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Out of all of the standard job interview questions, one that is among my least favorite is, “Where do you see yourself in five years?”
I understand that potential employers are looking for a goal-oriented person who is driven to progress in their career, but my knee-jerk response to this question is always, “I don’t even know what’s for dinner.” Things can change so quickly in life, and while I’ve maintained a certain sense of stability up to this point, I can’t really project five years out.
Having recently been asked this question, I was glad to have a more suitable answer than my sarcastic response, but I may have been lost without having come up with a career goal statement. Just like yours probably are, my work days are busy and taken over by to-do lists of tasks that need to be accomplished in the short-term, which means I largely take things one day at a time.
And while these short-term tasks are inherently critical to being successful in our professional roles, it’s entirely too easy to become overpowered by these immediate responsibilities, leaving us little time to stop and think about what we are actually working toward in the long run.
In this article, we will look at what a career goal statement is, why it’s important to have one, and how you can write your own. I will also offer some examples of career goal statements so you can get a better feel for what they typically look like.
Let’s start by reviewing what a career goal statement is.
What Is a Career Goal Statement?
A career goal statement is a clearly written out declaration of purpose, specifying your career aspirations, your intended professional achievements, your plan of action to accomplish them, and a timeframe for completion. This concise proclamation clearly presents your vision for your professional life in order to help you effectively plan your career and communicate to others what your intentions are. (Know the differences between vision and goals in this post.)
Your career goal statement can help keep you on track to completing your professional goals because, at face value, it shouldn’t offer much wiggle room for mid-goal modifications. Of course, things may come up and your statement may need some adjustment at times (more on that later), but it should be written in definite terms without any suggested expectation for your plan to change.
As you can probably see, there is an element of a SMART goal in a career goal statement. Regardless of your chosen professional field, having a written statement can be your guide for achieving your goals, just as any other well-written SMART goal would be. Your documented intentions will help you stay motivated and remain accountable for your success.
Benefits of a Career Goal Statement
A career goal statement is important because it requires you to be clear about your objectives, which sets the framework for planning the steps you will need to take to get there. Here are a few other benefits to having a career goal statement:
1. It keeps you motivated by showing your starting point and your end goal, which will ultimately define your daily tasks.
2. It helps you stay accountable because you will have made yourself a promise on paper rather than just having a vague idea in your head of how you want your career to pan out.
3. With a career goal statement, you’re leaving the guesswork out of how to reach your goals. Instead, you have clear steps written out that you plan to follow to realize your ultimate professional vision. It helps you make objective decisions by answering questions such as:
4. A career goal statement will help you develop a specific action plan.
5. A specific career goal statement will help you evaluate your current job and offer clarity on any decisions you need to make in order to realign yourself with your ultimate goals.
Now that you know what a career goal statement is and why you should have one, let’s look at how you can create your own.
How to Write a Career Goal Statement
As previously mentioned, you want your career goal statement to be precise and specific. Here is how you can write an effective career goal statement:
1. Reflect on Your Wants and Needs
Think about your passions and the things you really care about.
2. Get Specific
You don’t want to use noncommittal phrases in your career goal statement. Avoid indefinite phrases such as, “I want to…” or “I hope I can…”
Instead, start your career goal statement with confidence and certainty, using words such as “I will.” This removes ambiguity and gives you encouragement whenever you need to refer back to it.
After reflecting upon the points in step one, start narrowing your statement down to be more specific. Use the SMART goals technique for this by:
In order to create a specific career goal statement, you may need to do some research. Your career goal statement is most likely to succeed when you’re completely aware of what it will take to reach your end goal.
Every profession is different, so it's critical to do your research about what exactly you will need to do to secure the position you’re aiming for. You may also need to educate yourself to narrow down your professional goal. For example, if you want to be a lawyer, you will want to research the various types of law that you can pursue, such as business law, environmental law, family law, etc.
It can be really helpful to talk to someone who has already been successful in your chosen field to find out what steps they took to get to where they are today, what their degree is in, what projects they completed to help refine their skills, and any professional organizations or groups they joined to maintain inspiration. Doing this can especially help you with making sure each part of your goal is realistic.
3. Create an Action Plan
Now that you’ve laid out exactly what you want to do, you need to determine how you’re going to do it. What steps are you going to take to cross that finish line? This will provide you with the roadmap you need to not only get started, but to always know what your next step is. Include any education, skills, internships, or other experiences that may be required. A career goal that comes without instructions will likely be abandoned.
4. Leave Room for Flexibility
You need to recognize that goals can change over time. While you want your career goal statement to offer you something to work toward in the long run, that doesn’t mean your ultimate goal is completely set in stone. Because your goal is set to be completed over a relatively long period of time, it’s only natural that you will experience personal growth or unexpected circumstances during that time that can impact your goal.
For example, you may have personal circumstances that come up that make the timeline for your goal unrealistic, or you could accomplish your goal sooner than expected, requiring you to come up with a new goal. Things happen, and you have to be flexible with your goal and be able to adapt to new conditions.
However, if you have to shift your goal, don’t abandon your previous goal entirely. Instead, keep it on the table while establishing a new goal. It will be interesting in the future to go back and see how your vision has evolved over time, and recognize that progression can be both informative and inspiring for you in the future.
Now that you know the steps you need to take to create your career goal statement, you’re probably wondering what this statement may look like. Let’s look at some examples.
Examples of Career Goal Statements
Here are a few good examples of career goal statements to help get you started:
I will advance from being a sales representative to being a sales manager before 2025. I will accomplish this by establishing a track record of exceeding sales goals, earning an MBA, and developing strong interpersonal skills, demonstrating characteristics of an effective leader, and showing enthusiasm for being a critical part of a team, as evidenced by joining a professional association, being goal-oriented, and making purposeful business connections through networking.
I will be a full-time writer within the next three years. To realize this, I will complete freelance writing projects to diversify my portfolio, attend a writing seminar, workshop, or conference at least every six months, and read one book each quarter on how to advance my writing.
I will become the Director of Human Resources for ABC Company in the next 7 years. To achieve this, I will become a certified HR practitioner while continuing to work in my current HR operations role. I will consistently seek to improve my verbal and written communication skills, proactively grow my knowledge of federal and state labor laws, demonstrate a marked improvement in my leadership and decision-making skills, and stay up-to-date on any new developments of software in time accounting, resume submission, and payroll.
I will become a Certified Public Accountant by maintaining my license within one year. In order to accomplish this, I'll complete a CPA exam prep course and develop a study plan that includes studying every evening from 5:00 to 7:00 in order to pass the CPA exam.
Final Thoughts on Writing a Career Goal Statement
Career goal statements are visionary and help you obtain professional success. By putting your career goal statement in writing, you’re actively planning for personal growth within your chosen industry. This will allow you to look beyond your everyday tasks and place more focus on the bigger picture of your career.
When writing your career goal statement, you should set goals that go beyond the minimum standard for success within your profession. Aim to exceed the norm and surpass mediocrity.
Keep your statement in a place that you can access it easily and refer to it whenever you need some encouragement or a reminder of what you’re working toward. Your career goal statement will help you maintain that “bigger picture” perspective that’s easy to lose sight of on your everyday list of things to do.
Finally, if you want to take your goal-setting efforts to the next level, check out this FREE printable worksheet and a step-by-step process that will help you set effective SMART goals.
Connie Mathers is a professional editor and freelance writer. She holds a Bachelor's Degree in Marketing and a Master’s Degree in Social Work. When she is not writing, Connie is either spending time with her daughter and two dogs, running, or working at her full-time job as a social worker in Richmond, VA.