How to set career goals (and achieve them)

There are many possible answers to the question, ‘Why do MBA graduates go on to enjoy professional success?’ Cutting-edge business know-how, leadership skills, an excellent network, and one-on-one career coaching all contribute to MBA graduates’ professional prowess. Another reason MBA graduates go on to be accomplished individuals, however, is because MBA programs help candidates fine-tune their career goals and map out clear, effective action plans for achieving those goals. How you approach career goal setting has a profound impact on how likely you are to end up actually achieving those goals.

Keep the following guidelines in mind when setting your own career goals:

Set SMART goals.

At the risk of stating the obvious, the first step to achieving any goal is clarifying exactly what that goal is. The SMART acronym is a handy tool for setting clear, measurable goals:

SMART goals are:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Relevant
  • Time-sensitive

‘I want to run my own company’ isn’t a SMART goal. ‘I want to launch my own luxury brand based in Paris within three years, and be profitable within four’ is more like it.

Plan your attack step by step.

Once you’ve got your SMART goal in your sights, it’s time to painstakingly plan your journey there. There’s no such things as too much detail, so get specific. Need a new skill set? Do your research and decide exactly when, how, and where you’ll pick those skills up. Need to network with key players in a particular company? Find a way to connect with them, whether it’s by attending a conference they’re speaking at or reaching out to them through an online business network like LinkedIn. Breaking down your long-term plan into smaller steps also allows you to focus fully on completing one step or task at a time. This approach is much more manageable than trying to achieve multiple goals simultaneously.

Check in with your plan regularly.

No one else is going to hold you accountable, so it’s up to you to make sure you stick to your career plan. Set mini deadlines and check in regularly to make sure your progress is on track. Review your plan regularly, too; fresh perspectives and new information might mean it makes more sense to adapt and update your plan as you go.

Find a mentor.

If you already have a career mentor, thank your lucky stars. Being able to bounce ideas off of someone who’s walked your path before and has years of hard-earned experience in your field really is a godsend. If you don’t have someone like this to look to in times of crisis, however, finding a mentor can be difficult. In fact, the opportunity to connect with industry heavyweights and would-be career mentors is another reason why doing an MBA is a good idea. You’ll be exposed to a clutch of veritable business gurus who might just change your perspective – and career – for the better.

Don’t give up.

‘I was going to start my own business/write a book/change my career...but then life happened.’ We all know someone who blames ‘life’ for wrecking their dreams and ambitions. If you think the world will stop turning while you set out to achieve your career goals, you’re kidding yourself. The truth is, life is going to throw you numerous curveballs that threaten to derail your plans. Maybe you’ll suffer a personal tragedy just when you’re gearing up to devote all your time to starting a business. Maybe your work visa will be denied just when you get the opportunity to build a new life and career in the country you’ve always wanted to live in. Or maybe you’ll be offered a too-good-to-refuse promotion in a role you never planned to take. Achieving your career goals requires patience, persistence, and focus. Instead of throwing your plans out the window at the first sign of trouble, sit down and adjust them to make the most of your new circumstances. Whatever you do, don’t give up.

Why do an MBA? If an MBA features in your plans for achieving your career goals, pursuing the degree really is one of the best career investments you can ever make. The best MBA programs include career-boosting extras like one-on-one career coaching, networking events, and mock interview training, which is why getting your MBA is still a smart career move today.

That said, why get your MBA at all if you aren’t going to make sure the program you pick is perfect for you? Download our guide, How to find the perfect MBA, for expert advice on choosing an MBA program.

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