The Power of Goal Setting

Goal setting? Right now? It’s understandable that some may see goal setting as a fruitless effort considering how out of control circumstances seem to be at the moment.

person with laptop sitting on hardwood floor

That said, particularly in times of uncertainty, goal setting can help to reduce stress as well as regain a sense of control and normalcy.

Like many aspects of life, career development is an ongoing process that involves planning and goal setting throughout. Knowing where you are in your career development process and creating a plan for how to move forward, including setting goals, can be empowering.

Let’s go through four steps to get started:

1. Start with Your Why

Before jumping into goal setting and planning, it’s important to consider the big picture. As tempting as it is to skip this step, it is an essential part of the process!
Start by asking yourself questions like:

  • What problems do I want to solve or contribute to solving in my career?
  • Why is this important to me?
  • What impact do I want to have through my work?
  • How would having this impact make me feel?
  • What role do I want work to play in my life?
  • Where would I like to be in 5 years? 10 years?

For many, writing this information down is a powerful exercise, so I’d encourage you to capture it. You may choose to do this through a visual representation (be creative!), in a journal, or any other method through which you can reflect back for motivation.

2. Assess Your Current Situation

Consider where you are right now.

  • How challenging or easy was it for you to answer the questions related to your why? If it was challenging, might you benefit from additional self-awareness activities and/or from working with a career adviser?
  • What information do you have related to your why?
  • Do you have a sense of what industries, roles, and/or organizations align well with your values and the work you want to do? If not, this may be a great time to conduct some research and career options exploration.
  • Are you aware of career options and possess solid self-awareness, but feel hampered by the decision-making process or execution phase of your career plan?

Enhancing self-awareness, exploring career options, and working through decisions are perfectly sound goals! You do not need to have a specific job in mind to benefit from goal setting and planning. Consider your why and what information you have related to that right now. Then consider what goals would be valuable to set at this point in time.

3. Set Different Types of Goals

When we read or hear about goal setting, it’s common to immediately think of outcome goals. In other words, we often jump to, “What will be the end result of all of my efforts?” While outcome goals are valuable, there are other types of goals that are incredibly important to establish and keep in mind. Below are some short descriptions and examples:

Outcome Goals

An outcome goal is focused on the big picture. It reflects what you want to attain or achieve and may involve factors that are beyond your control.
Example: Obtain a job or internship with one of my ten preferred organizations. 

Learning Goals

Learning goals are considered areas of growth that contribute to your outcome goal (Locke & Latham 2006).
Example: Network effectively with people working in my ten preferred organizations. 

Process Goals

Process goals are the actions and routines that become the plan for meeting the learning goals. You will typically have greater control over process goals and learning goals.
Example: Make three new connections through social media or in-person events per month.

As you can see, it’s important to think about goals beyond the outcome goal. Especially at a time when outcomes may be less within our control, keeping attention on process and learning goals can be much more motivating and energizing. Plus, even if you don’t achieve your outcome goal, you’ll gain something (skills, knowledge) through process and learning goals.

Once you’ve chosen a worthwhile long-term (outcome) goal, consider what short-term (learning) goals you need to focus on to achieve the outcome. Then, determine what actions (process goals) you need to take to improve your priority areas. Remember to write your goals down or capture this information somehow.

4. Staying on Track

It’s easy to get discouraged if we feel as though we aren’t making progress quickly enough or in the way we imagined. While it’s a good idea to monitor success when working towards your goals, it’s important to stay flexible, too.

Your goals will become your GPS for your future. If you veer off course, that’s okay. Be kind to yourself and observe why you’re deviating from your current course of action. Then, simply recalculate and return to your desired route! It’s not uncommon for goals and plans to change. New experiences and life events can reshape how we define our purpose. Keep an open mind, accept that change is inevitable, and take time to reflect on how experiences are influencing your next steps.

As with all aspects of the career development process, goal setting takes intentionality as well as ongoing reflection and effort. Schedule check-in moments with yourself to review how you are progressing towards your goals. As always, the Career Center is here to support you throughout your career development process, so please connect with us for assistance at any point. For more information on goal setting, please see Professional Goal Setting Guide!