How to Set Meaningful Professional Goals in 3 Steps

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Never Eat Alone" by Keith Ferrazzi. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What career path is right for me? How do I find a job that’s rewarding, meaningful, and satisfying? What professional goals should I aspire to?

These are all important questions to ask. To have a rewarding and satisfying career, it’s important to set professional goals that are in alignment with both your passions (what you like and care about) and your talents (what you are good at) and devise a strategy to achieve them.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to evaluating your options and setting meaningful professional goals.

What Are Your Professional Goals?

Professional goals are clearly-defined objectives about what you want to achieve in your career in the short- and long-term.

Step #1: List your passions. First, you need to list your passions: the things you truly care about. Many people find that their passions are obvious: They know that they enjoy, for example, encouraging people to be more environmentally friendly. If you’re struggling to identify your passions, take some quiet time to think deeply about who you are and what you like to do. 

Step 2: List your talents. The second step of identifying your professional goals is listing your talents. Some people find it difficult to objectively assess their strengths: for example, if they lack confidence. For this reason, the best way to figure out where your talents lie is to ask trusted friends and family members what they think your strengths are. 

Request that these people be brutally honest in their assessment of your abilities. If they aren’t—for instance, if they tell you that you are good at something you’re bad at to spare your feelings—they’re only setting you up for failure when you pursue goals that you’re not qualified to achieve. 

Step 3: Identify intersections between your passions and talents. The final step in deciding upon your professional goals is comparing your list of passions and your list of strengths and identifying areas where they intersect. For instance, you may find that not only are you passionate about public speaking, your friends and family think you’re good at it, too. 

Once you’ve found these areas of intersection, set a professional goal related to one of them. For example, the passionate and skilled public speaker could set the goal of becoming a media spokesperson. By picking a goal that aligns with your skills and passions, you’re setting yourself up for both career success and happiness.

Make a Relationship Action Plan

Once you’ve identified your professional goals, the next step is to make what Ferrazzi calls a “Relationship Action Plan” (RAP). This is a written plan that details not only how you plan to achieve your professional goals, but who should be in your professional circle to help you get there.

To create your RAP, follow these four steps:

  1. Write down a long-term goal that you want to achieve within the next three years. 
  2. Write down at least one medium-term goal that will help you to achieve your long-term goal. This should be a goal that you can achieve within one year.
  3. Write down at least one short-term goal that will help you to achieve your medium-term goal. This should be a goal that you can achieve within three months.
  4. Next to all of your goals, write down who you think you’ll need to network with to achieve them. For example, if your goal is to work at a particular company, write down that business’s hiring manager. 
Rules for Creating and Using Your RAP

When creating and using your RAP, there are four rules:

Rule #1: Make each goal as specific as possible. For instance, don’t just write down “make lots of sales.” Instead, write down a specific target and how you’ll measure your success. For example, write, “I want to increase my quarterly sales output substantially. I will consider myself to have achieved this goal once I’m making $100,000 worth of sales each quarter.”

Rule #2: Make the goals challenging, but achievable. For instance, if you made $50,000 worth of sales last month, don’t set the goal of making $50,500 worth of sales next month—that’s far too easy. Likewise, don’t challenge yourself to make $1 million worth of sales next month—that’s completely impossible. Instead, set a challenging yet reasonable revenue target number like $75,000.

If your goals are unchallenging, you’ll find the process of achieving them boring and unfulfilling. Meanwhile, if they’re challenging to the point of being impossible to achieve, you’ll set yourself up for demotivation and disappointment. 

Rule #3: Regularly update your RAP as you complete your initial goals. Having an up-to-date plan for where you want to go next in your career (and who you should network with in the process) is useful no matter how much you’ve already achieved.

Rule #4: Display your RAP somewhere prominent. For example, place it on your work desk or your fridge. Frequently seeing your RAP—and, therefore, being reminded of your goals—will help you stay focused. 

How to Set Meaningful Professional Goals in 3 Steps

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Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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