How to Set Realistic Career Goals for 2020


The truth is, any time of year is a great time to set some career goals for yourself. It doesn’t matter if it’s the beginning of January, the end of November or the middle of July. As long as your goals have their own timelines, that’s all that matters.

How to Set Career Goals 

Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash 

Setting goals for yourself is a great way to be the master of your own career. Promotions and salary increases are great, especially in line with performance reviews, but you shouldn’t wait around for external factors to determine your career path. But you can’t just set yourself a bunch of random, vague goals and hope for the best. So, how do you set career goals in such a way that they really will help progress your career?


Start with self-reflection

The best way to start thinking of new goals is to reflect on what you’ve achieved so far. If you’re looking at goals for the year ahead, take a look at the year you’ve had. What did you achieve in that time? Did you acquire any new skills or break new boundaries?

It’s important to give yourself the praise you deserve for the things you have achieved and reflecting on what you’ve done in the past can often help you set yourself up for the year ahead. For example, are there targets you achieved that you’re hoping to surpass in the next year?

Once you’ve figured out how you can expand on each of last year’s goals or achievements, you can look at where the gaps were. What did you not get around to this year? What’s missing from your list of achievements? How can you add them to this year’s plan?


Push your boundaries

Your goals should be a stretch for you. They should be realistic and achievable for sure, but they shouldn’t be easy. Your goals should challenge you in a healthy way. If you achieved something last year, think about how you can push that a bit further.

Equally, don’t take on too much in one go. If you push every boundary to its limit, will it be that little bit too far to achieve them all? Perhaps one of your goals should be to maintain the same level in one metric, while introducing a whole host of new ones. That in itself is a stretch. Only you will know what’s a doable stretch and what is completely unrealistic, but it’s important to evaluate each goal and know why you’ve set it. Question the motivation and purpose behind each goal before you set it in stone and once you know that, you’ll need to make sure it’s realistic to reach it, which brings us onto our next point.


Make sure your goals are SMART

SMART goals are a way of evaluating each objective to make sure that it is within reach. SMART stands for: specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely. So, when setting goals, you need to ask yourself those five questions. Is your goal specific enough? This means your goal shouldn’t just be “learn how to code” or “grow my email audience”. It has to go into detail about how you’re going to learn to code, what programming language you might learn and what you hope to achieve out of it, or grow your email audience by how much, in what timeframe and how?

Your goals should also be measurable, attainable and realistic. This means you should be able to track your goals in some way, be it with a checklist or through actual metrics. You also have to make sure it is actually possible to achieve the goal within your set timeline to avoid any disappointment.

Finally, your goals should be timely. Each one should have a realistic timeline and deadline attached to it, to help hold you accountable and to make sure you hit certain targets at certain times. This helps to avoid the dreaded ‘New Year resolution flop’ where you set goals with a vague end-of-the-year deadline and are left disappointed that you didn’t do anything or even think about them until November.


Know when to ask for help

Some of your goals will need support, be it from your friends or family or, more likely from a boss or colleague. Do you need extra help in developing new skills? Do you need the flexibility to attend courses? Always remember that you can ask for help and support in achieving your goals. Your employer should want you to progress and develop so supporting you on that journey will be in their interest.

It’s important to ask for help when you need it, but it’s even better if you’ve thought about what help you might need in advance. That means you can be prepared for certain situations when you will need support and if the people you need help from know in advance, they will be ready and willing to help.


Re-evaluate and be flexible

Whatever your timeline is for these goals, set aside some time at various intervals to review and re-evaluate your goals. It’s important that you can be flexible with them as you never know what kind of curveball you might be thrown.

Being flexible does not mean giving yourself a licence to give up on your goals halfway through – that’s what the timely deadlines are for. However, being flexible means reflecting on your goals at regular stages throughout the year and seeing if they’re still achievable in the way you had originally set them. Are you on track? If you’re not, is it because of external factors and do you need to adjust your expectations?

Allowing some flexibility, not only gives you the breathing room for unexpected occurrences, but it also means you can make room for goals that you had not originally thought of and now want to add in your plan. It may even mean swapping one goal for another.


Be kind to yourself

When setting your career goals for the year, it’s important to always treat yourself with kindness. The purpose of ensuring all of your goals are SMART is to avoid setting goals that are too vague, unrealistic and unattainable, all of which should manage your expectations.

However, it’s important to remember that goals should be a challenge and aspirational. That means you may not reach them all, and that’s OK. Don’t be too hard on yourself when it comes to succeeding. Setting achievable goals to progress your career is an achievement in itself and any shortcomings can be learned from and added to a much bigger career development plan.


By Jenny Darmody

This article first appeared in Recruiters Ie