Create a Plan & Set Goals

Learn about the importance of setting goals. Setting goals and making a plan will improve your chances of success.

Why Set Goals?

In today’s world of work, you need to take charge of your own career. People who set and finish career goals tend to get more done and often earn more money than people who don’t set goals. It is up to you. If you don’t make it happen for you, no one else will.

Advantages to the New World of Work
You Relate to Others as Equals: There is more of a “team” mindset in the work place. Supervisors’ roles have changed from "parent" to "coach.” You joined the team voluntarily and can leave any time. You can leave when you are ready. You also know that an employer can ask you to leave at any time.
You Find Greater Joy in Work: You can choose work that you find interesting. Since very few jobs offer real security, why not do what you love?
You Keep Growing: To keep growing, you need to expand your skills and add to your knowledge. You need to build relationships with coworkers and others in your field. You must be flexible and able to adapt to changes in your work. You must be able to transfer your skills to different types of work.
You Get to Define Yourself: Telling your story using your skills puts you in charge of your career. You can say, “I am good with my hands and I’ve put my skills to use in the past four years in painting houses.” You have more options than saying “I was a painter.”

Set Short and Long-Term Goals

Where would you like to be in five years? Ten years? What would you like to have accomplished by the time you retire? Think about and write down your long-term goals using the SMART method. Include career, education, financial, or personal goals. These goals can be related to each other. You might have one goal that affects all areas of your life.

Specific: Be specific about the goal including what you want to accomplish, location, and time frame.
Measurable: How will you measure your success? How much of your goal will you accomplish and when?
Attainable: Create steps for your goal. This will give you a sense of accomplishment along the way.
Realistic: You are more likely to reach a goal if you believe that you can do it.
Timely or Tangible: By setting a deadline you have something to work towards. Sometimes it helps if your goal is something you can sense either visually or physically.


Use the Long-Term Goals (pdf) to write down your goals. You may not have goals in all areas.

Make Your Goal-Setting Plan

Once you write down your long-term goals, think about how you can achieve them. Come up with specific actions attached to each goal. Write them down in a plan.

Be Flexible.
Adjust your short- term actions as needed. Sometimes things happen that take you off track, but this does not mean that you no longer have a goal. Stay motivated when your goal takes longer to accomplish or you have to overcome barriers.

Use the Career Plan Worksheet (pdf) to track your career goals and the actions to support them. You can add your personal goals to this worksheet, too.

Example of a Career Plan
My long-term career goal:

In 3 years I will have a culinary certificate and working towards becoming a lead chef.

My short-term goals to
achieve my long-term goal:

I will learn more.

  • I will talk with three people in this career within 1 month.
  • I will develop a list of realistic tasks within 1 month.

I will expand my skills.

  • I will get an entry-level chef job within 6 months.

I will practice skills.

  • I will go to the library every week to get cooking books.
  • I will practice at least one recipe every week at home.

I will get experience.

  • I will ask my boss to use one of my recipes within 8 months.

I will gain training.

  • I will finish my chef degree within three years.

Career Plan Steps

Think about people who you admire. How did they get there? You can achieve your long term goals by breaking them into smaller tasks and make new goals as you go along.

Here are ways to help you set and stick to your goals:

Career Plan Steps
Step 1: Make a career plan Think about your long–term career goals and the things you can do in the short run to get them done.
Step 2: Follow your career plan

You've set your career goals and written down the steps you need to get them done. Now follow your written plan.

  • Tell people about your goals. Find people who will support you and give you feedback.
  • Be sure your goals and the time you need to get them done are realistic.
  • Reward yourself for completing a task.  
Step 3: Review and update your career plan

You may run into roadblocks or want to change your mind. Don't be discouraged!

  • Change your career plan or tasks if they aren't working for you.
  • Think of new ways to complete your goals.
  • Understand that the world of work changes quickly, and so can you.

When you achieve one or more of your career goals, reward yourself. Think of new goals for the next phase of your career. Remember: planning your career will last for your whole life.

Using a SWOT Analysis in Your Job Plan

A SWOT analysis helps you organize and examine the internal and external environments, strengths and weaknesses in the internal environment and opportunities and threats in the external environment. Here is a diagram of how a SWOT Analysis is structured and a completed table with suggestions:



Internal positive aspects that are under control and upon which you may capitalize in planning

  • Work Experience
  • Education, including value-added features
  • Strong technical knowledge within your field (e.g. hardware, software, programming languages)
  • Specific transferable skills (e.g., communication, teamwork, leadership skills)
  • Personal characteristics (e.g., strong work ethic, self-discipline, ability to work under pressure, creativity, optimism, or a high level of energy)


Internal negative aspects that are under your control and that you may plan to improve

  • Lack of Work Experience
  • Limited related education
  • Lack of goals, lack of self-knowledge, lack of specific job knowledge
  • Weak skills (leadership, interpersonal, communication, teamwork)
  • Weak job-hunting skills
  • Negative personal characteristics (e.g., poor work ethic, lack of discipline, lack of motivation, indecisiveness, shyness, too emotional)


Positive external conditions that you do not control but of which you can plan to take advantage

  • Positive trends in your field that will create more jobs (e.g., growth, globalization, technological advances)
  • Opportunities you could have in the field by enhancing your education
  • Opportunities you could have through greater self-knowledge, more specific job goals
  • Opportunities for advancement in your field
  • Opportunities for professional development in your field 


Negative external conditions that you do not control but the effect of which you may be able to lessen

  • Negative trends in your field that diminish jobs Competition
  • Competitors with superior skills, experience, knowledge
  • Competitors with better job-hunting skills than you
  • Obstacles in your way (e.g., lack of the advanced education/training you need to take advantage of opportunities)
  • Limited advancement in your field

Perform your own job planning SWOT analysis by using the SWOT Analysis of My Job Planning (pdf) worksheet.

by Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D. and Katharine Hansen


Now that you have a better idea of what skills your are missing for your ideal occupation, you can move on to Step 4: Expand Skills.