Choosing the right career path can come with an array of obstacles — both expected and unexpected. From applying to a job that actually isn’t a good fit to attracting the wrong type of clients for the business that you want to run, career roadblocks can happen.
Knowing how to define your career objectives can help mitigate some of these challenges and set you up for long-term success.
Whether you need to assess your career goals so that you can perfect your resume and apply for the right jobs, or simply want to have a clear picture of where you’re headed so that you can create concrete steps to get there, defining career objectives can help you get where you’re going both in work and in life.
How to choose a career
Whether you’ve been in the workforce for a while or are just starting out, when it comes to defining what you want out of your career, you might find yourself wondering, “What career is right for me?” This is the point where some self-exploration and understanding will come into play.
While you may already have an idea about what you want to do in life, if you don’t understand how to choose a career that aligns with your life goals, you could be setting yourself up for a series of struggles and disappointments.
When it comes to defining career goals, career coach Kyle Elliot of CaffeinatedKyle.com says that “People struggle to define career objectives and goals because they have yet to define their life goals and values.”
Because your job is a vehicle to earn money to help build the life that you want, it makes sense to evaluate what it is that you want out of life as a whole before determining which direction your career should take. “Avoid the mistake of attempting to set career goals without having your long-term life goals in place. Your career goals should complement and coincide with your life goals,” Elliot says.
Steps to defining career objectives
When it comes to putting pen to paper and defining your actual career objectives, it’s important to start with an overview of where you want to end up in life. “Begin with outlining your life goals, long-term goals, and short-term goals,” Elliot says.
To know what these goals will be, Elliot says to “Ask yourself how you will know you lived a successful life.” Knowing these lifetime mile-markers will help you focus on the smaller steps that it takes to get where you’re going.
For example, if one of your core life goals is to maximize the amount of quality time you spend with your children, you may also value being available during the day to help run classroom parties at school. This would be something important to know that you want before taking a job that isn’t flexible enough to allow for this.
On the flip side, if you know that you want to earn enough money to retire in your late 40s, you can set your career path accordingly. In this example, you would know that you need to really lean into working more earlier on in your career in order to retire early.
As you work through your goals, know that hitting a snag or two is going to happen, but forging ahead will be worth the effort. “It is OK to feel a bit overwhelmed as you set your goals,” Elliot says. “This is normal. Goal setting is an ongoing and iterative process, not a one-time event.”
Overcoming challenges when defining career objectives
AmyJo Mattheis is the founder of Pavo Navigation, a consulting group that aims to transform workplaces and eliminate workplace toxicity. Through her coaching experience, Mattheis has gleaned a wealth of insight into what drives a person’s career trajectory.
Mattheis says that at Pavo Navigation, they have found two main reasons people may struggle to define their career objectives.
1. You don’t know what you want.
First, a lack of clarity can occur when you don’t really know what you want. “Since we were young we’ve been soaking up the narratives told to us by our parents, coaches, teachers, religious leaders, friends and society about what it means to be a successful and happy professional,” Mattheis says. “By the time we arrive at the door of making a decision about what we want to do, we are so full of other people’s ideas about who we are and what we should ‘do’ with our lives that we aren’t clear about what we want.”
To clarify what it is that you actually want out of your life and career, you have to sift through all of the muck and mire of what you’ve been taught your whole life to narrow down your target. Mattheis says that they use a variety of tools in her coaching practice to achieve this.
“As you tune into what you truly, honestly desire, extend the energies of grace, allowance and permission to yourself rather than judging where you are at or not at,” she explains. “Gentle and honest observation of what is real is the potent combination that will give you space and energy to identify what brings you joy and what kind of workplace you insist on being in to bring your value and skills.”
2. You’re paralyzed by the fear of “not enough.”
Second, you can’t move forward in defining your career goals and objectives because you have a fear that is driven by the belief that there are not enough jobs, opportunities, or successes to go around.
“When we are afraid, taking action is nearly impossible,” Mattheis says. “The fear of failure, of not being good enough, or fear to take a risk, ask a question or even go for that big promotion or dream job stops us in our tracks and we feel stuck.”
Writing your career objective
Once you have a solid idea of what your career objectives are, it’s important to know where and how to use what you’ve developed. Whether you’re putting together the about section of your online job profile or writing your resume, having some career objective examples to refer to as you do so can be helpful, but it’s most important to rely on your own thoughts and words.
Mattheis says that she often has clients who struggle with these tasks, but says that creating a career objective is “an exercise in clarity.” She recommends that people writing their career objective should “get rid of all the extraneous, seemingly eloquent language along with anything that is trying to prove you are worth hiring.”
One way to do this is by brainstorming and essentially narrowing down your message until you get to what really matters. Pavo Navigation has a tool called Message & Matter that guides Mattheis’ clients through this process. “You begin big, writing whatever comes into your mind, not worrying about wordsmithing or punctuation.”
Then, Mattheis says that you repeat the process until you’re left with “one clear, concise and powerful sentence for the Message and the Matter.”
“There is a direct corollary between your message and why it matters,” she explains. “You will know you are done when those two sentences speak to each other so that when you read them, you feel an energetic zing in your body that affirms this is your unique message for the world that wants you to fulfill it.”