A reference can make or break your application for a job. The way you write about yourself in a cover letter will introduce your experience from the perspective of how you will most benefit the company. Remember, when you are attempting to get a job, the company is most interested in how your skills and experience will move the company forward. A job is not the reward at the end of a college education. No one owes you anything so convey in your cover letter your personality, your dedication and your knowledge of how you can help the company.
The rest is up to the line items in your resume. Those details in your resume will stand squarely on the words from your references. Choosing the right blend of carefully and thoughtfully crafted letters of recommendation will be the support for what you promised in your cover letter.
How to get references
When you’re in school, you should make every attempt to network with peers and professors. Make sure you use your time wisely and spend equal time studying, getting involved with clubs or societies represented by your future profession and listening to your mentor.
1. Choose wisely (professional people)
You wouldn’t ask for a reference for a government job from your English 101 professor just because you earned an A in the course. Choose your letters of reference to come from professors who know your academic record as well as how hard you work at furthering your career. Try to gain internship experience and engage co-workers, peers and bosses to provide references after you leave.
2. Get references by asking
If you don’t ask, you will less likely receive. Professional peers and professors will happily speak on your behalf if you’ve earned it, but you cannot forget to ask. Seek references via LinkedIn as well as on letterhead for specific opportunities.
3. Stay connected to get references
Your fifth grade teacher isn’t the best person to ask for a letter of recommendation, but keeping in touch over time is paramount to earning quality praise. LinkedIn is a great tool for building an online portfolio and engaging your network. Send examples from your portfolio to past instructors and keep a close eye on the industries and key personnel where you’d like to one day work.
4. Provide specifics (not just general info)
The devil is in the details. A vague, form-letter from even a respected professional will bore a potential employer. “Sarah goes above and beyond, is never late and is a real go-getter,” will not get Sarah anywhere. The best letters of recommendation come from those mentors you’ve gotten to know. Impressive references can say, “I met Sarah in my 1101 course and she excelled in the class where the average grade was a C. She then went on to start her own club based on the principles she learned. She takes her work seriously and balances her time between an internship with NASA and….” You get the point. This reference didn’t accept a bribe for the reference and she didn’t do it as a courtesy to a student who did well in one class. If your reference writers cannot or will not take the time to list specifics, then ask for letters from others.
5. Get references from different people for different positions
Don’t ask you marketing professor to recommend you for a job as a reporter and don’t ask the director of programming from your radio internship to recommend you for a job as a nurse. The crime has to fit the punishment. Make connections that last and make impression so you’ll be worthy of a reference letter. When pursuing different avenues or even slightly different position in the same industry, make sure your references come from the most impressive person who can speak most impressively about your work in the field.
Taking your work to the next level means setting and keeping career goals. A career goal is a targeted objective that explains what you want your ultimate profession to be.
Defining career goals is a critical step to achieving success. You need to know where you’re going in order to get there. Knowing what your career goals are isn’t just important for you–it’s important for potential employers too. The relationship between an employer and an employee works best when your goals for the future and their goals align. Saying, “Oh, I don’t know. I’ll do anything,” makes you seem indecisive, and opens you up to taking on ill-fitting tasks that won’t lead you to your dream life.
Career goal templates’ one-size-fits-all approach won’t consider your unique goals and experiences. They won’t help you stand out, and they may not reflect your full potential.
In this article, I’ll help you to define your career goals with SMART goal framework, and will provide you with a list of examples goals for work and career.
Instead of relying on a generalized framework to explain your vision, use a tried-and-true goal-setting model. SMART is an acronym for “Specific, Measurable, Action-oriented, Realistic with Timelines.” The SMART framework demystifies goals by breaking them into smaller steps.
Helpful hints when setting SMART career goals:
Start with short-term goals first. Work on your short-term goals, and then progress the long-term interests. Short-term goals are those things which take 1-3 years to complete. Long-term goals take 3-5 years to do. As you succeed in your short-term goals, that success should feed into accomplishing your long-term goals.
Be specific, but don’t overdo it. You need to define your career goals, but if you make them too specific, then they become unattainable. Instead of saying, “I want to be the next CEO of Apple, where I’ll create a billion-dollar product,” try something like, “My goal is to be the CEO of a successful company.”
Get clear on how you’re going to reach your goals. You should be able to explain the actions you’ll take to advance your career. If you can’t explain the steps, then you need to break your goal down into more manageable chunks.
Don’t be self-centered. Your work should not only help you advance, but it should also support the goals of your employer. If your goals differ too much, then it might be a sign that the job you’ve taken isn’t a good fit.
If you want to learn more about setting SMART Goals, watch the video below to learn how you can set SMART career goals.
After you’re clear on how to set SMART goals, you can use this framework to tackle other aspects of your work. For instance, you might set SMART goals to improve your performance review, look for a new job, or shift your focus to a different career.
We’ll cover examples of ways to use SMART goals to meet short-term career goals in the next section.
Why You Need an Individual Development Plan
Setting goals is one part of the larger formula for success. You may know what you want to do, but you also have to figure out what skills you have, what you lack, and where your greatest strengths and weaknesses are.
One of the best ways to understand your capabilities is by using the Science Careers Individual Development Plan skills assessment. It’s free, and all you need to do is register an account and take a few assessments.
These assessments will help you determine if your career goals are realistic. You’ll come away with a better understanding of your unique talents and skill-sets. You may decide to change some of your career goals or alter your timeline based on what you learn.
40 Examples of Goals for Work & Career
All this talk of goal-setting and self-assessment may sound great in theory, but perhaps you need some inspiration to figure out what your goals should be.
For Changing a Job
Attend more networking events and make new contacts.
Achieve a promotion to __________ position.
Get a raise.
Plan and take a vacation this year.
Agree to take on new responsibilities.
Develop meaningful relationships with your coworkers and clients.
Ask for feedback on a regular basis.
Learn how to say, “No,” when you are asked to take on too much.
Delegate tasks that you no longer need to be responsible for.
Strive to be in a leadership role in __ number of years.
For Switching Career Path
Pick up and learn a new skill.
Find a mentor.
Become a volunteer in the field that interests you.
Commit to getting training or going back to school.
Read the most recent books related to your field.
Decide whether you are happy with your work-life balance and make changes if necessary. 
Plan what steps you need to take to change careers.
Compile a list of people who could be character references or submit recommendations.
Commit to making __ number of new contacts in the field this year.
Create a financial plan.
For Getting a Promotion
Reduce business expenses by a certain percentage.
Stop micromanaging your team members.
Become a mentor.
Brainstorm ways that you could improve your productivity and efficiency at work
Seek a new training opportunity to address a weakness.
Find a way to organize your work space.
Seek feedback from a boss or trusted coworker every week/ month/ quarter.
Become a better communicator.
Find new ways to be a team player.
Learn how to reduce work hours without compromising productivity.
For Acing a Job Interview
Identify personal boundaries at work and know what you should do to make your day more productive and manageable.
Identify steps to create a professional image for yourself.
Go after the career of your dreams to find work that does not feel like a job.
Look for a place to pursue your interest and apply your knowledge and skills.
Find a new way to collaborate with experts in your field.
Identify opportunities to observe others working in the career you want.
Become more creative and break out of your comfort zone.
Ask to be trained more relevant skills for your work.
Ask for opportunities to explore the field and widen your horizon
Set your eye on a specific award at work and go for it.
Career Goal Setting FAQs
I’m sure you still have some questions about setting your own career goals, so here I’m listing out the most commonly asked questions about career goals.
1. What if I’m not sure what I want my career to be?
If you’re uncertain, be honest about it. Let the employer know as much as you know about what you want to do. Express your willingness to use your strengths to contribute to the company. When you take this approach, back up your claim with some examples.
If you’re not even sure where to begin with your career, check out this guide:
Lying to potential employers is bound to end in disaster. In the interview, a lie can make you look foolish because you won’t know how to answer follow up questions.
Even if you think your career goal may not precisely align with the employer’s expectations for a long-term hire, be open and honest. There’s probably more common ground than they realize, and it’s up to you to bridge any gaps in expectations.
Being honest and explaining these connections shows your employer that you’ve put a lot of thought into this application. You aren’t just telling them what they want to hear.
3. Is it better to have an ambitious goal, or should I play it safe?
You should have a goal that challenges you, but SMART goals are always reasonable. If you put forth a goal that is way beyond your capabilities, you will seem naive. Making your goals too easy shows a lack of motivation.
Employers want new hires who are able to self-reflect and are willing to take on challenges.
4. Can I have several career goals?
It’s best to have one clearly-defined career goal and stick with it. (Of course, you can still have goals in other areas of your life.) Having a single career goal shows that you’re capable of focusing, and it shows that you like to accomplish what you set out to do.
On the other hand, you might have multiple related career goals. This could mean that you have short-term goals that dovetail into your ultimate long-term career goal. You might also have several smaller goals that feed into a single purpose.
For example, if you want to become a lawyer, you might become a paralegal and attend law school at the same time. If you want to be a school administrator, you might have initial goals of being a classroom teacher and studying education policy. In both cases, these temporary jobs and the extra education help you reach your ultimate goal.
You’ll have to devote some time to setting career goals, but you’ll be so much more successful with some direction. Remember to:
Set SMART goals. SMART goals are Specific, Measurable, Action-oriented, and Realistic with Timelines. When you set goals with these things in mind, you are likely to achieve the outcomes you want.
Have short-term and long-term goals. Short-term career goals can be completed in 1-3 years, while long-term goals will take 3-5 years to finish. Your short-term goals should set you up to accomplish your long-term goals.
Assess your capabilities by coming up with an Individual Development Plan. Knowing how to set goals won’t help you if you don’t know yourself. Understand what your strengths and weaknesses are by taking some self-assessments.
Choose goals that are appropriate to your ultimate aims. Your career goals should be relevant to one another. If they aren’t, then you may need to narrow your focus. Your goals should match the type of job that you want and the quality of life that you want to lead.
Be clear about your goals with potential employers. Always be honest with potential employers about what you want to do with your life. If your goals differ from the company’s objectives, find a way bridge the gap between what you want for yourself and what your employer expects.
By doing goal-setting work now, you’ll be able to make conscious choices on your career path. You can always adjust your plan if things change for you, but the key is to give yourself a road map for success.