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Published on October 2, 2018

15 Killer Tips on How to Set Professional Goals (Examples Included)

15 Killer Tips on How to Set Professional Goals (Examples Included)

It’s hard to describe the frustration you feel when your professional goals keep falling flat. You’re floundering and you’re not where you want to be professionally, which bleeds into your personal life and causes you to get upset and sad easily.

You need a system, a way to set goals that makes them attainable 100 percent of the time. When you establish your system, it takes the guesswork out of goal achievement and makes it a matter of completing specific steps.

Where would you be right now in your life if you had followed such a system from the beginning of your professional career and stuck with it? Would you be owning and running your own business, would you be working for a company you love, or would you be independently creating great work that keeps you in high demand?

This is where it gets good. The following tips will cover the most actionable ways to set professional goals (with professional goals examples included). If you follow these tips and do your absolute best each step of the way, you’ll have no choice but to launch into a new, exciting period in your professional life.

Start with tip number 1 — this tip is essential to any and all of the other tips on this list. Although you’re starting with 1, this is not a linear list. You can take each tip by itself and run with it, or you can implement as many as possible — the choice is yours. That said, the more action you take, the closer you are to making tip 1 a reality.

Ready to grasp the very essence of what it is to succeed? Keep reading.

1. Identify What You Love — and Make a Statement

This is it — the single most important word is not career, it’s love. Your primary, overarching, life-defining career goal must center around what you love.

You figured out what you love when you were young, and then somewhere along the way you lost it in the noise, the pressure, and the clutter of everyday life.

Billions of people exist on this Earth, and things aren’t what we wish they could be because we succumb to fear instead of doing what we love.

How can you take what you love and serve this love with your career?

  • Create a statement, a single sentence that encapsulates your overarching career goal. Make it specific.
  • Write the love-of your-life career goal sentence down and pin it to the wall where you’ll see it every day.
  • Make sure this sentence informs all your other objectives.
  • Make sure your primary career goal is the result of what you love to do.

Example:

“Be a successful nonfiction author: Write nonfiction content — books, poems, essays, blog posts — to help people realize the priceless importance of love and the imagination, and get your content published.”

2. Don’t Just Create SMART Objectives — Be Ultra-SMART

Now that you have your ultimate career goal nailed to the wall, it’s time to get SMART. That is, use the SMART acronym to create objectives:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Timed

Your SMART objectives are micro-goals that fit all of the above criteria. They are not nebulous, vague, and tough to complete. They are daily objectives you know you can handle, and they’re necessary.

You have to complete SMART objectives in order to meet other, tougher goals, which ultimately contribute to your main goal.

So how do you make your SMART objectives ultra-SMART? Push yourself. Don’t settle for the same level of output every day. Don’t hold yourself to low standards. Think about quality and do your absolute best.

Example:

SMART: “Today I will write 500 words about the power of love between 10am and 2pm.”

Ultra-SMART: “Today I will write 500 words about the power of love between 10am and 2pm, and will find 3 accredited, scientific sources to backup my argument.”

Note that “Ultra-SMART” is not about writing more — more isn’t necessarily better, and if you’re just starting out, may not be achievable; rather, ultra-SMART is about focusing on quality within a reasonable framework.

3. Identify an Absolutely Essential Stepping Stone and Step to It

No one realizes their ultimate goal without finding a job that will push them in that direction. Jobs pay, and you need money to survive, but you don’t want a job that has nothing to do with your career goal. Pinpoint a job that is like an apprenticeship for what you ultimately want to do.

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Example:

When famous author Neil Gaiman delivered his commencement address[1] — which, by the way, is phenomenal — to University of the Arts in Philadelphia, he said something that makes perfect sense:

“I wanted to write comics and novels and stories and films, so I became a journalist, because journalists are allowed to ask questions, and to simply go and find out how the world works, and besides, to do those things I needed to write and to write well, and I was being paid to learn how to write economically, crisply, sometimes under adverse conditions, and on time.”

Note that Gaiman’s goal was to be a creative writer, but he took a position in journalism, which isn’t creative writing; it’s about facts, writing them well, and having discipline. For Gaiman, journalism was a stepping stone towards achieving his overarching goal.

4. Get Really, Really Good at Crafting Your Resume

You’re not going to settle, and there are multiple stepping stones towards your final destination. But here’s the clincher:

Crafting a great resume is about more than landing a job.

Crafting a great resume is about learning how to think from someone else’s perspective. If you can imagine what someone else wants to see in a great resume, you can view other things from their perspective too, and that’s important in the professional world.

To do a resume the right way, consider the mistakes you should avoid:[2]

  • Avoid disorganization: Provide your name, work experience and corresponding titles, education, relevant skills.
  • Avoid irrelevant information: Consider the position you’re applying for carefully and focus on information relevant to it.
  • Avoid length: A one page resume with just the right wording is a thing of wonder.
  • Avoid showy fonts and words: Be basic but let your personality shine through.
  • Avoid sloppiness: Check for typos, misspelling, and grammatical mistakes.

Example: Here’s a great resume example, courtesy of Shayanne Gal from Business Insider:[3]

    5. Ask Yourself the Most In-Depth Questions

    Throughout your educational career, you heard teachers say, “There are no bad questions” or something to that effect.

    It’s true; however, this mantra ignored the fact that some questions are better than others.

    Asking, “How can I do x in a unique and interesting way?” is better than asking “How can I do x?”

    You can set professional goals that you might accomplish, or you can set professional goals you’re highly likely to accomplish because you went in-depth with your questions. This goes very well with SMART goals. Specificity and detail are the hallmarks of achievable goals.

    Example:

    Say, for instance, you’re at the point where you feel you can start your own business from home. The Hartford offers pertinent questions you should ask before doing so:[4]

    • Will your house accommodate your business?
    • Can you find work-life balance?
    • When you interact with customers, how will you showcase a professional image?
    • Are there city zoning ordinances you need to consider?
    • Do you have the insurance and tax liabilities covered?

    6. Use a Digital Assistant to be Insanely Efficient

    Executives and bosses have personal assistants to help them with scheduling, organization, and other time-consuming tasks.

    You may not be at the point in your career where you can afford to hire somebody, which is why it helps to have a productivity assistant to help you be more efficient.

    Use an app to keep track of mundane scheduling and other minute details so you can free up your mind for creativity.

    Example:

    See this list of task management apps . Out of all of them, Any.do has one of the best interfaces, and it will give you the reminders you need to stay on task.

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      7. Create a Vivid Mental Picture

      Discouragement can and will happen — it’s a part of life, whether professional or personal. Don’t wait until you get discouraged to visualize yourself doing well.

      Practice your mental picture of success even at the times when everything is going so well it’s unbelievable, but you’re not quite at the end-point yet.

      When things aren’t going well, it’ll be the much easier to remain in a positive mind-state because you practiced being there.

      Example:

      Social scientist Frank Niles provides a perfect example of goal visualization:[5]

      “Former NBA great Jerry West is a great example of how this works. Known for hitting shots at the buzzer, he acquired the nickname ‘Mr. Clutch.’ When asked what accounted for his ability to make the big shots, West explained that he had rehearsed making those same shots countless times in his mind.”

      Note that West visualized sinking the exact shots; again, specificity matters.

      8. Express Your Professional Goals Positively

      This goes directly with the visualization process. Goals can seem like chores, which is why it’s important to use positive, proactive wording when you’re vocalizing or writing things down.

      Through positive expression, you’re training your brain to take a certain path whenever you think about your professional goals. This translates into forward, positive momentum whenever you take action.

      You’re more likely to take action if you associate that action with positive thoughts and feelings.

      Example:

      Instead of, “It isn’t that hard to type 500 words in 4 hours,” say, “I like taking advantage of the time I set aside to zone in and really have fun with what I’m doing.”

      Note that the specific goal — 500 words in 4 hours — is implied because you already know it.

      The point of this statement is to associate a feeling of enjoyment with commitment and focus.

      9. Build Your Network with Passion and Purpose

      A professional network will help you hit those stepping stones necessary to achieving your ultimate goal. But you don’t want to network with just anyone.

      Build a network with other people who share your passion, build it based around your specialty, but also look for people from outside your usual sphere who can help you gain a different perspective.

      Demonstrate your passion by helping other people, and listen more than you talk.

      Example:

      Find a mentor — it’s perhaps the most critical networking move you can make. MileIQ provides some examples of where to start:[6]

      • The SCORE Business Learning Center
      • Small Business Development Centers
      • Women’s Business Centers
      • Veteran’s Business Outreach Centers
      • Minority Business Development Agency
      • A trade association through your SBA district office

      10. Benchmark a Competitor Like a Boss

      If you’re freelancing or running your own business, this one is particularly applicable to you.

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      Is there an exemplary freelancer or small business owner with whom you’re impressed? Analyze what this person has done to get where they are, find a metric to serve as a benchmark of their success, and aim to do better.

      Example:

      Benchmark social metrics — say, for example, you’re writing an article on cryptocurrency for a finance website. Buzzsumo[7] provides a tool you can use to benchmark the number of social shares a competitor has earned for this topic:

        11. Master Time Management

        Here’s the thing about professional goals:

        You must master time management to accomplish them. Understand how much time to set aside for each objective; and when you’re working on objectives, use your time not just efficiently, but mindfully.

        That means immersing yourself in the activities that are essential to completing objectives. Focus on what works best to achieve your desired outcome.

        Example:

        Life and business strategist Tony Robbins recommends “chunking your goals,” otherwise known as compartmentalization:

        • Write down tasks you need to get done during the week.
        • Group different tasks together based on their categories, e.g. “Consult SCORE about a mentor” and “talk to Ted about job opportunities” would be categorized under “Networking.”
        • Set aside time for each category.
        • Work on the tasks for a single category during a specific chunk of time.

        12. Identify Your Strengths and Weaknesses — and Get Strategic

        As you move toward accomplishing your primary career goal, you’ll note that different objectives fit into different categories, and you’re better at some categories than you are others.

        Once you know what you’re good at, focus on it. Spend as much time as you can concentrating on your strong-points.

        When it comes to your weaknesses, ask for help.

        Forbes contributor Elana Lynn Gross reveals that asking for help the right way can advance your career. “Ask targeted questions that will allow you to set your strategy,” Gross says.[8]

        Within any category, work on what you’re good at first, and then ask your network for help with blind spots.

        Example:

        Christine Wallace, VP of Branding and Marketing at Startup Institute, told Fast Company how she ended up dropping her first venture:[9]

        “I took a train from the Valley up to San Francisco and met with two mentors, who agreed that it was the end of the road for Quincy [Apparel]. After it was all over I spent three weeks straight in bed. Then after 21 days of sleeping, crying, I put on my big girl pants and rejoined the world.”

        In Wallace’s case, she needed to ask her mentors for help to understand when to move on.

        Don’t be afraid to ask for advice when something isn’t working.

        13. Take Advantage of Awesome Resources at Your Disposal

        When it comes to setting professional goals, tunnel-vision and short-sightedness are big problems for many of us.

        We think there’s only one way to complete an objective. The truth is there are multiple ways to approach any problem.

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        This implies taking a moment to step back, view your objective from a distance, and survey your options. Think differently, use your imagination, and do a thorough search — online and off — for resources.

        Example:

        Get a library card, scour the shelves, AND crowdsource ideas from social media — you may find something unexpected.

        14. Be a Brand That Stands Out

        Believe it or not, your brand is a very important part of your overall career goal. There are two aspects here:

        • How you appear via any published format
        • How you appear in person

        It’s more important to have a quality brand than it is to be prolific, so don’t publish anything — on social media or elsewhere — that you will regret.

        You will make mistakes in your endeavors, and in fact it’s important to take risks and make mistakes.

        There are good mistakes. Good mistakes are the screw-ups that show you’re striving toward your goal. Anytime you set an objective, think about how it aligns with brand and overall goal. In other words, know when to say “no” to projects that don’t compliment your brand and overall mission.

        Example:

        View yourself as a thought leader, be one, and make content that showcases your thought leadership:[10]

        • Videos: Post on YouTube, your website, and social media
        • Podcasts: Learn how to start podcasting.[11]
        • Workshops or meetups: Look for a community space and invite others to join you in discussion.
        • Blog posts and newspaper op-eds: Share your knowledge and opinions.

        15. Steal Ideas from Your Competitors

        This is the one truth that’s hard to stomach. Great ideas come to those who steal. You may not be sure of your next step, your next objective, and time is precious.

        Observe what other great professionals are doing, capture the core of their objectives, make them your own, and craft them into something new.

        Example:

        Steve Jobs, the visionary behind Apple, fully endorsed the Picasso quote, “Good artists copy, great artists steal.”[12]

        In 1989, Xerox sued Apple for stealing ideas and incorporating them in the Macintosh and Lisa computers, but lost the lawsuit. That’s because Apple made something new.

        Here’s a simple way to go about this. Say you’re writing about freelancing, and the Freelancers Union blog is one of your top competitors. Pop the URL into Buzzsumo. You’ll see that the top articles are about taxes:

          In that case, you can write a “Definitive Guide to Taxes for Freelancers” or “Definitive Guide to Tax Breaks for Freelancers.”

          It’s about Love and Practicality Combined

          Your primary career goal must be about what you love to do. Otherwise, why would you want to do it?

          To reach your goal, you must make small, practical steps. Don’t expect everything to go perfectly along the way, and don’t eschew hard work that isn’t exactly exciting.

          Too often, we get caught up in the excitement of the dream, and when the step-by-step isn’t nearly as exciting, we quit.

          Learn how to do the boring, rote tasks with joy because you’re doing them to achieve greatness.

          Always remember why you set out on a mission to begin with, and let your brain follow your heart.

          Featured photo credit: rawpixel via unsplash.com

          Reference

          More by this author

          Dan Matthews, CPRP

          A Certified Psychosocial Rehabilitation Practitioner with an extensive background working with clients on community-based rehabilitation.

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          10 Essential Soft Skills That Will Help Advance Your Career

          10 Essential Soft Skills That Will Help Advance Your Career

          What’s the secret of professional success? Some of it lies in the mastery of your discipline and all the technical skills you have to carry out your job; but a much bigger part lies in the soft skills list you possess.

          Soft skills are your people or relationship skills—how well you get along with others and your ability to communicate and collaborate—as well as the personal characteristics you bring to the job, such as optimism, a can-do attitude and the motivation to work hard. These skills are not always easy to point out, but their absence can cause serious problems and negatively affect the whole work atmosphere.

          They say that hard skills will help you get the job, but soft skills will help you get along—and get ahead. With that in mind, here’s the top-10 essential soft skills list to help you advance your career.

          1. Communication Skills

          Communication skills are hands-down the most sought-after soft skill that bosses want, and this one ability covers a lot of ground.

          To communicate well, you have to listen carefully, interpret the context of the conversation, express yourself clearly, persuade others of your point of view, check your body language and use an engaging presentation style that won’t intimidate or bore your audience. That’s a big ask!

          Your personality traits can influence the way you communicate with others. For instance, some people get straight to the point and center their arguments around facts and logic; others are cooperative and sensitive to how others feel. Both these approaches are equally valuable but there can be misunderstandings if you don’t understand where the other person is coming from.

          Taking a comprehensive personality test can help you understand why you communicate the way you do and where your blind spots are. It can also help you understand other communication styles is so you can tailor your communication to the person you’re dealing with.

          After all, connecting with your conversation partner is the hallmark of good communication.

          2. Flexibility

          Change is an essential part of any business. Companies need employees who are flexible enough to work with new initiatives, open to new ideas, and generally are able to tough it out when things don’t go as planned.

          Research has found a link between job performance and flexibility over the long term because there will be times when you have to step outside your routine and rise to fresh challenges that didn’t exist before.

          Being flexible doesn’t mean you have to hop into a new task or job role like an expert. Rather, it’s about showing you’re willing to accept new responsibility and learn different things.

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          Bosses look for people who are prepared to step outside their comfort zones and are open to alternative solutions when their first idea doesn’t work.

          3. Being a Team Player

          Working on a team can be challenging but learning to do it well can definitely help you get ahead in your career. Employers look for people who can negotiate, cooperate and manage conflicts with other people to achieve a common goal. That includes the ability to build lasting relationships with customers and clients.

          What makes a good team player? Essentially, it’s someone who knows the goal and knows her role. Employers look for evidence that you know your strengths, your responsibilities and how you can best contribute to the team, then put those skills into action by sharing ideas and communicating in a respectful manner. That’s the definition of being a good team player.

          This is another area where taking a personality test can help you get ahead. When teams work together, each member brings a unique set of skills and qualities to the group. Research has shown that different combinations of personalities affect how teams collaborate and how productive they are.

          Knowing who you are, and how you work on a team, can drive new insights and open the door to better teamwork.

          4. Positive Mental Attitude

          There are plenty of things you can’t change at work, like the people you work with or the fact that the printer is broken again. The one thing you can change is how much you let these things bother you.

          Bosses like people who are calm, rational and upbeat—those who diffuse tensions in the workplace, not get all grouchy and go around slamming doors.

          Studies show that people who maintain a sunny disposition have better relationships at work, are happier in their jobs and make better decisions than those who whine and complain. Some suggest that a positive mental attitude can also make you live longer—which means it’s beneficial for every area of your life![1]

          It’s not always easy to keep a “glass half full” mentality when work is stressful and the deadlines are piling up. But there are some things you can do to help maintain a positive attitude. Laughing at your unfortunate circumstances keeps the work environment positive, and taking “sanity” breaks can help you keep your cool in high-pressure situations.

          Managers look for positive mental attitude in a team member that is ready for a promotion, so it really does pay to keep your cool in challenging situations.

          5. A Strong Work Ethic

          People with a strong work ethic are committed to the role, persevere when things get tough and are inspired by challenge. These people are ambassadors for the organization, and will always be seen as top talent and ideal candidates.

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          If you can exhibit this skill, then expect to be seen as a great candidate, eligible for new opportunities and positions throughout your career.

          Since a strong work ethic can mean different things to different people, it helps to show specific examples of your exceptional work ethic during a performance appraisal or interview. For instance, you might talk about:

          • A time when you persisted in the face of challenges and did not shy away from hard work.
          • How you volunteered to help with projects even though these tasks did not form part of your job description.
          • The networking, workplace learning and skills betterment you’ve undertaken, which shows ambition and drive (people with a strong work ethic have those qualities in spades).
          • How you own your mistakes and never, ever point the finger of blame at others.

          For help with building a strong work ethic, check out these tips: How to Build a Reliable Work Ethic

          6. Public Speaking

          Who’s terrified of public speaking? Pretty much everyone, since public speaking is America’s number one fear, ahead of death at number five and loneliness at number seven.

          Yet, according to Warren Buffett, mastering this one skill you could increase your personal value by 50 percent.[2] That’s huge!

          If you’re not natural at public speaking, you’re in good company. Buffett had to work hard to overcome his stage fright and once dropped out of a public-speaking course before it started—because he was afraid of public speaking! He eventually realized that he needed to build up his confidence by just doing it; over and over in front of small groups.

          For a more structured approach, Toastmasters International teaches public speaking and leadership skills through a variety of pathways. Membership of this non-profit looks good on your resume but the real payoff will come when you can put your newfound skills to use on the job or in the interview room.

          Or, you can check out this advice: The Ultimate Public Speaking Tips to Hook and Impress Any Audience

          7. Integrity

          From a manager’s point of view, the two integrity skills that will set you apart are:

          • Always doing what you say you will do
          • Owning an error instead of minimizing or hiding it

          …even when no one is around to check up on you.

          There are lots of people who have climbed the ladder without scruples, but they are not the people who others trust, respect and support when promotion time comes around.

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          Behaving with integrity is a safe and consistent way to enhance your reputation and achieve your professional goals.

          8. Managing Your Time

          Phone calls, texts, Slack pings, meetings, huddles, side projects, multitasking—we are busier today than any generation before us. There’s no denying the workplace is an incredibly distracting place to be.

          A lot of us have traded effectiveness for busyness which we wear as a badge of honor, both as a proxy for productivity and to show our value to the company. But what bosses want, what they really, really want, is someone who actually gets stuff done on time.

          Time management is not merely the art of being on time, but of managing your time so you focus on the projects that really matter and add value to the business. This means prioritizing well, sticking to schedules, delegating, and not getting distracted by tasks that are easier to perform or less important. It means planning ahead and learning when it’s appropriate to say no.

          Time management can be a tough skill to maintain, but not a difficult one to pick up. Monitor your actions for a few days—how long do your tasks take to finish? What’s interrupting you? What causes you to lose focus? Once you have the answers to these questions, you can set a schedule for yourself to make sure you’re spending your time wisely and this valuable asset is never wasted.

          These 20 Quick Time Management Tips to Super Boost Your Productivity are also great to try.

          9. Assertiveness

          In any workplace, you typically will find people with the following conflict styles:

          • Passive: Those who go out of their way to avoid conflict.
          • Passive-aggressive: Those who express their negative feelings through actions rather than words.
          • Aggressive: Those who respond to conflict in a hostile and rude manner. These people get their opinion heard but they won’t make any friends in the process.
          • Assertive: People who stick up for their rights while still respecting the rights of others.

          Managers look for assertiveness above all other styles because it allows decisions to be made without conflict or alienating people.

          How do you use this information for yourself?

          It starts with understanding your personality so you can anticipate how you will react when conflict arises and address your own shortcomings. Then, you can start influencing the team for top results, and securing your own career advancement in the process.

          Learn how to be assertive and gain respect:

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          How to Be Assertive and Stand up for Yourself the Smart Way

          10. Creative Thinking

          LinkedIn recently analyzed over 50,000 skills that employers search for when looking for candidates to find out what skills are currently in demand.[3] Taking the number-one slot on the 2019 soft skills list was creativity: the ability to solve problems and think outside the box.

          Creativity is about bringing fresh, and sometimes unorthodox, ideas to the table. This helps companies to innovate, and companies that do not innovate will not survive very long.

          How do you showcase your creative thinking skills? The golden rule is to participate.

          Be brave and share your ideas during group brainstorming sessions. Volunteer to run a society, networking event or recruitment drive. Ask “what if” questions: “What if we add this information to the client welcome pack?” “What if we eliminate step 3 from the process?”

          These activities demonstrate that you’re prepared to go beyond “business as usual” towards creative problem solving—an ability that will serve you every day, all throughout your career.

          You can learn to unleash your creativity power:

          What Is Creativity? We All Have It, and Need It

          Final Thoughts

          The good news? Every item on this soft skills list can be learned. Although you may feel lacking in certain areas, taking an inventory of your strengths and weaknesses will allow you to focus in on the areas that you’ll benefit from developing.

          So take an inventory of your personality, skills, and talents. This will give you a baseline for your communication style, attitude to change, conscientiousness and more. You can then identify your weak areas and develop strategies for improving your team-building, assertiveness and conflict skills.

          The better news? The effort is worth it. Developing your soft skills opens the door to a new job or a promotion, and helps you succeed once you get there.

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          Featured photo credit: Rachael Gorjestani via unsplash.com

          Reference

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