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How to Set Realistic Career Goals

by Mark Applegate, studioD

While setting stretch goals is a strong motivational technique, you must establish a set of realistic goals to be all that you can be in your career. You must consider your own skills and education, as well as the job potential, in the career path you choose. If you will set measurable and attainable short-term and long-range goals and will track your progress and make adjustments when necessary, you will likely succeed.

Start thinking about goals as early as possible. Take advantage of opportunities with career assessments to narrow your choices down to a few specific ones that match your skills and preferences.

Determine what is important to you in a career. If early retirement is a goal, find a job path that has high earning potential, such as medical or information technologies. Also consider secondary concerns such as work atmosphere and geography.

Focus on learning your specific vocation, not merely seeking a degree. Join an internship and network with professionals in your job field with the end goal of getting the attention of prospective employers and growing in your career.

Research the career path within your organization to determine the turnover for key positions, expansion potential and any other factor that can affect your goal. The better you understand the path to reach your goals, the easier it will be to see if your employer has the potential to meet your expectations.

Think big. Set positive, aggressive goals but adjust them as you learn more about your employer and field. If your current employer doesn't position you in line with your new goals, change employers or adjust your expectations.

Set specific dates by which you hope to meet certain benchmarks of success. For example, make it a goal to get a job within your field within 2 months of graduating, even if it is not lucrative. Set advancement goals, such as to earn a promotion within the first year.

Put everything in writing and post it where you can see it. Evaluate and chart your progress often. This keeps your goals tangible and reminds you to stay focused on your dreams.


  • Examine the long-range forecast of the industry in which you want to work to see if it is expected to grow in a way that supports your goals. Resources like the Bureau of Labor Statistics can prove invaluable in this research.
  • Be flexible and allow yourself to adjust goals along the way without feeling like a failure. You may have to take a job outside of your career path to pay off student loans. Don't be discouraged.

About the Author

Based in Bolivar, Mo., Mark Applegate has been a professional writer since 2003. An experienced Christian entrepreneur, Applegate work covers business, careers and technology as well as religious topics. He has primarily published in print in the "Cedar County (Mo.) Republican" and the "Republic (Mo.) Monitor" along with an host of online publications. He earned a Master of Business Administration from Colorado Technical University and currently serves as the information technology director at a local public school.

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