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Saint Vincent College Faculty Blog

Goals Can Guide Your Career in the Direction You Want

Posted by Michael Urick on Tue, Oct 11, 2016 @ 15:10 PM

In a previous blog, I’ve written about the importance of mentorship and how mentors can help mentees achieve career goals. Since that blog hinted at the importance of goals, I thought that it might be useful to talk about goals more specifically in this blog.

Goals have been an often-studied area in organizational behavior research. Goals can be defined as some objective or metric that people strive to achieve. They set expectations for what tasks people work toward, how much time people invest in achieving a task and how hard people work toward achieving a certain level of performance. In society in general, goals are important. I think of the popularity of so many spectator sports. Football teams strive to reach the goal line. Basketball players have the goal of achieving a high score. The objective of baseball is to have a winning record.


Goals are important in education and in the workplace as well. I have seen many students who have a high need for achievement strive to meet goals to maintain a certain GPA or learn a piece of challenging content. 

On a personal level, goals have been important to my own life. When I was working on my doctorate in Cincinnati, I had a goal of eventually moving back to my hometown in western Pennsylvania (though I, of course, also loved my time living in Cincinnati). I worked hard to complete my studies while teaching and researching. The reason is that I wanted to finish so that I could come back to the area. I thought there might be an opening back at Saint Vincent College (my alma mater) soon and I wanted to be finished as quickly as possible so that I might come back. I worked long hours and intensely on tasks that would help me finish my doctorate so that I could apply for an SVC faculty job when it became available. Because I worked toward this goal, I am fortunate to have been hired to the job of my dreams at Saint Vincent.

Any time a student meets with me to talk about the classes they should take or what they could do to build a career, my first question is always “what are some of your goals?” Granted, this is a tough question for many college freshmen (or even others later in their careers) to answer because they might not have enough experience to be able to answer it well. Yet, this is an important question for individuals at all stages of their life to consider because the answer to this question will help steer present-day activities and behaviors toward a direction, intensity and level of effort that will help create a desirable future.

Goal setting is hard!  Here are some tips that have helped me, I’ve seen work for others and/or come directly out of organizational behavior research.

  • Create better goals. In popular terms, people always talk about SMART goals (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound). I agree that the more specific and measurable a goal is, the better because it is clear and offers feedback in terms of performance.  Goal setting theory agrees with these traits as well but also suggests that a goal should be difficult (but not impossible) so that it stretches the person to not only improve performance but potentially also improve their knowledge, skills and abilities. Goal setting theory also advocates that the best goals are those that people are invested in. Goal investment could be increased if the outcomes meet some fundamental need and if an individual has a high level of control both in setting the goal and in determining actions to help achieve it.
  • Goals can and should change. Some people are hesitant to set a goal because they are afraid that the goal isn’t what they really want to do (for example, some students really aren’t sure in what direction they want to steer their career early on). This fear, though, could be assuaged by understanding that goals can (and should) change. As people gain new experiences, try things that they like or dislike and develop new perspectives, goals should be adjusted. Just like the Operational Excellence philosophy suggests that job roles should be clearly documented (i.e., have clear goals and objectives) that can be rewritten when a better way to perform is found, so should all goals be flexible to adjust to the changing nature of the person attempting the goal.
  • Stay positive. As mentioned, goals will change and some goals will not be reached. When these things happen, it’s easy to get frustrated and abandon goal setting altogether. Yet, goals are important because they give people something to strive toward. Remember when working toward, adjusting or setting your goal to not give in to negative emotions like frustration, fear, anger or sadness. Keep going – you’re working toward something! Set and try to attain goals – just like the classic statement says, “aim for the moon but if you don’t make it, you’ll still be in the stars!”

Might any of these tips help you set or accomplish your goals?  I’d love to hear about your experiences! Email me at michael.urick@stvincent.edu, connect through Facebook (www.facebook.com/urickmj), add me on LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com/pub/michael-urick/a3/775/5b/) or type a message in the comments below.

Topics: Michael Urick, Operational Excellence, goals, achievement

About the Authors

Michelle Gil-Montero is an associate professor of English and director of creative writing at Saint Vincent College. She runs the visiting writers series on campus, oversees the student literary magazine, and serves as guru to aspiring poets on campus. She received her MFA from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop in 2007, and she has been on the Saint Vincent faculty since that year. She is an active poet and literary translator from Spanish. She is spending part of the 2016-17 school year travelling to Argentina on a Howard Foundation fellowship and Fulbright grant. 

Dr. John J. Smetanka has been a member of the full-time faculty since 1997 and currently serves as the Vice President for Academic Affairs and Academic Dean of Saint Vincent College, a position he has held since January 2008. Dr. Smetanka has taught courses in Physics, Astronomy, Chemistry and Geology as well as interdisciplinary seminars. He has published scientific research articles in physics and astrophysics journals, numerous conference proceedings and also works in science education reform and the interaction between science, technology and theology.

Jim Kellam is an associate professor of biology at Saint Vincent College and our resident ornithologist. He received his Ph.D. from Purdue University in 2003, and is taking this semester as a sabbatical. What does that mean? He'll explain in his blog posts.

Dr. Michael J. Urick is Graduate Director of the Master of Science in Management: Operational Excellence program, and Associate Professor of Management and Operational Excellence at the Alex G. McKenna School of Business, Economics, and Government. Dr. Urick teaches courses related to organizational behavior, human resources, culture, leadership, diversity, conflict, supply chain, operations and research methods. Professionally, Urick serves on the board of the Institute for Supply Management (Pittsburgh) and belongs to the Society for Human Resource Management and APICS. For fun, Urick enjoys music and, since 1998, has led and performed with Neon Swing X-perience, a jazz band that has released multiple albums and toured portions of the US. He enjoys watching movies, is an avid reader of fantasy and science fiction, and also likes to fence.

David Safin, C'00, has been a lecturer in the communication department since the Fall of 2003, and has served in a variety of administrative roles since the summer of 2004. Currently, he teaches multimedia in the communication department as an assistant professor. 

Dr. Michael Krom received his Doctorate in philosophy at Emory University in 2007 and is currently the chair of the philosophy department at Saint Vincent. He has authored a book on religion and politics and continues to publish works in Catholic moral and political thought. Dr. Krom also directs the Faith and Reason summer program every summer. 

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