5 Easy Steps to Defining Your Career Goals [Advice]


What are your career goals? What do you want to accomplish in your career? If you can’t answer these questions, read this guide to defining your career goals.

We all have goals. We all want to be better, do better, change something about ourselves, or improve upon some area of our lives.

But until we define the steps to reaching those goals, they’re nothing but mere aspirations.

Aspirations only become goals when there’s a plan in place to reach them.

And that’s why defining your career goals is so important. You might know the kind of job you want to do, but if you don’t have a clear goal in mind, you’ll never get there.

Ready to map out your professional plan? Here’s our five-step guide to defining your career goals.

Identify Your Dream Job

Start by asking yourself one question:

What’s my dream job?

Think about the job that you’d love to have — the one that would fulfill you for life and allow you to earn the amount of money you want to make. What is that job?

The dream job is your ultimate goal. Once you know what that is, work backwards and identify the steps you need to take to get that job.

Let’s say your dream is to become a brain surgeon. You’ll need to go through years of schooling, but there’s more to it than that. Think backwards and create a roadmap of all the little things you’ll need to do along the way.

For example:

Before I can secure a full-time position as a neurosurgeon I’ll need to:

  • Get my board certification
  • Get my medical license
  • Complete my residency
  • Graduate from medical school
  • Get accepted to medical school
  • Get my bachelor’s degree
  • Enroll in college

Your list may look different than this. Don’t be afraid to get detailed and list the dozens of things you’ll need to do to land your dream career.

Create Short-Term Goals

Success won’t happen overnight. Once you’ve created your roadmap, look at every item on your list as a short-term goal to achieve on your way to the top. Break your list down into as many short-term objectives as needed.

Depending on what you want to do and what point you’re starting from, it might take two steps or ten steps to get there.

The next step is to assign an action to each objective. If one of your short-term goals is to get accepted to medical school, the corresponding action will be to apply to medical schools.

If your dream job is to own a restaurant, one of your objectives should be to learn how to cook. The action for that goal might be to enroll in a culinary arts program or get a job in a kitchen.

Having a list of necessary steps isn’t enough. With a task assigned to each step on your list, you’ll know exactly what you need to do as you work toward your big goal.

Set Measurable Goals

Just as you should assign an action to every goal, you should assign a deadline to each one as well. That’s the best way to measure your success. It’s also the best way to keep yourself on a strict timeline.

If one step in your action plan is to graduate college, make it more specific. Decide that you want to graduate college by 2024. If one step is to find a new job, redefine it as “Find a new job by this summer.”

Think about where you are now, where you want to be, and when you want to be there. You’ll need to be accountable to yourself, so set firm guidelines and stick to them.

You’re the only one who can define your career goals and map the path to achieving them. Be diligent, maintain focus, and do whatever it takes to meet your objectives on time. No one else will be able to do it for you.

Be Realistic

It’s great to have goals, but it’s even better to have realistic ones. The fact is, not everyone is in a position, physically or financially, to get their dream job.

Let’s say you want to be a curator at the Louvre. That won’t be possible if you live in Iowa. You’ll need to move to Paris.

Want to be a rock star? If you don’t know how to sing or play an instrument, that’s not likely.

Aspire to be a high-profile defense attorney or a Supreme Court Justice? You’ll have to pay for law school first. If you’re an outstanding student, you might be able to get grants or scholarships, but if you’re a C student, that won’t happen. You’ll need to decide if you’re able and willing to pay for it yourself.

Don’t set yourself up for failure. Be realistic in your expectations of what you can achieve. Know your capabilities and be honest with yourself when thinking about how long it will take to reach your goals.

It’s great to dream big, but goals aren’t dreams. Dreams are figments of the imagination, while goals are something you actually have control over.

Put Your Plan Into Action

With your short-term goals and overarching goal defined, it’s time to start working toward them.

Start NOW.

Every day that you delay is one day longer that it will take you to reach your goal.

And remember, if you stumble along the way, that’s perfectly okay. Your goals are yours. You can always shift them to align with your skills and capabilities as you go.


Ready to identify your goals and start building the life you’ve always wanted? Whether you’re interested in business, medicine, the arts, or something else, here’s what you need to do to define your career goals:

  • Identify your dream job
  • Make a list of short-term goals that will put you on the right path
  • Make your goals measurable by assigning each one an action and a deadline
  • Be realistic about your limitations; create goals that you can actually reach
  • Put your plan into action and start immediately

Now that you know how to define your career goals, it’s time to get started! Successful people don’t procrastinate, and neither should you.

Author bio:

Aaron Hunt is the property manager for Prime Place KSU. He can be reached by email at lincoln@myprimeplace.com or by call or text at 402-858-2858.