How To Make (and Accomplish) Killer Career Goals

Since this is likely my last post of 2016 I thought I would address something that is important for my personal development: setting career goals. As we finish out the year it is a good opportunity to look back at what did (and didn't) go so well.

As I sit writing this in my favorite local coffee shop (listening to the Christmas music that is about 40 decibels too loud) I am reflecting on my own successes and failures over the year. This process is critical for your long-term growth. 

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Setting goals for your personal life is just important, however I am just going to talk about career goals for this post. Before the year is out make sure you do the following goal exercises so you can hit the ground running in the new year. 

1. Write down your goals

This is perhaps the most important piece of advice (hence I made it #1). I never realized how the simple process of writing down your goals is until I actually tried it for myself. Studies have shown the positive effect of written goals: "Those who wrote their goals accomplished significantly more than those who did not write their goals".

I do this using Evernote so I always have them with me anytime I want to review and remind myself of how I am progressing. This also allows be to easily reorder and organize the goals into a neat prioritized list. I will often make notes under each goal throughout the year to help document my progress or setbacks. When reviewing your list, always be thinking what is the next step you can take to move closer to achieving this particular goal. Or, even better, what one thing can you do TODAY that helps to put you in the right direction.

2. Be specific

Often with your career goals it can be difficult to articulate what you truly want to accomplish over the next twelve months. However, you need to be as specific as possible when identifying your goals for the coming year.

Don't just write down something like, "I want to make more money". This is too vague and difficult to execute. Choose a more concrete goal. Here are some examples:

  • "Make $50,000 in combined income"
  • "Start a side business making $500 per month"
  • "Get a 20% raise"
  • "Save 15% of my income into retirement"
  • "Get promoted to Design Leader"
  • "Help two co-workers finished their professional accreditation" 

Notice how every goal is "actionable":. (e.g. "start", "get", "save", "help", etc.) rather than a to-be verb (e.g., “am,” “be,” “have,” etc.)

3. Dream big

Don't be afraid to set goals that seem unreachable now. This will help you brainstorm new ideas you might not otherwise have considered. For instance, lets say you want to increase your income 10 fold.  So if you are making a $40,000 salary how can you increase it to $400,000 in one year? Beginning with such a statement can break your mold of standard thinking.

Asking for a raise (which you should do every year by the way) will get you a set percentage increase. Say 5, 10 or even 20 percent. But obviously it will not give you anywhere near the 1000% increase in this thought exercise.

So what would give you that kind of potential return? How about a side business? You could set up a website or online store? Start a seminar? Set up a race through your city? Help fund a small business? While all of these things have the potential to fail (and statistically it will) it gives you the opportunity to succeed. Being content with the status quo will not.  

Serial entrepreneur and billionaire Peter Thiel brings up an excellent point in his fantastic book, Zero to One: "You may have a ten year plan to achieve your goals. Ask yourself why you could not achieve these goals in six months?"

This type of thinking can get you to take immediate action. It is better to just get out there and start making a ruckus instead of waiting for the perfect time to act. More than likely that perfect time will never come. 

4. Limit the number

I recommend when writing down your goals that you treat it as a "brain dump" at first. Write down anything and everything you can think of that you want to accomplish next year. Try to hit 100 specific things you want to make happen in your career. No matter how small or grandiose, write it down. Once you have this exhaustive list complete, pick the most important 5-7 goals for you to focus.

This is based on Warren Buffett's famous 5/25 Rule, which came out of a discussion Warren had with his pilot, Steve. Warren told him to list the 25 goals he wanted to accomplish. Then, had him circle the top five most important. He told Steve that, "everything else on the list became his Avoid-At-All-Cost-List. No matter what, these things get no attention from you until you’ve succeeded with your top five".

Don't underestimate the power of a dedicated, focused approach. 

5. Save the date

Make sure you assign a specific date during the year to achieve each of your goals.

If the completion of one goal is dependent on the success of another think about how they are related. For example if a promotion is tied to completing a project. Successfully completing the project on June 30th will set you up well if promotions are in the fall. This would obviously not be the case if the promotions are in May. If this is the case, perhaps you need to push for an earlier deadline or discuss with your supervisors how you can still be promoted later in the year. This sort of critical thinking is what comes out of goal setting.

Remember a goal without a completion date does not exist. Even if it is December 31st, set a date!

Once you have performed this exercise of goal setting, at the end of next year you can look back and review what you have and have not achieved. This will give you an idea of what to focus on the following year.

Keep in mind to not simply focus on your weak areas. Look at the things that went well and think about how you can further improve. In other words, how can you strengthen your strengths? There is always room for improvement. 

I hope these goal setting tips have been helpful for accomplishing your own career goals. I wish you all the best and I will see you in the new year.

Happy Holidays. 

—Brandon

To help you with your architecture job search, I've created a mega-pack of free resources that includes architecture resumes, cover letters, and an extensive collection of application documents. Click for a free download:

See also my posts on:

5 Architecture Career Success Tips For Millennials

10 Tips To Get An Architect Salary Raise

25 Things To Consider When Choosing An Architecture Job Offer

Good luck!

Brandon Hubbard, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP BD+C

Have a suggestion for a future blog post? Please let me know in the comments below.