Do you have a well-thought-out plan for your career, or do you just keep your head down and see what interesting things come along? If you haven’t taken the time to figure out what you want, how do you know when you are successful in getting it? By investing some time to create an end goal, and a flexible plan to get you to that goal, you will be more likely to have the career of your dreams.
Short term. The easiest things to set are usually your short-term goals—those having to do with improving yourself in your current job, covering the next 18 months or so. Ideally, they will also set you up for the next stage of your career. These goals should be specific and readily achievable: attend a specific course, learn a new technique, give a presentation at a conference. You may want to discuss these goals with your supervisor to make sure they are in line with what your company expects from you or that you are doing them on your own time.
Medium term. Medium-term goals are a little harder. They are transition steps from where you are now to where you want to be. They often cover the next one-and-a-half to five years and are bigger and slightly less well-defined than your short-term goals. They may include researching a new field or successfully completing a major project.
A good way to start is by thinking about what you enjoy about your current job, what you do well, and how you could grow your skills. Are there new areas of knowledge you would like to add? This will require some serious self-assessment, and maybe even some research into career possibilities. Maybe you want to build your professional network by organizing a session at a technical conference. Create specific deadlines and milestones for your goals, and share them with others, to help motivate you to meet them.
Long term. This is looking five years or more into the future and is often a good place to start. If you have an end in mind, you can work backward to get from here to there. Where do you see yourself going in the long term? Do you want a career with more personal satisfaction, a better work-life balance, more financial security, or something else? Long-term goals can change as you learn more, as your personal circumstances change, or as the world changes around you.
Repeat. Set up a regular time to review your plan, at least annually. It can be just before your performance review, at the start of the calendar year, or at the start of the school year. Evaluate what you have accomplished and where you have made progress. You also want to evaluate the goals themselves: are they still relevant?
You can get somewhere only if you know where you are going. But knowing where you want to go is just the first step; you also have to set goals and continue to make steady progress to make sure you get to where you want to be.
Get involved in the discussion. The ACS Career Tips column is published the first week of every month in C&EN. Post your comments, follow the discussion, and suggest topics for future columns in the Career Development section of the ACS Network (www.acs.org/network-careers).