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unlock your potential: 3 tips for setting meaningful career goals

When I ask people what their career objectives are, their immediate reaction is to tell me what career they want to pursue. When we delve deeper as to how this career is going to be achieved, the usual answer is “I work hard so I am sure it will happen” or “Believing in the goal and staying positive is all you need.”

Does this sound familiar? Don’t get me wrong, ambition, hard work, and a positive attitude are undoubtedly important for career progression. But let’s be honest and realistic – these elements aren’t enough on their own.

Why? Setting meaningful career goals and objectives establishes actionable steps you can take to achieve your dream career. They can pinpoint your focus, keep you on the right track, and make it easier to adapt to any unforeseen bumps on the road.

work life balance as a parent
Olga Valadon about the ingredients of career progression

so, how can you go about setting meaningful, success-driven career goals?

1. long-term ambition, short-term focus

You’ve likely been asked “What is your 5-10 year plan?” – whether during an interview, by your boss in an appraisal, or by a teacher at school! While thinking far ahead is beneficial to establish your long-term, North Star career ambition, you need to be flexible in your plans along the way. The pace of change in the world of work is so fast that a lot can happen in 5 years. Just look at all the conversations about AI in the last 18 months and how AI already impacts the job landscape. The job you are considering may no longer be available in 5-10 years or may not even exist yet!

Adapting to change and capitalising on opportunities requires deliberate strategic planning, long-term as well as short-term. To establish this, ask yourself:

  • Where do I see myself in the next 12 months? 

  • What makes that important? 

  • Is this version of me aligned with my values and purpose? 

  • How will achieving this vision bring me closer to my North Star ambition?

  • What will be the consequences if I don’t achieve this vision?

2. align objectives to your vision

Once you have established where you see your career progressing in the year ahead, it is important to map out objectives that clarify how you can get there.

First, take the time to reflect on your career journey so far. What steps have you already taken towards achieving your long-term ambition? What knowledge, experience, and transferable skills have you gained? What lessons did you learn along the way that will benefit you in the future?

Use your answers as a guide to construct the three key objectives you need to achieve in the next 12 months to bridge the gap between today's reality and your ideal future. As an example, you may have been studying over the last year towards a professional qualification which is a prerequisite for your long-term career aspirations. However, you haven’t been able to put your knowledge into practice yet. An objective may be for you to identify opportunities in your workplace that will help you gain your first practical experience.

As you set your objectives, consider what obstacles or hurdles you may face. By anticipating and planning you will be able to respond more effectively. Try to think outside of the box. Can you gain this experience in a different setting if there are no opportunities at work? Perhaps you could manage a project as a volunteer, for a charity or community group?

It's also important to think about what is within your control, and what is beyond your control. By being aware of that, your energy will be invested in the areas where you can really make an impact.

Make sure you set no more than 5 objectives, otherwise your energy and focus will be depleted. Aiming for three objectives in a year is ideal.

3. set out how you will measure progress

To turn your career goals into reality, you must outline how you will measure progress towards those goals. What are the key results that will show you that you’re on track?

This isn’t about completing a set of actions in the hope of achieving your goal. It is about being focused on the outcome that you are looking to achieve to understand the actions that will help you get there. For example, if you’re going for a promotion, you will want to gain the support and buy-in of others. You might begin by creating a stakeholder map to identify who you need to talk to, then develop a strategy for those conversations. What do you need from those individuals? How can you win their support? What evidence do you need to show them that you are ready for this promotion?

Finally, think about how you will hold yourself accountable. It is easy to fall behind on your actions when you are busy with work deadlines and life as a whole. Make sure your career aspirations and plans don't take a backseat. How will you ensure that these actions are completed within the timeframe you have set? Can you hold yourself accountable, or do you need to enlist someone else's help (a friend, colleague, or mentor)?

Setting a clear short-term vision, aligning objectives to it, and outlining how you will measure progress will help you to hone in on what really matters, challenging you to make intentional steps that are bold and in line with your values and your long-term career goals. Enjoy the journey and take the time to appreciate all the learning and growth that comes with it.

Olga Valadon is a mentor with “the female factor”, a corporate empathy expert, and the founder of leadership, strategy, and culture consultancy Change Aligned®.


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