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What Is the Difference Between Career Goals and Objectives?

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  • Written By: Dale Marshall
  • Edited By: Jessica Seminara
  • Last Modified Date: 06 August 2014
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    Conjecture Corporation
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Career goals are very significant results one strives to achieve, generally expected over the longer term, while career objectives are intermediate, less significant accomplishments. Often thought of in terms of title, authority or compensation, career goals can also include such concepts as job satisfaction. Career objectives, on the other hand, are most often skills and abilities to be acquired in the process of accomplishing career goals.

Most job coaches and employment counselors believe that setting career goals and objectives is a crucial part of maximizing one’s potential. Those who earn their living through sales, for example, report that regular goal setting is essential to their success, and that they’d stagnate without it. Anyone in any job can set career goals and objectives, even if the overriding goal is to find a better job!

Setting serious goals and objectives for a career helps people to focus their work activities. Goals should generally be practical, objectively measurable, and achievable. For example, “I want to start my own company and achieve annual sales of $500,000 US Dollars (USD) by my 30th birthday,” is an excellent career goal because it’s easily measurable. Some abstract or imprecise goals are acceptable, though. To be so satisfied with one’s job that it’s more than simply a way to make money is also an excellent career goal.

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Some career goals may be very long term, such as having a particular amount of accumulated resources upon retirement. There should also be shorter-term goals along the way. Goals shouldn’t be rigid, though. Innovation and opportunity may occur in the midst of one’s career, providing justification for sweeping changes — even changing careers entirely; in such cases, existing goals shouldn't stand in the way.

Career objectives, while important, don’t rise to the level of career goals. “Becoming a good leader” is a career objective sought by many, but it’s not the kind of result that one would strive to achieve above all others — it’s not a career goal. Career objectives can be thought of as the stepping stones to career goals. Thus, in setting career goals and objectives, it is good to identify the goal and a handful of objectives which should be accomplished in reaching that goal.

An important point to remember is that goals and objectives shouldn’t be so easy that no significant effort is required to accomplish them. Their achievement shouldn’t just fall into one’s lap, although objectives may be easier to accomplish than goals. Many professionals belong to organizations which recognize exceptional competence with professional designations such as real estate broker, Professional in Human Resources (PHR®) or Chartered Life Underwriter (CLU®). Most count achieving these kinds of designations among their career objectives; although these objectives are achievable, they’re by no means easy.

Failure to reach career goals and objectives on schedule, or at all, can be frustrating and disillusioning. It’s easy to brood over such failures and inflate their importance. This can have a very negative effect on one’s performance, especially in the short term. A more productive approach is to evaluate the failed goals and objectives, determine why they weren’t met, and then either set new schedules for reaching them, or set new goals and objectives right away and start working toward them.

Sometimes career goals and objectives will be accomplished early. This is an excellent indication that one’s career is going well, and is cause for celebration, but shouldn’t be used as an excuse to relax and stop trying. Instead, when they are reached ahead of schedule, it’s time to set new goals or objectives to ensure that one keeps striving.

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