Setting professional goals: planning your career

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We recently had our annual reviews at work, and as part of the process, we were asked to set some goals for the upcoming year. By all accounts, these goals are not really followed up on by management, but I put some thought into my goals anyway, because they’re MY goals and it’s MY responsibility to follow up on them.

After setting my goals, I thought I’d share some tips on setting your own goals, whether it is for your annual performance review, or just for your own benefit.

Setting professional goals forces you to think about your career, and to broaden your view from the here-and-now, to the future. You may be scrambling to do all your work well in the moment, but take a minute to think about 5 years from now, or 10 years from now, and what you need to do to get where you want to go.

Maybe just doing your work each day isn’t enough. Maybe you need to become involved in the community, find new clients for your company, seek out training events that you can attend, and then teach your coworkers about.

Figure out what your overall objective is first

Is your goal to make partner in the next 10 years? Is your goal to move into more of a business development role? Do you want to specialize in one industry?

Before you can set your goals for the upcoming year, you need to put some thought into your ultimate goal over the next 10 years. (Or 20. Longterm. However far ahead you think you can handle.)

If, deep down, you don’t plan to make partner, then your annual goals now may be completely different. You don’t need to point out to your boss that you are not attempting to make partner, of course!

Some of our former employees were interested in part-time work when they became parents. They handle monthly bookkeeping for some of our clients now, rather than working for us full time doing audits. It would also be possible to transition to working as an individual tax accountant – but our firm does more corporate taxes, while an individual practitioner would likely handle more individual and partnership returns.

Even if you don’t work in accounting, you can still apply this to the job you are currently in. What direction do you want to go in from where you are now?

Figure out what your short term objectives are

Okay, now that I have set my long-term objective, I can figure out some short term objectives are.

Let’s say I picked the  “partner” route. I’m going to want to make sure I’m assigned to some of our biggest clients, I’m going to want to network with other people at the levels in between me and partners. It depends on your firm what other objectives you might have.

Set goals that will help you achieve those objectives

You can’t just set your goal to being assigned to the biggest client – you need to set goals that will help you get there. Maybe you’ll attend an industry conference, to gain more knowledge about that client’s industry in the upcoming year. Maybe you’ll check with managers on that project first every time you’re out of work to do during the year, and then make sure you do that work promptly and well.

At this point in the process, you are figuring out the actual steps you can wake up and do every day that will help you achieve your objectives.

How I applied this to my annual review

I set a goal to learn how to do a particularly tricky type tax return well – and then I laid out steps I can take to get there. I will read the regulations referenced in the form instructions. I will find a good example of how to do the return properly, and study the example. I will actively ask for more of this type of return to practice on.

I also set a personal goal to work more efficiently; I want to get my chargeable hours in and go home earlier this year. This is not a goal I shared with my boss, because I don’t want to suggest that I haven’t been using my time efficiently already… but that doesn’t mean that I can’t set it as a goal for the year anyway!

Your annual review

Does your employer have you set annual goals? Do they follow up on these, or leave them up to you to keep track of? What were your career goals this year?

8 Comments on “Setting professional goals: planning your career

  1. Professional goals are real important particularly to get you ready for the next assignment or promootion. I think it should be part of an annual review and management should be held accountable.

    • I think it’s a pretty typical part of an annual review, but I’d say the failing will tend to be in the follow up. Plus, if everyone knows that goals weren’t followed up on last year, they won’t put much effort into setting them this year.

  2. I set tons of professional AND personal goals, but they’re usually too ambitious. “I want 2 million email subscribers to my blog and six-pack abs!” Hmmm. Or maybe that’s NOT too ambitious …

    • There’s a fine line between shooting for the stars, and setting yourself up for failure – I find that if I don’t truly believe that I can accomplish a goal, I will never quite get there – after a few months of getting my grocery + restaurant bill *close* to $300, I find myself at the end of the month thinking “Well I’m at $325, so what the hey, I’ll eat out and spend another $25 since I’m over anyway…”

      So I like to give myself incremental goals – get under $350 this month, get under $325 next month…

  3. Good article about goal setting…funny I just wrote something similar. Seems fall brings out the introspective part of me, and that must be a holdover from school days.

    I like Paula’s goals:)

  4. Things feel different when I started providing a goal for myself. I am actually more comfortable and secure since I know what I want. I am glad to learn about your tips on professional goals. I will see to it that I get started and work on them.

  5. I always set goals. It helps me focus and concentrate things I want to get done.

  6. I think I made all the mistakes you have listed when I first started freelance writing back in 2008.