More Than the Degree

How to set goals as a student? The 3-step framework

Studies (like the Theory of Goal Setting and Task Performance by Latham and Locke) has shown that students who set clear goals for themselves are more successful in achieving them as opposed to those who don’t. But as you might know, setting career goals is definitely more complicated than just choosing what you want to do. Many people struggle with setting realistic objectives because they lack the strategy and project management skills that are necessary to learn and gain expertise in a certain area.

So how to set those realistic goals if your dream is to land a job in the field of your liking?

Start with the following framework by reflecting on your valuesskills, and resources.


Start your career planning by reflecting on your values and interests. When you’re aware of them you’ll more likely end up in a working environment that doesn’t clash with your values. We spend so much of our time at work that it is crucial for our well-being to be invested in what we do. It is also the employer's benefit that the employees are motivated even when facing difficulties or monotonous tasks. This is why being aware of your interests is a great asset when job seeking. It just might be the added value that separates you from the other candidates!

Some of the most common values are:

  • Trust
  • Kindness
  • Bravery
  • Creating new
  • Openness/transparency
  • Leadership
  • Relationships
  • Work-life balance
  • Developing and learning

Values dictate your everyday actions so by figuring them out you’re able to find your passion as cliche as it sounds. I doubt that no one's passion is designing, writing code, studying business for no reason whatsoever. Why you love coding, or managing a team has probably more to do with solving problems or making people’s lives easier. Figuring out what motivates you helps to achieve your career goals in the long run.

You might also want to spend a little time on the question of what kind of day-to-day life you enjoy? What gives you energy and on the other hand what drains you? If you enjoy working in a team you should go for positions that offer the possibility!


Skills are an essential part of planning your career. You need to know what skills to have or learn to achieve the professional goals you’ve set for yourself. First, make a list of the competencies you already have. This includes all your skills from soft skills to technical skills as well as industry knowledge. Second, list the skills you want to learn or improve.

Then focus on the skills you want to develop in the upcoming months. Go back to your wishes about your next job. What skills would help you to get a job at this kind of company after five months? Research how others have learned the skills. Also, look for inspiration! Follow people who inspire you and connect with them. Ask how they learned the skills they have and how they got there!


Now that you’ve figured out your motivation, values, and skills the big question is: how are you going to learn these skills? An important part of planning your career is considering what you can do with the resources you have and how you are going to execute the plan. Are your chances to reach those professional goals somehow limited because of family, schoolwork, hobbies, or something else? Your current situation affects a lot of the objectives you’re able to set for yourself.

Think about how much time do you need to spend to learn each skill and start making a weekly plan. Also, consider other people as an additional resource! Is there someone that could start mentoring you and help to tackle the challenges? Figure out your next steps by answering the following questions:

  1. What are the roadblocks you will face?
  2. How are you going to learn these skills?
  3. What do you do if you fail to execute the plan?

You are going to have some challenges along the way. Life happens to all of us which might change the steps you had originally planned out. But it doesn’t mean you failed! You just need to reevaluate your plan and keep going. More important than knowing what you’re going to do years from now is to reflect on what you’re going to do next. And remember that achieving those career goals don’t end when you reach the next one, it is just the beginning.

Psst. If you were able to answer all the questions here, congratulations! You’re going towards your goals at a pretty nice speed. If not, it’s a great time to start setting the objectives.

- Areeb, first year master's student at Aalto University School of Business

Student's study setup with a book and takeaway coffee
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