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5 Steps for Career-Savvy Job Seekers to Define Their Goals

If you can dream it, it’s time to define it and ultimately attain your dream job. [TWEET]

A pivotal point during my childhood was the moment I happened upon a sign with the motto “Things don’t just happen” emblazoned across its façade. With decisions large and small being made for me by my parents, older siblings, and even extended relatives, this was an epiphany. After all, it seemed to me as if everything actually did just happen. Didn’t clean clothes just materialize in my dresser drawer each Saturday? Didn’t everyone just have access to electricity? That we weren’t sitting in the dark because my parents had paid the utility bill was a fact lost on me, as such details are on most children.

Think back for a moment to your own childhood, when life seemed relatively effortless. Grown-ups determined what you ate, where you lived, even what you wore each day. Time was measured in school years, not work weeks, and summer stretched out ahead with nary a responsibility in sight. Ahh, but those days of irresponsibility are long past. Now if you’ve got places to go, people to see and dreams to reach, it’s because you have set long-term career goals in order to make those things happen.

Step 1: Define your dream.

While setting long-term career goals and motivating yourself are great ideas, achieving your dream flows from first defining your dream. How can you hope to achieve a dream that is not clear in the first place? This enigmatic exchange in Alice in Wonderland between Alice and the Cheshire Cat illustrates the importance of a well-defined goal: “Tell me, please” says Alice, “which way I ought to go from here?” to which the Cat justifiably answers, “That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.” A befuddled Alice counters, “I don’t much care where.” The Cat’s retort? “Then it doesn’t matter which way you go.” When we are Alice-like, we tended to be just as unfocused and muddled in our thinking.

Step 2: Clarify your thoughts.

Unlike Lewis Carroll’s heroine, however, your desire to be less scattered can ultimately lead you to clarify your goals by taking specific, actionable steps. To start the process, pull up a chair, turn off your electronic gadgets, grab a pen, and close your eyes. You may have thought I was going to say, “Start writing” but as this is your first mission, it’s more important to get quiet and focus. Curtail distractions where you can. With your eyes closed, think about moments in your childhood when you felt the most ‘at ease.’ How about all those pickup games of basketball? Perhaps playing a musical instrument was a favorite pursuit … or maybe you gravitated to the art supplies beckoning to you from your older sister’s desk. Ever ‘play-tend’ that you were the teacher and that your stuffed animals were your students? I remember designing my own fledgling word games and crossword puzzles, a foreshadowing of my lifelong love of words. These are among the myriad possibilities that define who we are when we, as children, are left to our own devices– and it’s in these memories of play that we find important pieces of who we still are, even to this day.

Step 3: Write it down.

Your next mission is to start writing. Job seekers in particular will benefit by formulating a long-term career goal, not just as an abstract, theoretical thought, but by making the goal real by writing it down. The famous comic actor, Jim Carrey, has often related the story of how he struggled to make ends meet before he made it big. While going out on auditions and following casting notices, he was living out of his car, but a novel idea cemented a particular goal in his mind. Jim wrote himself a $10M check and dated it “Thanksgiving 1995.” Viewing it often eventually wore the piece of paper out, but the very act of writing the check acted as a channel to lead him towards his goal. His intention – to make millions of dollars by that date – may not resemble your own goal, but Jim Carrey was able to make his idea concrete by writing it down. Visualizing and achieving success is easier when you have clarified, very specifically, what you wish to manifest in your own life now, or down the road.

Let’s say that you want to find the sweet spot between your passion for cutting-edge technology and your desire to take on a leadership role that involves strategic planning and impacts an organization’s bottom line. As a result, you may determine your long-term career goal is to be the Chief Operating Officer for a high-tech start-up. If you know you need extensive management experience to be considered a COO candidate, your short-term goal should include obtaining a management position where you can begin to develop your managerial skill set. If you’re unsure of your long-term career goals, you may want to give these exercises a try.

Step 4: Break it down.

Knowing your ultimate goal allows you to break down short-term goals into incremental steps that lead you to achieving critical long-term goals. So, your third mission is to create short- and long-term career goals that are SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely. Your goals will be more effective if they take into account where you are now, where you want to be, and most importantly, what action you need to take to get from Point A to Point B. Once you identify your end goal, hold it in your mind and think about it often – but don’t stop there. Research what it takes to be considered a prime candidate in your industry. From then on, it’s just a matter of frequently revisiting the SMART goals that you have previously set to make sure that you are on track to reach them.

The familiar advice that you should surround yourself with positive people is of paramount importance at this stage. Don’t be surprised if family and friends put up some resistance as some attempt to dissuade you from pursuing your goals. Recall how far you have come in your thinking, and consider limiting the time you spend with people who drain your energy, rather than championing your hard-earned gusto and joie de vivre. By questioning your well-thought out plan, they may feel that they have your best interests in mind but often, those that tell an abundance of cautionary tales have long ago resigned themselves to a static lifestyle where nothing is ventured. Listen to these voices at the risk of drowning out your own.

Step 5: Take action.

So, what are your career goals? Once you have them clarified, tailor your resume and job-search efforts to land the opportunity that is right for you. As long as you are diligent in following the action plan that you have formulated, you’ll start to feel the energy that is engendered by advancing toward your goals. Being clear on what you want – in terms of jobs, industries and organizational culture – will make it easier for your extended network to help you, and for hiring managers to see you as a great fit.

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Write your resume like a pro.

TopResume's resume worksheet is just like the one our pros use. Download it now for free and start getting more interviews!

Write your resume like a pro.

TopResume's resume worksheet is just like the one our pros use. Download it now for free and start getting more interviews!