Having a goal, a serious career plan, is an important tool in professional satisfaction and advancement. In fact, it's a must. "Setting and achieving goals...

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Having a goal, a serious career plan, is an important tool in professional satisfaction and advancement.


In fact, it’s a must.


“Setting and achieving goals help create a focus for your direction for your next career step,” said Cynthia Kivland, founder and president of Career Performance Strategies, a consulting firm based in Prairie Grove, Ill.


“Having a plan helps you to keep moving forward, to keep your eye on the prize and to minimize the distractions that could pull you off track.”


Kivland, a licensed counselor who has a master’s degree in counseling education, emphasizes that “when you set a goal and write it down — which is really important — you’re intentionally making a commitment to yourself that you’re going to do something positive about your career.”


Your goals may vary, Kivland, who also is an executive coach, pointed out. “It may be moving up, moving out, moving across the organization or maybe moving down,” she said. “But what creating a goal or plan does for you means you now know what direction you want to move in.”


A decade ago, everyone talked about having a five-year plan (mine was to get through tomorrow). But that idea has been superceded by a better one, according to Kivland.


“It doesn’t have to be a five-year plan because in today’s career climate there is a lot of uncertainty and change,” she said. “What is better to do is to have a one-year plan, an annual career checkup, whether or not you are employed and similar to your annual physical checkup.”


Some people prefer an even shorter timetable for their goals and do six-month plans. In any case, monthly evaluations should be done to see if you need to take any “new action,” whatever the length of your plan.


Setting goals is a time of self-evaluation, Kivland said. “You have to discover exactly what you want now and what the next milestone is you want to hit,” she said. “In your plan, indicate how you are going to manage setbacks or obstacles or distractions that may get in your way — and how you are going to celebrate success.”


When you’ve figured that out, the next step is to write down your goals and timetables. And the final step is often the most important one.


“You have to create not only a plan but a support network to help you get there,” Kivland said. “Show or tell your plan to three other people who will be advocates for you, people who will help keep you focused.”


One of the people in your network should be “a kind soul; another, a stern taskmaster; and the third a professional colleague.”


Kivland cites the case of a stockbroker who had made a lot of money but wanted a career that “provides more meaningful work to society at large.”


In her career plan, her first goal to get the job she wanted was to research the type of nonprofit she might want to work for and to contact three of them. That took only five weeks. Her one-year plan to find meaningful employment also included finding out if she needed further education. She found that she did and enrolled in a certification course.


Her support network includes her husband, a former business partner and a lawyer.


“She is focused, beginning her job search — and putting her career plan into action,” Kivland said.


The consultant, who also gives seminars and workshops, describes having a written plan as “a dream with a deadline.”


E-mail questions to Carol Kleiman at ckleiman@tribune.com. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News.