There are some questions that send an icy chill down anyone’s spine.
One of the worst: “Where do you see your career going?”
Introspection is tough at the best of times, but it can be even harder when you’re not sure where to direct your focus.
In technical industries — and especially in management roles — it’s easy to get bogged down with the day-to-day detail and lose sight of the big picture.
So, if you’re a project manager or a product manager, and you can relate to this career confusion, then this article is for you.
We’ve scoured our knowledge banks and pulled together 20 examples of actually achievable career goals which are sure to help you:
Build your motivation to focus on your career
Spruce up your resume and dazzle future interviewers
Create a map for your career growth over the coming years
Ready to supercharge your employability?
Then let’s get started.
Before we dig into the nitty-gritty, let’s first take a look at the best way to set your goals.
It’s all well and good to have them in your mind, but getting them into the physical world makes them real, and that’s a big difference.
We’ve all tried to set goals before, and — perhaps more importantly — we’ve all failed to follow through on some of those goals, too. One reason for this is not setting your goals in a realistic way. Luckily, there’s a time-tested framework to do exactly that: SMART.
Here’s how this particular methodology can help you pick goals that you’ll actually reach:
Specific: You need to know exactly which area you’d like to improve upon.
Measurable: There needs to be some way of validating your progress or achievement.
Achievable: You need to know it’s possible for you to reach this goal — sure, you can shoot for the stars, but what’s your plausible plan for getting there?
Relevant: The goal must be realistically achievable with the resources available to you.
Time-frame: You must have a timeline as to when the goal will be achieved.
So that’s how you set goals figuratively, but you should take the time to document your goals too.
For some, the good old-fashioned pen and paper is a clear winner — and it’s doubtless a great way to transfer goals from a mental space to a physical one. But we live in a digital age, so, of course, there are plenty of digital solutions.
We’d be remiss not to mention airfocus and its powerful roadmapping features — when it comes to setting goals, tracking key milestones, and staying motivated, airfocus is an excellent choice (if we do say so ourselves).
Okay, now that you’re a card-carrying goal-setting machine, let’s look at some specific goal examples for project managers and product managers alike.
You’ll find that these fall into certain categories to help you focus your attention on what matters most. Keep an eye out for goals which are:
Achievable or Ambitious
Short-term or Long-term
In no particular order, we’ll start our list of career goal examples with project managers. Take a break from the spreadsheets, grab a cup of joe, and see what could be possible.
If you’re a project manager, you’ll already understand the role is really about managing people. Whether it’s assigning tasks or chasing deadlines, one of your short-term career goals should be to optimize your communication skills.
If you’re able to efficiently communicate with a broad range of personalities, (without ruffling any feathers), you’ll quickly find that juggling projects become a far less daunting task.
Another important aspect of the project manager role is to ensure that the scope of the task is controlled on a micro-level. We’re referring to the smaller tasks which make up the whole — and it’s these which can easily become difficult to manage.
A useful short-term career goal for any product manager is to be able to maintain firm control over the project scope, and prevent the dreaded ‘feature creep’!
There’s no question that one of the trickiest aspects of the project manager role is chasing up deadlines. After all, nobody really enjoys bugging people to submit their work, but if you really want to excel in your career, it’s vital that you’re able to do this.
It’s a double win for you, too. Not only will tasks be completed on time, but you’ll also be improving your performance in the process.
That’s how you develop a career!
While quality assurance isn’t within the remit of all project manager roles, there’s certainly something to be said for investing your time in this area. After all, regardless of the assignee of a certain task, your name will still be tagged to the project and so it has your stamp of approval.
One of your short-term career goals as a product manager could be to ensure a certain level of quality in the projects which you manage — at least within the parameters you can control.
Here’s a career goal that most people will be able to relate to, regardless of their industry. It’s very easy to focus on the day-to-day minutiae of your job, especially when you’re in a detail-oriented role like project management. But, as a longer-term career goal, it’s important to also focus on the higher-level strategic aspects of your role.
Try to consider the ‘why’ of your tasks: how do they align with the wider business goals, and what changes could you make to make this alignment better? Developing a more strategic view of your organization, and the teams within it is a lifelong skill.
Alongside the more strategic thinking we just discussed, there’s another long-term career goal that can help you level up your expertise.
Alongside the strategic goals of the business, try also to consider the bottom line, too. It’s easy to forget, but all businesses live and die on the bottom line, so anything you can do in your role to grow revenue for the company will reflect very well on you.
Whether it’s super-relevant to project management or not, ideas like this can really boost your career.
When we talk about achievable goals, you might think that some seem a bit too lofty or out-of-reach, but many of them are simply consequences of doing your job right.
Here’s an example: if you’re truly passionate about project management, and about doing the best job you possibly can, this passion will be reflected in your personal expertise. If you take this to social media and engage with other professionals, you can become an authority in your industry — perhaps without even realizing it.
Change is one of the great inevitabilities in life. It doesn’t matter if you’re a project manager or a professional golfer, change will always come — and it won’t always be pleasant.
Part of your long-term career strategy as a project manager should be to develop a talent for anticipating change and pivoting to shoulder it. It’s hard to overstate the value of this ability, to try not to shy away from change when it comes. Instead, lean into it, and see how others respond. You won’t develop this skill overnight, but give it time — and a little trial and error — and you will.
Another great inevitability in life: sometimes, no matter how hard you try, you just fail at something.
It’s not terribly fun to face up to, but it could be a blessing in disguise, especially when it comes to your career.
In many ways, the failures which you’ve suffered teach you more than the successes — and the experience gained from these is absolutely invaluable to employers. The mark of a true project manager is someone who has suffered failure but then learned from it.
Okay, let’s get real for a second and shoot for one of those really ambitious career goals.
With the right focus and set of personal goals, you can become a true leader in your space. This will look different in all organizations, but your aim will remain the same: become a respected authority in your particular area of the business, and lead others the same way.
By focusing your long-term career goals on leadership, you’ll always have a solid “true north” even if things feel like they’re going off-course.
Next up, it’s time to look at some career goals designed exclusively for product managers. If you eat and sleep product development, these should give you a little bit of perspective.
As any product manager will tell you, the role is very focused on the management of individual tasks. In fact, it can sometimes seem like a bit of a balancing act.
For your short-term goals in a product management career, one excellent area to start is backlog refinement. If you can show that you’re able to effortlessly manage the prioritization of your product backlog, who knows what else you could master?
Even though your job title says ‘product’ manager, you’ll still need to develop expert skills at managing and communicating with others — more specifically, your stakeholders.
Whether you’re talking to a product owner, Scrum Master, or equity investor, being able to effectively communicate progress, requirements, and roadblocks will help make you everyone’s ‘must-have’ product manager.
A good first step would be to use a shared, public roadmap where your team and stakeholders can get a birds-eye view of your items.
As we know, in any job, it’s easy to become bogged down in detail. And this probably goes double for product management, where you have a million small tasks which make up the whole.
But, if you really want to push your career forward, it’s a good idea to set an achievable career goal of taking a more macro, zoomed-out view. This means focusing less on the specifics of a product feature and more on everything which surrounds it.
How will it be marketed?
Is the feature documented?
Addressing questions like these will help you become an authority in your role.
Let’s face it: there are certain areas of the product which get all the attention.
More often than not, these ‘favored’ features are the ones most tightly linked to high-level strategic goals. But that doesn’t mean everything else is less important — in fact, overlooking other features could come at the expense of your user experience.
To become more senior in your role as a product manager, it’s a good idea to shed light on those under-developed areas of the application and see how others respond.
Here’s a long-term goal that can happen for you without you even realizing it. If you’re truly passionate about your product management career, chances are you already spend time following key news sources, influencers, and the latest news in your industry.
Don’t ever think this is a waste of time, because it all comes together to make you an authority in the product management space.
As a product manager, much of your time is probably spent working on small tasks which make up the big ones. This is the nature of the beast, and it’s a core aspect of the role.
But, if you want to grow your career in the long term, it’s a good idea to focus your efforts on more strategic thinking. We’ve said it before, but zooming out a bit and looking at things at the macro scale can help you make suggestions that others might not consider.
Because you spend a lot of time working on the functional details of your product, this role can sometimes feel overly tactical. If you’re feeling too disconnected from the bigger organizational picture, a great long-term career goal would be to understand the link between product development and your company’s financial performance.
By getting your head around the inner workings of the company, and how everything interlinks, you’ll have a far better understanding of your position within it.
What drives your decisions as a product manager? The answer to this will be different for everyone, but it’s usually a combination of factors.
In fact, it’s sometimes as simple as ‘it’s what everyone else is doing.’
If this is the case, and you find it hard to justify development decisions, try leveraging data wherever possible. Becoming a data-driven decision-maker may require some ambitious reprogramming in your brain. Still, it will also be a huge asset — because it’s very tough to argue with hard numbers.
We’ll go ahead and file this one under ‘long-term career goals' because it’s certainly not quick, and nor is it easy. But, the fact is, the mark of an experienced senior product manager is the ability to take all viewpoints on board, even the critical ones.
If you’ve ever had a tendency to become frustrated or feel victimized by negative feedback, this long-term career goal can be a real gamechanger.
When you’re first starting your career, declining stakeholder input can feel borderline impossible.
How are you supposed to tell your investor that their idea… sucks?
For one: you don’t. Instead, you lean on all your other product manager skills — communication, data-driven decision making, profit line analysis, etc. — to not only quickly identify which suggestions are worth following up and which won’t deliver any strategic value.
Saying “no” doesn’t come easily to many of us, so this is a great long-term career goal to challenge yourself to.
We very much hope you found our selection of career goals examples eye-opening and — yes, we’ll say it — maybe even a little inspiring?
If so, why not take some time out soon to crystallize your goals and get them down on paper (or even on an airfocus roadmap)?
We’re confident your future self will thank you.