4 Keys to Map Your Long-Term Career Goals

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Studies have shown that job satisfaction, the right corporate culture, and being recognized, even for small achievements, can be more personally rewarding than a high salary. So how do you map out a career strategy that fits your aspirations?

Identify Your Ultimate Career Goal

If you can visualize it, you can attain it. In 15 or 20 years, do you want to be leading a team that's innovating the industry? Making important breakthroughs in research? Running your own organization? Find a photo of someone doing just that and pin it to your wall as inspiration. "Career goals represent your destination—without them, you may get lost in your career," notes TSA Career Coach Michele Lewis, MA, NCC. 

Work Backwards

Once you’ve decided what you want to be doing at the end of your ideal career, backtrack the steps to get there. Construct a roadmap of your career with 5- and 10-year signposts along the way. Your signposts should identify wants and needs as well as the specific actions you need to take to achieve those wants and needs. Focus on preparing for your career, rather than planning it, as Harvard Business School’s Robert Pozen advises: aim "for jobs that will allow you to further expand your transferable knowledge—to help you find your next job." 

10-Year Signpost

Look at your 10-year career signpost and determine what people already there had to do to get there. At this signpost, you’ll probably move into a management position, gaining experience leading teams, giving presentations and interfacing with top management. If your ultimate career goal is to work on the research side, you’ll probably need more advanced degrees and have a number of published papers to your name. It’s important not to be discouraged by what you’ll have to accomplish to reach this signpost. It’s only important that you stick to the path and take steady steps to get there.

5-Year Signpost

This signpost should be less intimidating. You should be closer to meeting the requirements of this plateau in your career. It’s a plateau because, chances are, you’ll be spending a lot of time doing basically the same thing. This is where you’ll undoubtedly add to your work experience, improve your skills and perhaps gain education and certifications. You’ll be in a mid-level post by this time and have acquired some enhanced people skills. Once again, you should stick to your path and not be seduced by big salary offers that take your career in a different direction.

Before applying to each new job, consider how it fits with your long-term career goals. You may find it more important to take the better growth opportunity—and let the paycheck follow.

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/FreeDigitalPhotos.net


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  • Brigitte Johnson
    Brigitte Johnson
    Good advise!
    Very good and keep the motivation skirting..".think and grow rich", my favorite book by far recommend to any one.. in any field.
  • TempleSmith
    Medical Sales for the last 20+ years has been the very best years.
  • Ric Agee
    Ric Agee
    wonderful advise for the person who knows what he/she wants to do or be.  But what if you don't know??? The advise in the article can't be implemented until you know that, so not very helpful for me.
  •  Doug Vranek
    Doug Vranek
    Great article on the sign posts and transferable knowledge we all have. Many don't reflect what they have acquired in experiences and lessons learned. As we travel thru time, many can reflect a similar incident and how to handle most issues, the short fall for some is they don't step back and get all of the facts before they react.
  • Catherine O'Chery-Allord
    Actually, I enjoyed this article. It helped me to remember to set this long term goals. It is easier to set short term goals.
  • MarkSurber
    push yourself hard and often start with small steps if necessary there are many certificate courses that can be applied to A.A.s and B.A.s.

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