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Career Advice

Should your career goals be public knowledge?

We shouldn’t hide our career aspirations, because we can benefit from brainstorming our goals and seeking trusted perspectives in narrowing our career choices.


Whether you are a graduate student, postdoctoral fellow, professor or employee, setting short and long-term goals is necessary for moving your career forward. But when you have a specific career goal in mind – should you make it public or keep it to yourself?

If you already publicize many aspects of your life on social media (i.e., the marathon you are training for, the baby you are preparing for, the goal weight you are working towards) – why wouldn’t you also publicize your career goals? And if you did – would there be any benefit or risk to doing so?

I believe there are good reasons why we should make our career goals known, and I’ve advocated for this among graduate students and trainees. However, there is some surprising psychological evidence against doing so.

As reported in Scientific American, some studies have shown that the more you make your goals known, the less likely those goals are to be met – by you! In this case, the social gratification we feel when we are praised for stating our goals might get in the way of us completing or sticking to them. The advice to keep your goals to yourself is repeated in this Ted Talk by Derek Sivers. I’m thinking that this phenomenon may explain the shortage of friends I have that actually complete the marathons that they announce on Facebook.

Whether the same holds true for announcing our career goals isn’t clear. While goals that we construct around self-identity risk premature failure when made public, there are other goals that can benefit from further input. We shouldn’t hide our career aspirations, because we can benefit from brainstorming our goals and seeking trusted perspectives in narrowing our career choices. We can also draw on the support of other job seekers and share knowledge about different career options. In this case, we share the load of researching careers. We may derive meaningful support in terms of motivation when public goals make us feel more accountable. Finally, we maximize our chances of making career goals a reality once we make them known to our networks.

Here are some ways that you can make your career goals known:


  • Write an individual development plan (IDP) and review it with your supervisor or mentor



This is a great way to start a conversation about your career development and future goals. Your mentor or supervisor may become more involved in helping you to meet your goals once they see them on paper. In the case of graduate students or postdoctoral fellows, an IDP can facilitate discussion with the supervisor, especially about non-academic careers, and can indicate a desire to have the supervisor involved in evaluating your progress and suggesting activities to fill gaps to achieving your career goals.


  • Join a peer or career interest group



If you are more comfortable seeking peer support or peers’ perspectives about your career goals, try a peer career exploration group or career interest group. Some of the benefits are motivation and accountability, confidence and knowledge and skill building. Find out if groups already exist by contacting career services at your University, or start your own group.


  • Volunteer for an interim position



Volunteering for an interim or acting position (whether you are in academe or not) is a great way to make others within your organization aware of your aspirations. Making your career goals known at work can be sensitive but when you volunteer for an interim or acting position the result may be that senior managers take note of your aspirations or correct misconceptions they held about your career goals.  


  • Publicize your goals on your LinkedIn profile



Use your LinkedIn profile’s headline to tell your network about your ideal job. According to LinkedIn, the best profiles promote you for what you want to do.

Some examples:

  • Aspiring medical writer with a passion for communicating to technical and specialist audiences
  • Passionate about medical technology and focused on creating mobile tech solutions for healthcare

Remember, it is not about simply gaining approval or gratification. Setting and achieving your career goals is hard, and we could all use a little support and assistance along the way.

Emily Bell is manager of the Desjardins Centre for Advanced Training, a program of professional skills and career development for trainees at the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre.

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