This will be a long one... Thank you in advance for going through it.

"What am I doing? What is my value add in office?" is a question I ask myself everyday. (Nearly) Twice. Once when I set to office. Once on my way back.

When I stumbled across the term "career goals" - I believed I could answer it in a jiffy. But I realize now (after sitting at it for 10 whole minutes) that I really don't have a solid goal.

For one, there is one goal which works fine for short periods - be good at what you do, constantly get better.

Fine. Be good, check. Get better, check.

Then there is - make a difference that you were on the job and not anyone else.

Then - Share what you learn

I know these guidelines will help me at cross roads - in making certain career choices. But now, when I am prompted by a questionnaire which asks me for career goals, I draw a blank.

The question

How do I define my career goals using my core values? I want to first answer myself before I answer the questionnaire.

My profession is in the IT.

Edit: On reading my question, I felt that it is too broad. Just to be specific, what should be the next question I should be asking myself so that I can get closer to defining my career goal?

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    What is the meaning of life? I think that you should ask yourself first about your goals in your life and than you will be able to define the career goals. So I am afraid that this question is unanswerable or it belongs to the category of faq Your questions should be reasonably scoped. If you can imagine an entire book that answers your question, you’re asking too much. Try to be more specific, why you are not able to define your goals?
    – MasterPJ
    Dec 6, 2012 at 11:48
  • @MasterPJ, Please look at the edit in italics. If I really ask myself what I want to achieve - then it would be to become better at what I am doing. But how would that manifest as a career goal? The question at which I am lost is probably - What will you do after becoming better? Dec 6, 2012 at 11:58

5 Answers 5


You have the goal to make a difference. Ask yourself how you make a difference

Then you have the goal to share what you learn. Ask yourself why it's important to share what you've learnt

Those two questions will help you get closer to what you are trying to achieve.

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    Thanks! I needed this direction. Why is it important to share what is learnt! Oh man, I think I might have a winner here. Dec 6, 2012 at 12:19

There are a couple ways you can approach this. Here are a couple potential questions you can ask yourself to give you guidance:

  • "When I think of myself 10/20/30 years from now, who do I want to be? What do I have to do in terms of career to get there?"
  • "What do I enjoy doing - how can I make my career better fit what I enjoy doing?"
  • "What job would I do for free? Can I get paid for this job, and if so, how do I go about getting it?"
  • "How can I better reflect my personal value system within my career?"
  • "Why do I want to share knowledge, make a difference, and constantly get better?"

Alternatively, you can begin by writing down what your core values in life are - you make it sound as though you have a good idea what these are. Write these down and spend some time reflecting on them. This is not at all a trivial process for many people.

Finally, it sounds like from your comment, you could answer this question simply by restating some of the question as a goal. "My career goal is to be in a position where I can constantly increase my excellence (this can translate to a technical position of expertise), developing a unique skill-set based on my experiences/interests and use this to be able to positively influence and teach others." Then the question becomes how you can make that happen in terms of actual job positions, promotions, training, etc, and this is far easier to understand.

  • I have asked myself these questions you have bullet-ed earlier. My personal value system is to "share-care-get better" : Over the past couple of years (since I became a mom) I have been increasingly successful in applying this at work. My driving factor is that I need to live life correctly :) so that I can tell my little guy how it is done. Dec 6, 2012 at 12:42
  • ...In continuation to the earlier comment... I will definitely write my thoughts down like you suggested. In fact the process of asking this question itself helped quite a bit! Translating it to job positions, training - yes - this is also the place I will likely get stuck. Thank you enderland for your valuable thoughts. I wish I could accept your answer as well... Dec 6, 2012 at 12:45

We have a career goals section as part of our staff review process; its split into short term (1-2 years) and mid term (3-5 years) and has a space for just a few lines for the person to fill in on where they want to get to.

When I start setting objectives (or Key Performance Indicators, KPIs) for the year with my team, this is the area I turn too and discuss first.

The idea is that we set the KPIs and training needs in such a way that it aligns with the persons career goals, in a SMART way.

Even if this is not part of your process, splitting out short and mid term personal career goals breaks the process down into stages that you can review and revise; usngn the feedback you get from any performance review process at work also makes a lot of sense.

When coaching staff through this, some of key elements we discuss/think about are :

Technical or Leadership? While some people have a natural aptitude towards leadership, it comprises a set of skills which, like anything else, can be honed, sharpened and improved through training and use. As a result, a leadership role can mean a decreased technical focus. (Incidently, your personal values to me align well with the "leader as a coach/mentor" model.)

Building or Maintaining? Some people thrive on creating order from chaos. Others like to be part of a smooth-running system. The "builders" get bored when the role has nothing new and like the energy and challenge. The "maintainers" find a highly dynamic environment stressful, and prefer incremental change.

Live to work or work to live? This boils down to why your career matters to you. Is it simply about making money to achive other goals in life, or are you a "workaholic" for whose career is a life goal. This question has a more complex outcome, in that workaholics frequently drive towards a poor work/home balance, and those with strong non-career goals can struggle to find a work environment that fits their needs.

Finally, just because you are currently in IT now, doesn't mean that is your final destination! A number of my friends have left their business careers in their late thirties to become things like teachers and writers. Good luck!

  • Thank you, GuyM, for reading through my query and then puting out this detailed explanation! To get(myself) started, let me answer the queries right in the comments. Technical or Leadership? : Technical, for sure. And I would like to have/exercise the authority that comes with knowledge. Building or maintaining? : Order from chaos! Yes! I would love that challenge. In fact my current work is something like that. Then order from chaos can come from both building and maintaining... So, shall I go with both? Hmm.... Dec 7, 2012 at 7:56
  • Live to work or work to live? : This is a no brainer for me. Work to live :-) Dec 7, 2012 at 7:56
  • Leader as a coach/mentor sounds just like what I would love to see myself as!! That is a sure shot direction. This would translate more readily into a career role. This is a really insightful answer. Thanks again, friend! Dec 7, 2012 at 7:58
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    @TheSilverBullet - things change and evolve; my career was highly technical for the first 10 years, and then I gradually transitioned through technical/leadership to my current role. The key thing to avoid is the "technical trap", where you cannot change role in your firm because you are too valuble as a technical asset in your current position.
    – GuyM
    Dec 7, 2012 at 8:19
  • "Technical trap" - it is something that I will probably not have to deal with for a long time... I definitely will keep it in mind. As it is, I learn and update myself over a wide array of projects. In that way I am equally valuable in multiple places. And by sharing my knowledge, I ensure that I am not all that "unique" :-) Dec 7, 2012 at 10:56

You have some nice big life goals and guiding principles there. I like them. Mine are similar:

  • Have fun
  • Make money
  • Make a difference

Goals like these are great for making decisions like "should I accept the invitation to speak at a user group?" or "do I want to go back to school for more education?" and they're pretty good for "should I be putting up with working all this overtime?". But they're not career goals. Career goals are things like:

  • become a team lead
  • become an architect
  • be the kind of person who learns one new programming language a year
  • be a technical guru that others come to for help
  • write a book
  • get paid to do presenting or public speaking
  • become vice president of this company

You've identified how you want to live your life: learning, getting things done, sharing your knowledge with others, and other core goals. I like that, but if I employed you, how you want to live your life is not as important to me as what you want to do at work. I can't decide whether to send you on course or start to groom you for a promotion based on your life goals.

I would ask you "do you want to help your fellow developers by being a technical resource for them? or by making the important decisions that affect them? or by representing them to upper management? Do you want my job some day?" I would ask you whether you want to share your knowledge informally, or by doing lunch-and-learns in the office, or in some other way. I would ask you what activities you see other people doing in this company today that you would like to do some day, and how I can help you make that happen.

  • 1
    I really appreciate the "If I employed you..." perspective! That is exactly what I was looking for. From your bulleted points, I would go for technical guru. And definitely I would like to help fellow developers by being a technical aid for them. As to how exactly I would like to (continue to) gain then knowledge - by getting hands dirty. And how would I like to share - informally at first. And take it one step at a time. Dec 7, 2012 at 8:04

Another approach you could take here is to consider what strengths do you have, what kinds of positions use those strengths regularly, and how are you making the most of your own life.

If you know your core values, then the key becomes how well are these reflected in your work, the organization you work, the place you hold, etc. What kind of career progression do you have for the next few years?

In a way, your career is always at a crossroads as you have choices to make for how you want to develop, what roles do you want to explore, and what kind of difference do you want to make in the world.

SMART criteria can also be useful in being clear on goals as this is about making them Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant/Realistic, Time-bound. These aspects can help narrow down where you are trying to go. Are you wanting to be a CIO/CTO? Are you wanting to be a director in an IT department? Just think about where you want to be in the company hierarchy at the end of the day.

  • Strengths and positions to utilize those strengths - this is a good next step for me to iron out. Sometimes, the positions are not there and need to be created. This could help me possibly determine the ultimate goal... A short term one would be to "fit" in best to the existing molds. Dec 7, 2012 at 8:10

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