Career Goals

Setting career goals to help get ahead

During your studies, you’ll find that your goals are often set for you. Whether it’s passing an exam or handing an assignment in on time, you always have milestones to aim for.

However, that path often disappears when we begin our careers. When you enter the world of work, the number of options can make it difficult to know where to go, and you run the risk of treading water. How can you set career goals that keep you motivated and help you improve?


What role are you in?

Setting career goals will be easier for some than for others. For those on established graduate schemes, there may be standard objectives for the programme. However, as all grads will be hoping to achieve these, they won’t necessarily help you develop in your own way. One of the best things you can do, regardless of whether you’re on a grad scheme, is to understand where your role fits within the company. If you make this an objective, you can speak to your boss about shadowing senior members of staff for a day or two to understand the progression from your current role, and what you can do to get ahead.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

This is a typical interview question, and most people applying for jobs will have an answer memorised. However, I was asked this by my mentor recently and realised that my tried-and-tested interview answer was no longer relevant! Considering mid-to-long term career plans helped highlight gaps in my knowledge, and identified helpful objectives that would help me develop. If you don’t know how you want to progress, try doing a bit of research into the typical career paths of people in your current position, and how they work up the ladder. That may not be exactly what you want, but it should help give you an idea of what’s realistic, and stop you from overstretching yourself or not achieving your potential.

Is this really what you want to do?

A small (and very fortunate) minority manage to go straight from studying into a dream job. For the rest of us, the first foray into work can teach us as much about what we don’t want to do as what we do want to do, and you should use this experience to set your goals. You may find that you love your profession, but that the sector isn’t for you. It may be worth working towards a professional qualification to show potential new employers that you have core professional skills. On the other hand, you may love your company, but can see yourself in a different team or department. In this case, you should develop transferrable skills that could apply to that function. If you can demonstrate a good understanding of the role, it may be possible to apply for an internal transfer.

Finally, the most important thing is that career development should be about you. Seek out opportunities that will develop key skills, and don’t be afraid to stretch yourself if the norm doesn’t meet your needs. This is your career, and no one else’s – make the most of it!

Still stuck on how to work up the careers ladder? Check out the rest of the site for more great advice!

Photo: GotCredit / Flickr

I’m Helena, a 21 year old recent physics graduate from Warwick university. In September I’ll be starting as a project management graduate with Transport for London. I love cooking, video games and writing, and I’m looking forward to taking the first step in my professional career!

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