THE ULTIMATE GUIDE

How to Manage Your Career Goals

It’s easy to let the days slip by without actively trying to improve your career. If you want true career growth, you need to take charge and manage your career goals. This guide teaches you how to adopt an active mindset and take responsibility for where you want to be in your career. 

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To some, a job is just a job. To others, a job is an integral block to building a career. If you are in the latter camp, you may be looking for ways to advance your career goals without really knowing where to start. Perhaps you feel like you’ve been stagnating and not really getting the results from your career that you want.

There’s a lot to consider when managing your career. Your goals, industry, personal life, and a host of other factors can determine what kind of work life you have. But the good news is, how you manage your career is up to you. There are many decisions about your career that you have control over.

Let’s take a look at how to take ownership of your career and start building the work life you’ve always wanted.

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Chapter 1

How to Manage Your Career

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Chapter 2

Professional Development

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Chapter 3

How to Advance Your Career

Chapter 1:

How to Manage Your Career

Managing your career is an intentional choice to actively make decisions regarding your professional life.

When we graduate college, we are often pressed to take an opportunity that is “good enough.” Very few people get their dream job out of the gate, and some never get there at all.

It’s easy to settle once you’re comfortable. You settle into a company, get a small raise here and there, and before you realize the rate time is passing, 5 years have gone by and you’ve stopped asking yourself what you want out of your career.

How do you knock yourself out of your stagnation and revitalize your work life?

Change From a Passive to an Active Mindset

A passive mindset is a belief that life just happens to you, that it’s not something you have control of. If you have a passive mindset, it’s easy to feel like growing in your career and designing a working life that you truly desire isn’t possible. A passive outlook is a gradual release of responsibility for the course your life is taking.

The first step to shaking this mindset is believing that you do actually have a choice in the matter. Your career growth is your responsibility.

Sure, there have been stories of people who seem to “fall in” to their dream job or it’s a case of “right place at the right time” and everything seems to go their way from the get-go.

But even if this is the case, you still have to take the opportunities that are handed to you. The passive mindset will look at a golden opportunity and say, “hmm, that looks like a lot of work and a lot of responsibility. I am comfortable where I am, there’s no need to rock the boat,” and that golden opportunity floats on by.

An active mindset is one that takes ownership over your life and circumstances and believes that your choices matter and can positively or negatively impact your desired outcomes.

If you’ve been living in a passive mindset, it’s important to realize that it’s not that you can’t have your dream career, it’s that you’re choosing not to. 

It is possible to try your hardest and fail. But the real failure is never trying in the first place.

If you’re ready to start taking ownership of your career, where do you start?

What Are Your Career Goals?

Have you ever actually sat down and mapped out your career goals? Many of us have some vague, cloudy idea of what we’d like out of our career, but we either assume it isn’t possible (that passive mindset we were just talking about) or we never actually take the time to think it through and therefore can’t articulate what our goals actually are.

This is where you should start when beginning to manage your career.

Open a Word document or pull out a good old-fashioned piece of paper and start making some notes.

man in coffee shop career advice

Here are some of the questions you should be asking yourself:

What is important to me in a job?

  • Climbing the corporate ladder?
  • Work/life balance?
  • A certain salary?
  • A certain title?
  • Stock options?
  • Unlimited PTO?
  • The ability to grow with a company?
  • Independence and creativity?

What am I trying to achieve?

  • Early retirement?
  • The knowledge I need to start my own firm?
  • To become the CEO?
  • To be the head of my department?
  • To be an expert in the industry?
  • Do I want to work for a huge, established company or a small, growing company?

What did I like and dislike about positions I’ve had in the past?

Examples:

  • I love to write, but I hate giving presentations
  • I love sales, but I hate working on commission
  • I love going to the office, but I hate open floor plans

Where are areas I’d like to improve in my career?

Examples:

  • I wish I was better at networking
  • I wish I could speak up more in meetings
  • I wish I could ask for more money
  • I wish I didn’t get so stressed out over deadlines
  • I wish I could ask for help when I need it

Once you have done some brainstorming around these questions, your career goals should start becoming clearer to you.

A good system to use when setting goals is called SMART.

Specific
Measurable
Achievable
Realistic
Timely

SMART Acronym Graphic v2 min

Setting career goals with this acronym in mind helps you stay focused and motivated.

After all, writing down all of your lofty goals won’t help at all if they aren’t something you can start working towards realistically.

Let’s take a look at what a career goal with SMART would look like.

I am going to get a copywriter job at XYZ company because I can walk to work and I believe in their mission. I will work there for 3 years and work my way up to be Head of Content.

Here we see Specifics:

I am going to get a copywriter job at XYZ company because I can walk to work and I believe in their mission. I will work there for 3 years and work my way up to be Head of Content.

We see it’s Measurable & Achievable:

I will work there for 3 years and work my way up to be Head of Content.

And it gives a Timeline: 3 years

Of course, many things can happen to alter this goal. Maybe becoming Head of Content won’t be possible in 3 years for a myriad of reasons you’re not privy to yet.

Maybe you’ll end up having to move and the job that was in walking distance of your apartment is now a hellish commute away.

The great thing about goals you set to manage your career is that they are adaptable.

They can grow and change with you and your circumstances.

What’s important is that the goal exists. It’s down on paper. It’s smart. It’s achievable. And most importantly, it’s an indication that you are taking control of your own career and moving it forward in the direction you want to go.

Choosing Your Career Path

When changing your outlook from a passive to an active mindset, you may realize that you never actually chose the career path you’re on. You just sort of fell into it, or it was what was available at the time.

You probably had some idea of what you wanted to do when you were younger, but the rush and routine of adult life has kept you from forming a career plan for a long time.

Now’s your chance to reevaluate.

Even if your job is not what you were intending, it may be something you really enjoy and can see yourself doing for a long time. That’s okay!

Sometimes we do have a plan, but life happens and derails us from our goals and we end up somewhere completely different.

woman walking on a career path

There’s nothing wrong with changing your course and deciding you like where you ended up better than the idea of what you thought you wanted.

But it’s still worth taking some time to think about.

Just as you did with your career goals, take some time to think through and write down your thoughts about your career path.

Ask yourself some of these questions and really encourage yourself to go deep with how you feel about where you are in your career.

Do I enjoy what I do?

Do I really enjoy the industry I’m in, even if it wasn’t my first choice?

What would I be doing if I could have any job that I want?

What did I enjoy doing when I was a child? (this question can help you determine things you truly enjoy without the pressure of thinking of money or career goals.)

What am I particularly good at?

What soft skills does my personality bring to my work?

What kind of job role enables me to thrive as a whole person?

This list is by no means exhaustive. Use these as a guide and create career questions of your own. Take these thoughts along with the notes about your goals and start formulating your overall career plan.

Ready to land your Dream job?

Chapter 2:

Professional Development

When you’re young and in school, you think that once you finally make it through and earn all the degrees and certifications necessary for your chosen career, you’re finally done with learning and can get down to business.

Anyone who has been in the workforce for a time can tell you that’s not the case.

Some careers require a certain amount of learning to be done regularly in order to keep your professional licenses active in your field. Professional development in other fields, however, is not required and has to be self-directed.

Whatever your current role, continued learning is a big part of intentional career building.

What is Professional Development?

Professional Development is the continuation of learning to maintain professional credentials, advance in your career, and stay abreast of continual changes and technological developments in your industry.

As we’ve discussed, sometimes this is a mandatory part of your job, but for many of us, learning is self-directed and done by taking initiative.

Very few people have all of the skills they need to do their job excellently right off the bat. A lot of learning is done on the job, even if you have years of experience and even if you have a degree in your field.

What’s important is realizing that your weak spots do not make you a bad employee.

They do not mean that you’re bad at your job, that you’re an imposter, or that you don’t deserve your position or salary.

However, you do have a responsibility to step up and educate yourself, strengthening the weak spots in your knowledge and doing your job to the best of your ability.

Hard Skills vs Soft Skills

Succeeding in the workforce requires a combination of skill sets. Usually, professional skills are broken down into two sets and called soft skills and hard skills.

What are soft skills?

Soft skills are personality traits and interpersonal relationships skills that you bring into your work.

They can be learned and improved upon, but usually, they are part of what makes you innately and uniquely you.

Soft skills are traits like:

  • Being an active listener
  • Resolving conflicts
  • Taking initiative and responsibility
  • Managing your time
  • Conducting yourself with integrity
  • Empathy
  • Creative problem solving
  • Thinking fast on your feet
  • Working well with others

Soft skills are essential to thriving in any workplace. We will always have to work with others in some capacity, and having strong soft skills will ensure that your work-life relationships will run smoothly.

target with arrows career goals

Soft skills are important to employers for many reasons. We’ve already touched on teamwork above, but integrating into a company’s culture, working well with the public, and being trustworthy are all traits that highly benefit a company in an employee.

In 2017 the Washington Post reported on a study conducted by Google that concluded that of the 8 most important qualities of Google’s top employees, 7 were soft skills. 

That’s right, even in a very technical field, the indicators of success had very little to do with actual knowledge of STEM (in fact, STEM technical knowledge came in dead last in the list of important qualities). Instead, success at Google had everything to do with communicating and listening well, being a good leader, having critical thinking and creative problem-solving skills, and having empathy towards others.

If you feel like who you are is not an asset in your current career, that is worth evaluating.

If you are in a more aggressive industry that rewards the grind and a dog-eat-dog attitude, but you prefer a more quiet and empathetic environment, you may be in the wrong industry.

But rest assured, there is a place for you.

Many jobs will value your personality and soft skillset, so don’t disparage yourself if you haven’t yet found the right fit. It’s out there!

Resources to help develop your soft skills:

TED

Ted Talks became wildly popular in the early 2000s and remain an excellent source of free information from experts all over the world on just about any topic you can imagine.

The School of Life

According to their Youtube channel, The School of Life is, “…a collective of psychologists, philosophers, and writers devoted to helping people lead calmer and more resilient lives. We share ideas on how to understand ourselves better, improve our relationships, take stock of our careers and deepen our social connections – as well as find serenity and grow more confident in facing challenges.”

Their Youtube channel is full of valuable insights on every facet of life, from cultivating relationships to handling the fear of our own mortality.

Lumosity

Lumosity is an app and an online program designed to improve memory, attention, flexibility, problem-solving, and mental processing through playing personalized games.

Myers-Briggs Type Indicator

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is a personality test often used by employers to deduce the personality type of future employees based on 4 different categories:

  • Introversion vs Extroversion
  • Sensing vs Intuition
  • Thinking vs Feeling
  • Judging vs Perceiving

Knowing your type can give you a lot of insight into the primary qualities of your personality, where you can strengthen your soft skills and the types of roles and environments that will be ideal for you.

Enneagram Type

The Enneagram is an incredibly insightful tool used to understand oneself and others. At its root, it is also a personality typing tool, but it goes a bit deeper into the psychological makeup of each of its 9 types.

The enneagram can be incredibly helpful in your working life by helping you understand the varying personalities you work with and your own reactions to others.

What are hard skills?

While soft skills are usually closely tied to personality traits, hard skills are learned abilities.

Examples of hard skills include:

  • The ability to fix engines
  • Knowing JavaScript
  • Accounting
  • Managing databases
  • SEO research
  • Operating x-ray machines

The list is endless. Sometimes you learn hard skills in school, but often they are learned on the job as you slowly gain mastery in what you do.

Many employers will work with you on developing your hard skills by offering to cover the cost of additional training, certifications, conferences, and seminars you may need to grow in your knowledge. They understand that the skills you acquire will directly benefit them and their business, so they are happy to help you learn.

You will likely have to be proactive about this however and continue to take an active role in your own development. If you find there’s a skill that you are willing to learn that would benefit the work that you do, take it up with your manager and see what can be arranged.

You will not only be expanding your knowledge and skills–things you can take with you even after you leave your current job–but you may also find your way into a new career path.

For instance, if you build websites but find you need more original photography, you could volunteer to learn how to take professional pictures and find out that you dearly love shooting product photography and find a new passion.

Or maybe you work in sales but have a knack for grammar and your coworkers are always asking you to proofread their documents and you find you’d rather be an editor.

Don’t say no to any learning opportunity that comes your way. New skills and knowledge can only help you in your professional development and well-roundedness as a person.

We live in a very exciting time and the world is constantly changing around us. Advances in technology are changing the ways we do our jobs every day, so be alert and don’t get left behind!

Resources to help develop your hard skills:

Udemy

Udemy is a well-known skills development site that sports thousands of classes on all types of subjects, including soft and hard skills.

LinkedIn Learning

Formerly known as Lynda, LinkedIn Learning is a continuing education platform for working professionals. There are thousands of courses to choose from, but if you are a LinkedIn user, LinkedIn Learning will offer customized suggestions for classes to take based on your job title and work history.

Big Interview

Big Interview is the leading training system for job interview preparation. It offers an in-depth curriculum, mock interview training tool, and A.I. based feedback to prepare you for any job interview scenario you may face in any industry.

Coursera

Coursera partners with over 200 companies and universities to offer robust and job-relevant online courses. Coursera offers several different kinds of professional development opportunities. You can simply take courses in areas you’re interested in developing, or earn certifications and even degrees in some subjects.

edX

edX is a platform that offers access to higher education courses from well-known institutions such as Harvard, MIT, Boston University, and many more.

Career Coaching

Professional development doesn’t necessarily stop at acquiring skills to do your job more effectively. It also extends to career-building skills as a whole, including the nuts and bolts of interviewing, networking, etiquette, and so on.

Some job seekers have tried everything that is considered a best practice for job searching and are still not getting any results. Still, others have particular challenges to overcome that render them ineffective when it comes to interviewing, networking, and the skills needed to successfully land a job.

If you’re just outright stuck or at your wit’s end, it may be time to recruit some outside help.

What is a career coach?

A career coach is a professional whose sole job is to help you build your career and reach your career goals with their expertise. Their focus can be in career building, job interviewing, negotiation, resume writing, or all of the above.

They are masters at taking your specific situation–including your circumstances, work history, and unique challenges–pinpointing all of your strongest assets and teaching you to market them in a strong and effective way.

career coach big interview

A good career coach can save you hundreds of hours and years of frustration by being an unbiased, objective third party who is dedicated to helping you reach your career goals as seamlessly as possible.

When should you hire a career coach?

We’ve talked about hiring a career coach when you’re completely stuck and don’t know what else to try, but there are other times you may consider hiring a coach to reach your career goals.

Some of these circumstances include:

When you’re just starting your work life but want to build a career thoughtfully

When you’re looking to drastically change industries

When you want to start your own business

When you keep not getting the job after countless interviews

When you are continuously passed up for promotions

When you keep messing up interviews

When you simply can’t motivate yourself to make a change

When you feel you don’t have the personality qualities for the leadership role you want

There are so many reasons why you may benefit from hiring a career coach. If you think it would benefit you and your career, start searching for a career coach to be your partner in crime as you’re developing your career.

Ready to land your Dream job?

Chapter 3:

How to Advance Your Career

Taking ownership, setting goals, and improving your skillset are all very important pieces to managing your career goals. But how do you actually push your career forward?

Now that you’ve set your goals and gotten straight with yourself about what your vision is, you have the roadmap. But in order to get to where you’re going, you have to leave the house.

Ultimately, advancing your career means only one thing; taking action.

But what action should you take?

Should I Quit My Job?

One of the most difficult decisions a person makes in their career is trying to figure out when they should stick with a job and when they should move on.

During your goal-setting process, the answer may have become clear to you. But maybe even after seeing it all on paper, you’re not so sure what the right move is.

Should you quit your job or should you stay? Which is better for your career overall? Your long-term goals? Your short-term goals?

Every job is going to have drawbacks. Even careers that seem out-of-this-world amazing have elements that aren’t fun.

Actors work grueling hours in all kinds of conditions, professional athletes sustain painful and permanent damage to their bodies, owners of bookshops struggle to survive, and candy store clerks get sick of sweets. Any profession you can imagine has challenges and bad days.

But the majority of the work you do should be enjoyable if your job is a good fit for you. The lion’s share of your workday should be tasks you don’t mind and even enjoy, while the parts you’re not crazy about make up the minority of your responsibilities.

If you find yourself dreading work, and you’re growing increasingly unhappy in all areas of your life because of your work situation, it may be time to move on.

man hitting fist on table

Some people decide to move on because there aren’t enough opportunities where they are or the ability to move up is happening too slowly.

It’s not at all uncommon in the current work climate that employees feel they need to move companies in order to get the pay raise or title they deserve because their current company has taken them for granted.

Ultimately these are decisions you will have to ascertain for yourself. You are the expert on your own personal situation. But in order to get some clarity on what you should do, let’s turn back to your notebook (or Word document) and do some good old-fashioned evaluation.

Ask yourself these questions:

Do I like the majority of the work I do?

Can I reach my career goals in my current position?

Does my job make me lethargic and unhappy?

Am I respected at my current company, personally and professionally?

Will my current trajectory allow me to reach my financial goals?

Is there room for growth in this company?

Am I being treated well and fairly by my coworkers and managers?

Just as you did with your career goals earlier, use these questions as a starting point for evaluating whether or not your current job is a good fit for you and see what you discover in the process of answering them.

How to Ask for a Raise

Maybe you really like the company you work for and the work that you do and you don’t want to quit, but your circumstances are such that you really need to be making a bigger salary. If this sounds like you, it’s time to ask for a raise.

There’s hardly ever an easy way to have this conversation. Most of us are socialized to feel very awkward when talking about money. Furthermore there’s the prickly issue of imposter syndrome and that annoying voice in the back of our minds telling us we don’t deserve any more money and should be grateful for what we have.

But asking for what you’re worth instead of meekly taking whatever you’re given is how you take control of your career and make the salary you want to be making.

How do you accomplish this?

The Best Time to Ask for a Raise

Timing is important when it comes to asking for a raise. You don’t want to strike up the conversation when your boss is stressed and hassled and less likely to be in a giving mood.

Furthermore, be attentive to the timing in your company. If you know that cuts are being made and the organization is struggling to meet revenue goals, it’s not going to be a good time to ask for more money.

If your company has scheduled employee evaluations and reviews, be aware of when they are and how to prepare. Talks of raises are more likely to arise during times of employee evaluation.

However, if your company has no schedule for raises or evaluations, your responsibilities have increased and/or your title has changed, it’s going to be up to you to initiate the conversation. Don’t just sit on your hands and hope they notice all of your work. Make them aware of it yourself.

Make a Case for Your Raise

Prepare and practice your case before it comes time to have the salary discussion. You will want to have done your homework in a few key areas:

  • Be able to articulate the work you’ve done, projects completed, revenue generated, and any other quantifiable results that have come about because of your work. If your title has changed or your responsibilities have increased, this is also important to note. You are taking on a larger share of work and should be compensated accordingly.
  • Conduct market research on the salary range that is standard in your industry, at your experience level, and in the size of the company you work for. Most employers want to be fair in their compensation practices and if you can prove that you are asking for a reasonable market rate, they are likely to hear you out.
  • Practice with a camera or trusted friend before going into the discussion. You may think you know exactly what you want to say, but if given an unexpected question you can completely forget all of those solid facts and figures, especially when you’re already nervous to be having the conversation in the first place. Role-play a bit and ask yourself (or have a friend or mentor) ask you the hard-hitting questions so that nothing will take you by surprise when you’re actually in the hot seat.

Your Professional Development Plan

So far you have:

  • Decided to take ownership of your career
  • Set your career goals down on paper
  • Evaluated what you want out of your career
  • Narrowed down your career path
  • Assessed your professional skills and how to develop them
  • Considered adding a career coach to your career plan
  • Examined if leaving your current job will help you advance in your career
  • Learned how to approach negotiating your salary

Now’s the time to take all of these things you’ve discovered and draft your personal professional development plan.

Hopefully during this process your ideal career path has emerged for you.

“Ideal” does not necessarily mean “pie in the sky” dream; the ultimate ideal career path is one that satisfies you, allows you to advance, earns you respect and comfortable compensation, and allows you to grow as a person and a professional.

Start where you are now and envision where you want to be.

Now start writing your plan.

If you are in the very first stages of taking ownership of your career, the most important step has already been taken; the decision to act.

Next, write down the career goals you discovered using the SMART acronym we talked about in Chapter 1.

Breakdown your goal into actionable steps and work on achieving them day, by day.

Remember that your plan can change and adapt as you go along and learn more about yourself and what you want from your career.

That’s okay!

Don’t be afraid to change course if that’s what makes sense for you.

Remember that your ideal career scenario is completely possible to attain. You are the captain of the ship and with these tools in hand, you can build the career you’ve always envisioned.

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