Career Development

Goals vs. Objectives

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Goals and objectives are often used interchangeably, but they actually differ significantly. When you are planning your career, it is important to distinguish between goals and objectives. Goals provide a vision of the desired outcome, while objectives define metrics of success. This article will help you understand the difference between and goals and objectives.

What is a goal?

A goal is defined as the target or ambition that you intend to accomplish or attain. Goals are broad, general statements about the desired outcome you want to achieve. They are personal, create a vision of your outcome and provide a direction for your career. Goals are general guidelines for what you want your career to be. They can be long-term or short-term goals. 

Setting career goals is important to help guide your choices as you develop as a professional. Clearly defining your career goals helps you maintain course on your chosen career path and identify opportunities to grow your career. Goals are fluid and flexible. You choose what constitutes success in achieving a goal.

Here are a few examples of goals:

  • Find a new job
  • Build a portfolio
  • Earn a higher salary
  • Earn a graduate degree

Related: How to Build Your Work Portfolio

What is an objective?

Objective is defined as the result toward which you direct your efforts. Objectives are clear outcomes that you and others can measure to confirm being successful or not. They provide a clear plan of action and a verifiable measure of success.

Objectives are specific, actionable statements about a goal you wish to achieve. They include deadlines and precise details such as a specific amount or percent of change. In this way, successfully completing an objective means obtaining the target amount by the target deadline, which is observable and measurable by anyone who wants to confirm your success. 

Here are a few examples of objectives:

  • Submit 10 job applications by the end of the month
  • Increase salary by 10% over three years
  • Obtain a score in the 80th percentile or higher on a graduate entry exam and submit my graduate application before the deadline for winter semester consideration

Related: How to Ask for a Raise (with Script Examples)

Goals vs. objectives

Although goals and objectives are different, they often work together. Goals without objectives are wishes and objectives without goals waste energy. Goals help you know where you are going and objectives help you take actionable steps and measure your progress. 

Defining objectives can help you break down a broad, vague goal into actionable steps to complete it. For example, with a goal to find a new job, objectives may include researching companies, updating your resume and submitting applications. You would define each objective as an actionable, time-bound task toward accomplishing the goal. Objectives help you create a clear plan toward achieving a goal.

Related: Guide to Updating Your Resume

How to set goals and objectives

Here are steps you can follow to set your own goals and define clear objectives:

1. First, identify the goal

Goals are personal to you, but you want to define your goals as clearly as possible. For example, the goal to find a new job may be too vague. You would want to define additional details including the type of job and industry you want to work in. Details may also include a specific company you want to work for or a job that aligns with your chosen career. A more defined example is: Find a job as a paralegal with a local law firm that encourages and supports employees seeking growth within the field.

2. Second, brainstorm actionable tasks

After you have a clear goal you want to achieve, take a few minutes to brainstorm the actions necessary to achieve the goal. The purpose is to define as many clear actionable tasks as possible, no matter how big or small. For example, actionable tasks to find a job as a paralegal may include: researching local law firms, reviewing job descriptions, identifying open positions, updating your resume and submitting applications.

3. Then, sequence the actionable tasks

Once you have an idea of the actionable tasks necessary to achieve a goal, you will need to sequence the tasks. Some tasks may depend on others while some you can work on concurrently. For example, you may work on updating your resume while you are researching local law firms and available positions, but you have to complete these tasks before submitting applications.

Sequencing the actionable tasks may also help you think of additional tasks overlooked while brainstorming, which will help you further break down and work toward the goal.

4. Next, estimate the time to complete each task

After you have an idea of which tasks you need to complete first, estimate the time you need to spend on each task. Some tasks may require more time and attention than others. For example, if you are flexible about which law firm you want to work for but your resume is out-of-date, you may allocate less time to researching the company and more time to updating your resume.

5. Lastly, set deadlines for each task

Based on the time you plan to spend on each task, set deadlines for when you should complete each task. Setting deadlines for each task helps you move the plan forward and estimate when you will accomplish the goal. Alternatively, you can set a deadline for the goal and work backward to set deadlines based on the estimated duration for each task. For example, to find a new job as a paralegal within three months, you may dedicate the first month to researching local law firms, identifying the positions to apply for and updating your resume. Then you may commit to submitting five targeted applications per week for the second month. Ideally, the third month is dedicated to interview preparation and offer negotiation, but it may also be a time to adjust your strategy.