PLANNING your journey through working life is much like planning any other journey. If you do not know where you want to go, you cannot plan how to get there. But if you do know where you want to go, you can plan the best route and arrive at your goal more quickly.

Your career defines how you will spend most of your life, so setting a career goal is something that everyone should do, regardless of which career they are in.

These goals can be either long-term or short-term. Long-term goals can be viewed as those that look ahead three or more years; short-term goals look ahead one to three years, and they are often a step along the way to your long-term goals.

If you are not already in the career that you want, finding the most suitable career is the first step. It should suit your life's purpose, fit your passion and make use of your strongest skills.

Choosing the right career

Identifying what you want is one of the toughest decisions in making a good career choice. Often, making a clear decision depends on asking yourself the right questions and - more importantly - giving yourself brutally honest answers.

You need to ask questions such as:

* Am I earning the salary that I believe I deserve?

* Do I want or need to earn more?

* Is money my prime motivation?

* Am I satisfied in the job that I am doing now?

* What issues do I feel passionate about?

* What could I be doing now that would make me happier than I am?

* Would I feel happier in a new position or by being promoted; or would I need to change my career totally?

* Why haven't I moved on from my present position?

* Is there anything substantial stopping me from leaving this job?

* Is there anything substantial stopping me from being promoted?

Career goals do not vanish once you have entered the career of your choice. If the next step in your career is a managerial position, for example, you should set goals to reach that position. Your new career goals will fit in with your present job, so it may be necessary to set both long-term and short-term goals.

To set short-term goals we need to ask a different, more specific, sort of question that uses question words. Compared to long-term goals, short-term goals are more concerned with actions rather than wants. Examples are:

* Who can I go to for advice?

* What outcome am I looking for?

* Where do I want to be this time next year?

* When do I want to reach this goal?

* How do I take that first step towards this goal?

These goals, of course, are of little use without an action plan to achieve them. We can generate a plan by starting at the goal and backtracking through the steps to get there. This is most easily explained through an example.

Nicole, a data entry clerk, works in a medium-sized business that recycles discarded computers and supplies them to charitable organisations. She likes working for a worthy cause, but she is unhappy with her low-paid role. She knows a lot about computer repairs, and is particularly skilled at upgrades. She feels that her skills are not being fully used.

What should she do?

Step one is to ask long-term questions to identify the goal. These reveal that she would be happier as a workshop manager, utilising her strongest skills and matching her passion for the cause.

Step two is short-term questions, to identify practical steps. These reveal that she should move to the workshop, and get promoted to the position she desires.

Step three is to formulate an action plan.

She can get an action plan by looking at where she wants to end up and then planning backwards, identifying each step that precedes the one under consideration.

She should ask herself if she could accomplish her goal today. If not, why? What would she need to do before that?

If she continues thinking backwards in this way, she will arrive at steps she could take today. By doing it this way, she can celebrate each step individually, and get satisfaction from seeing step-by-step progression towards her goal.