly and yearly goals.
“It helps to visualize everything,” Vu said. “Prioritizing from easiest to hardest often helps with deciding what to tackle first, unless there are deadlines, then you can plan your tasks according to schedule.”
Set Career Goals Through Journaling
Frequently recording your thoughts in a journal is one way to set career goals, said Amber Roberson, vice president of sales at 3D printing manufacturer Carbon, who journals frequently. Every year, around her birthday, Roberson takes a moment to reflect on the past year’s events. She reads through her journal to understand what happened and uses that information to make sure she’s still on track with her short-term goals, which in turn will help her to the next level.
Roberson didn’t always review her journal every year and now realizes that several times she stayed in a particular area longer than she should have. “But I didn’t recognize it when I was in the moment,” Roberson said.
When journaling, note if you’re having fun while you’re chasing your goals. Two months after setting goals, people who enjoyed pursuing their goal were more apt to continue that pursuit, reports the Harvard Business Review.
Overall, as you set short-term goals, remember that life is unpredictable, said Sarah Sikowitz, director of career education and coaching at Harvard Business School’s Career and Professional Development department.
“We often get asked by our students and alumni, ‘I want to be X in 25 years, what are the exact steps that I should take to get there?’ It’s impossible to reverse engineer your career,” Sikowitz said. “You can’t know where life will take you.”
18 Examples of Short-Term Career Goals
Sikowitz makes a good point. Because that mythical crystal ball hasn’t been invented yet, nobody is sure of what’s going to happen tomorrow, let alone years from now. Still, you can try to plan for your future by setting short-term career goals. Wondering where to start? Executives, hiring managers, team leads from half a dozen tech companies ranging from Autodesk to Zynga, and university career experts offer this advice for developing short-term career goals.
Explore Career Options
“Your first goal might be just to figure out what it is that you want to do for your career. You should reflect on what you’ve done up until this point, what are your likes and dislikes and you should talk to other people who are in the roles or industries you are interested in.” — Iteeah Pounds, Georgia Tech
Expand Your Professional Network
“Networking builds up your connections, which in turn may yield a resource for potential mentors, and people who you can job shadow or do informational interviews with to explore career options, as well as to bounce ideas off of to formulate short term goals. Joining professional trade groups can help you expand your network, as well as committing to meeting six new people within the next six months.” — Iteeah Pounds, Georgia Tech
Find a Mentor
“Identify two or three people who exhibit exactly the thing that your long-term goal represents who could be your mentor. When you talk to that person, it’s really important to ask them for very tactical tips. You can say ‘I’m specifically interested in your expertise or skill in X,Y or Z. Can you tell me when you were starting out on this journey, what were a couple of things that you did early on that helped you get where you are today?’ Make your questions really tactical and specific so the person can give you the right tips.” — Yasmin Kothari, Asana
Connect Ambitions to Goals
“When I think about why some of my short-term goals fail, it is because they don’t connect adequately to my current or future ambitions. For example, I had a very good idea at the time to learn programming every day for 30 minutes or so. In theory, I work in tech and it would be helpful to know a bit of programming. However, it was very hard to stick to and practice because it was not that necessary for my role. To help align short-term goals with your current and future ambitions, I suggest finding a good mentor or manager who can help you clarify what skills you should hone or develop for a promotion or advancement.” — An Vu, Zynga’s Small Giant Games
Voice short-term and long-term goals
“When you voice your goals, you’d be surprised with what will come to you when you actually vocalize what your intentions are. When I was at GE, one of my goals was to be part of the company’s mentor program. I didn’t come up through the program and they typically selected people who had already been in the program to be mentors. When my boss came up to me and asked if I wanted to be part of the program, I said, ‘Oh, my gosh, that would be a wonderful thing.’ He said, ‘remember, you mentioned this to me a year ago.’ I’m like, you’re right, I did.” — Amber Roberson, Carbon
Hone Written and Oral Communication Skills
“When I was an engineer, I realized that delivering my work product on time wasn’t enough to get to the next level. I saw that having a good command of the written and spoken word was something I had to practice and master. English is not my first or second language and in college, when you major in a STEM field, practicing communication skills wasn’t what got you the ‘A.’ But, once you are working with business partners and peers, having awesome communication skills differentiates you from others. In the beginning, I watched a lot of TED talks and tutorials on YouTube. I created a framework for how good storytellers and online instructors communicated, which I use today and share with others.” — Aliza Carpio, Autodesk
Build Capacity and Credibility
“I worked at a mobile game startup where I quickly moved up from intern to marketing manager. During my three years at this startup, I took on as many responsibilities as I could manage and made the effort to become proficient until I could build my professional capacity. Establishing my ability to accomplish basic tasks inspired confidence in others to provide more opportunities for me to engage meaningfully in the work. The short-term goals were learning experiences that built my capacity and established my credibility among peers which led to greater opportunities.” — An Vu, Zynga’s Small Giant Games
Gain Cross-Functional Experience
“During the first five years of my career, I had great responsibilities as an individual contributor but no leadership experience. So as a way to gain that, I took on small projects that had touchpoints cross-functionally. You start to build a coalition of people around you who will support your ideas and promote them and also lend their skills and time to advance the goals that you have laid out.” — Julie Lemieux, Sigma
Build Business Acumen
“Shifting from engineering to product was a big deal because I didn’t have the traditional business or finance background or competency like so many other product managers. I had to invest time and effort in learning about business models, financial mechanics and metrics, stakeholder management and research methodologies. I took online business courses and went to a local community college to learn basic finance. I also immersed myself in design thinking practice, which allowed me to become a design thinking coach for startups and use this practice in my daily work.” — Aliza Carpio, Autodesk
Listen and Be Heard
“I’m new at Carbon and I have so much to learn. As a short-term goal, I want to learn more and understand from my colleagues who have been here and been around the block a few times, what works and what didn’t. If we can take that information and then apply it, it would ultimately hit one of my long-term goals, which is to grow Carbon.” — Amber Roberson, Carbon
Get to Know Change Management Frameworks
“My role as tech evangelist is all about being a change agent. So much of my work is about changing behaviors – from creating moments where we celebrate technologists and technologies to collaborating in the code via inner source practice. At the heart of this kind of work is change management. I’ve read and taken some courses about change management. Today, my favorite framework is still the one from the Heath brothers, which is outlined in their book Switch: How To Change Things When Change Is Hard. Having a change model that you can employ in your initiatives is a great tool for anyone who leads via influence or a new movement. I refer to the ‘Switch’ model when I provide context for my work and explain why my team takes a specific path.” — Aliza Carpio, Autodesk
Improve Industry Knowledge
“When I started at Asana, I knew that I really wanted to become an expert in the productivity tools space and an expert in the problems our enterprise users face. My teams are ultimately responsible for a lot of the retention and engagement of enterprise users. So, in the first few months, I made a short-term career goal to listen to at least one customer call in this space per week and at least one enterprise customer call per week. I also made it a goal to read through 10 random Net Promoter Score survey responses a week. Making that measurable and doable goal very early on was really helpful for me to understand the user and be very attuned to their needs and hear it from their own mouths. These short-term goals help my longer-term goal to become one of the world’s foremost experts and thinkers on how we can solve productivity problems for enterprise clients, organizations and teams.” — Yasmin Kothari, Asana
Know Your Competitor and Frenemies
“I try to stay attuned as much as possible to productivity tools by our competitors and also non-direct competitors. I want to make sure that I understand what is out there. What are people innovating? Where can I find inspiration from other tools that are out there? Where are trends heading?” — Yasmin Kothari, Asana
Highlight Your Work
“I was asked to generate viral ideas every month and was brought in to help optimize the open rate for email marketing. With each undertaking, I made an effort to show my work by creating KPI reports and established my voice by taking every opportunity to be a part of conversations related to marketing campaigns.” — An Vu, Zynga’s Small Giant Games
Update Resume and LinkedIn Profile
“Make sure your resume and LinkedIn profile are updated and ready to go. This way, when you want to connect with people who are in an area that you want to further explore they will want to connect with you. They can see that you know what you’re looking for.” — Iteeah Pounds, Georgia Tech
Transition to a New Industry or Field
“I was in G.E. Healthcare and I wanted to make the transition to G.E. Aviation. I was really interested in some of the technologies that were coming out of aviation and was doing a lot of interesting things in digital aviation and 3D printing. I started networking with people in that particular business unit who were in my area of sales. Lo and behold, the networking that initially was self-serving actually ended up being very beneficial to my current business unit and we found all these amazing synergies that we weren’t exploring.” — Amber Roberson, Carbon
Land a Promotion
“Getting a promotion is a very common short-term goal, where you say I want to be promoted into the role above me. If that’s your short-term goal, you need to figure out what you need to do to get promoted into that role, whether it’s through an annual performance review, your own volition, and set goals for yourself to achieve that promotion and record what you’re doing to service those goals you’ve set for yourself.” — Sarah Sikowitz, Harvard Business School.
Find a New Job
“If your short-term career goal is to do a major jump in your role, more times than not it’s actually easier to leave a company and go somewhere else to do that. If you think about it, if you’re doing very well where you are working, sometimes you’re kind of typecast and thought of for a certain level. I was a director at one company and wanted to be a vice president of engineering. Sometimes it’s easier to sell yourself somewhere else. A recruiter contacted me on behalf of the CEO at Interleaf and I became a VP of development.” — Steph Bacon, Red Hat
Avoid Second Guessing Your Short-Term Goals
“When you set short-term, or even long-term, goals, it is personal and not binary – there is no right goal or wrong goal. You cannot compare your goals with others because your journey is yours, as their journeys are theirs,” Carpio said. “It’s about investing in you and allowing your goals to be as unique as you are. It also means trusting yourself and that everything you invest in will lead you on the path you designed.”
Fight fears that you may not reach your short-term goals, Kothari said, suggesting instead to consider your short-term career goals as experiments, rather than goals.
“It’s about investing in you and allowing your goals to be as unique as you are. It also means trusting yourself and that everything you invest in will lead you on the path you designed.”
“It’s really important for people to take an experimentation mindset when thinking of their growth,” Kothari said.
That means trying things out in small steps, then evaluating, learning what doesn’t work, and then iterating. “When you phrase it as an experiment, at least for me, it unlocks and empowers me not to have a fear of failure and make those short-term goals,” she said.