How many times have you been asked the question, “where do you see yourself in five years?”
Better yet, how many times have you answered that question generically, without any real strategy or measure of success to hold yourself accountable?
It’s okay to not have a clear picture of what you want your career to look like five or ten years down the road. Even if you do have a solid answer to the “five year” question, that vision is likely to evolve as you grow and your priorities shift.
But although you might not always have a concrete “endgame” in mind, setting clear, actionable goals should consistently be a priority if you want to maintain the most possible opportunities ahead of you.
Bottom line: advancing your career doesn’t have to imply actively “climbing up the corporate ladder.” It is a mindset for bettering yourself – personally and professionally.
Which Goal Setting Framework Makes Sense for You?
Here at The Forem, we use three broad goal setting frameworks to help position your mindset for whatever stage you’re at in your career journey: Crush It, Pivot, or Level-Up. Whether you want to kill it in your role, shift to a new vertical, or snag that promotion, here are three ways to think about your career growth right now.
Crush It: Advancing Your Career in a Role You Already Love
Maybe you recently “leveled up” (more on that later), secured a raise, started a new role… or maybe you’re just comfortable at your org and want to stay put for a while. That’s fantastic!
But guess what? You still need to be goal setting.
Often when we talk about career goals, we assume they should be centered on promotions, project opportunities, etc… but this isn’t always what we want.
It is totally fine to want to maintain your position, for any reason. Maybe you know if you get a promotion you’ll have to take on more responsibility, and you’re afraid that would upset your life-work balance. Maybe that next opportunity involves a fair bit of travel, and you want to consider settling down and starting a family.
Whatever your reason, you don’t need to justify it, but you do need to work to uphold it.
When you aren’t being intentional about staying on top of your game, you’re at risk of someone else coming down the line and stealing your spotlight (or even your desk).
In fact, if we don’t Crush It where we’re most comfortable, we may never leave the impression that we’re capable of Leveling Up when the time comes that we might want to do so.
Always keep the door open for opportunities, even if you’re not ready to cross the threshold just yet.
Examples of Crush It Goals…
I’m a copywriter and love the role I play for my org. This quarter I’m going to complete two online learning modules on content marketing best practices, so I can make my approach to SEO blogs more efficient.
I’m a project manager and I’m great at my job. Each week I’m going to commit to teaching a team member new skills that will empower them to complete tasks independently. By responsibly delegating, I hope to find a better work-life balance and improve my mental health.
Side note: notice how clear, measurable, and attainable these goals are? Use the SMART method to break down your goals once you decide whether Crush It, Pivot, or Level Up feels right for this stage of your career. This bonus goal setting framework provides a measure of success and accountability to ensure you cross the finish line.
Pivot: Advancing Your Career to a New Role or Industry
Maybe your role doesn’t feel fulfilling at all any more. Or, maybe you’re just ready for a change, and you’re feeling inspired by something that you can’t access in your current department.
It might be time for a Career Pivot.
Pivot goals are some of the most difficult, but they can also be the most rewarding. Deciding to take a leap of faith and start anew in a different field is scary, but it’s also a decision you wouldn’t make if you weren’t prioritizing your passions to advance your career. Hats off to you for following your dreams! Now… let’s get a goal setting framework for achieving them.
If you let the vision of a whole new role hover in front of you without building a bridge to reach it, you’ll never get to live out that dream at its fullest potential. Career goals for those who want to Pivot should revolve around growing your connections and authority in your new field of interest.
Ok, but maybe you’re not sure where you want to pivot yet—you just know you need a change.
Setting networking goals will help with this. In addition to planting seeds for opportunities, connecting with a wide variety of people may also give you inspiration for where you’d like to advance your career next. Expanding your circle outside of your department is vital Step #1.
Step #2: do your research so you hit the ground running once you’ve Pivoted. The people in your network can be your advocates, yes, but they can usually only get you as far as an introduction. You’re still going to have to set goals that will build up your capacity to thrive in a new environment.
Examples of Career Pivot Goals…
I’m very passionate about philanthropy, and believe the skills I developed as a Corporate Budget Analyst would be better served working to help non-profits maximize their impact. I’m not sure exactly where I want to pivot yet, so I’m going to set up new networking meetings twice per week to get more insight and build my connections in philanthropy-forward orgs.
I feel like I need more creativity in my day-to-day work that I can’t access in my role as a Sales Associate, so I’d like to pivot into Graphic Design. To familiarize myself with the tools I’ll need to succeed in that field, I’m going to commit 30 minutes per night to experiment with different design software.
Level Up: Advancing Your Career to Land a Promotion
These are the goals that probably feel the most familiar, or the ones that first come to mind when people ask that “where do you see yourself in X years?” question. You’re in a field that feels right for you, and now you want to make your way up the ladder.
The mistake we most often make when we want to Level Up is wasting our time getting hung up on the far-off dream, and neglecting the steps in between that will lead us there.
If you imagine heading your department, joining the C-suite, or even just getting a promotion and/or raise, start with the first step first: what can you do today that will put you in motion toward advancing your career?
Saying “I want a raise” or “I want to be CMO one day” isn’t a goal. It’s a dream.
Sure, you can (and should) incorporate your dream into your goal, but ideas aren’t effective vehicles to success.
Setting attainable benchmarks that will help you move closer and closer to that dream over time? Now that is a real Level Up strategy.
Examples of Level Up Goals…
I want to get a raise at my annual performance review, so I’m going to commit to sending a record of my accomplishments and business impact to my manager each quarter. This way, by the time we meet to discuss my potential, she will have a clear log of my growing worth to the company.
I dream of being the CFO of my company someday. The next step to advance my career in that direction is to assume a more senior role in the Financial Services department, ideally with managerial responsibilities. To prove to my manager I’m capable of leading a team, I aim to help out at least one colleague per day in any way that I can. This way, I’m reinforcing my personal brand as a community-minded leader and financing expert.
However you want to Level Up, it’s important to acknowledge the role that your colleagues and higher-ups will play in creating those opportunities for you. You can’t give yourself a new title or salary; you have to build meaningful relationships with the people who have that power.
In other words, your Level Up goals should focus foremost on proving to the people around you that you’re worthy of advancing your career to higher seniority. This means sharing your personal brand, calculating your business impact, and raising the visibility of your accomplishments.
But no matter where you’re at in your journey or what goal setting framework you choose…
Remember: Growth is a standalone value that will only lead to greater fulfillment and increased opportunities. Whether you’re content in your role, want to explore other roles, or are hoping to scale the ladder, you’ll always benefit from a game plan and a little self-motivation.