Every career journey is unique. Whether you began working straight out of high school or completed undergrad, a Masters, or more, it takes more than a degree to achieve your career goals.
Here’s the ultimate, 10-step checklist for reaching your professional goals, regardless of where you begin.
- Find your “why”
Though seemingly simple, figuring out your professional passions can be difficult. Pressure to know exactly what you want to do in life begins as early as middle school and carries significant weight through college and beyond. But the reality is, 96% of adults are not in the career they outlined as a child (Perkbox), meaning plans and interests change – and that’s okay.
What is your “why?” for going to work every day? Are you passionate about finding work with purpose? Maybe your priority in your career is creative freedom or working with people. You might be interested in philanthropic causes or contributing to a larger goal. Whatever your passions are, list them clearly to keep yourself focused before making any further plans.
- Define your goals
Once you have determined your passions and “must-haves” in a career, what does success look like for you?
For some, success takes the form of financial gain. For others, it’s a work-life balance or the ability to work from home. If your goals include managing people, that will help direct your next steps. But if you are happy doing any role, as long as it’s remote, you will make different decisions.
There’s no wrong answer to what your professional goals are – each person is different. The most important thing is to clearly define your personal objectives and remind yourself of that as you take steps to further your career. It’s easy to be distracted by ping pong tables at the office or cappuccino vending machines. But if a workplace doesn’t have the intangible things you are looking for, you will likely be unhappy.
- Create an action plan
When you have solidified and communicated your passions and goals, it’s time to make a plan of action. Your next step depends on where you are in your career.
If you’re looking for entry-level roles, your action plan may include practicing your elevator pitch or refining your resume. Mid-level managers might need more people management skills or require additional training. Senior-level executives might want to take leadership courses or conduct industry-specific research to level up their careers.
- Define your metrics
Once you have created an action plan, how will you measure the success of your outcomes?
For example, if your action plan is to transition from marketing to technology, success might be interviewing at a Fortune 500 tech company. Maybe your goal is promotion – do you want more money or to manage more people?
You are the pilot of your career, and only you can define your success.
- Leave room to readjust
No matter how many plans you make, there will be challenges that cause you to redirect or refocus. Make sure your timelines for yourself are reasonable. For example, deciding to create a goal of getting a new job in one week might not be realistic. Instead, leave room for readjustment by giving yourself ample time to complete each step of your action plan. Then, as things change, reimagine your timeline and plan accordingly.
- Take time for professional development
Whatever your goals are, you likely can’t complete them without relying on some professional development. Most companies have budgets set aside for learning and development opportunities for their employees. Don’t wait for permission, seek out classes or programs to build your skills and present them to your employer.
Programs like the Invited MBA improve participants’ overall business skills and confidence. Coding boot camps or writing workshops are also great options for advancing your skill sets. Maybe there is a conference in your field that would help you network with like-minded professionals.
Whatever you’re interested in, invest in your professional development.
- Find a mentor
According to Forbes, “in any industry, having a mentor can be the catalyst for enriching career development.”
While you will have to pave your own way in some aspects of your career, many have walked before you. Finding a mentor in your field is a great way to invest in your professional growth. From seasoned professionals to industry peers, a mentor serves as a sounding board for ideas and encouragement when dealing with challenges.
Great mentors can connect you to other people in your industry, provide honest feedback, and hold you accountable. Try using LinkedIn to search for alumni of your college working in your field, or determining some higher-level executives at your company that could also benefit from a mentor-mentee relationship. You might be surprised at their willingness to help.
- Learn from failure
You may try to plan for every scenario, but “failure” in some form is inevitable. When you are unable to complete a task or reach your goals, take a moment to sit and reflect on why things didn’t go the way you planned. Give yourself the grace to get back on track and learn from your mistakes.
Successful people learn more from failure than success. Rather than looking at mistakes as a loss, look at them as opportunities to learn how to do things differently next time.
- Celebrate success
While failure will likely happen, so will success. But many high-achievers struggle with celebrating their accomplishments to the fullest and prefer to begin working on the next big thing.
Instead, it’s important (especially if you are a people manager), to take the time to celebrate your wins. When you or your team meet important goals, take an afternoon off or treat your employees to lunch. If you receive a promotion, take some time to congratulate yourself for the effort and work you put in. By reflecting on and celebrating your achievements, you will be more motivated to reach additional goals in the future.
- Request feedback
Through the wins and the losses, it may be beneficial to get another opinion. Whether from your mentor or a coworker, request feedback when possible to help yourself improve upon skills and methods. Feedback doesn’t have to be criticism – it may just be looking at a project or goal from a different perspective.
Next time you feel stuck, seek out the opinion of someone else with fresh eyes.
It’s never too late to start planning for your future and setting achievable objectives for each stage of your professional life. Having a plan, whether it’s a collection of sticky notes, a document on your computer, or reminders on your mirror every morning, will help you navigate through any career changes, doubts, or uncertainties. When you have clearly defined goals, you will also be more motivated to take action.
If you’re interested in leveling up your career through a mini-MBA, click here.
Katelyn Powell is a social media and content strategist, lifelong learner, and career development enthusiast living in Houston, Texas. She is passionate about equitable access to education and the Oxford comma. When she’s not writing or binge-reading true crime, she enjoys afternoon naps and providing wedding photography to Texas brides.