How to Set Realistic Career Expectations

Newsroom By Christine Wardlaw November 14, 2016

When first graduating from university, or when starting a new job, it’s easy to set unrealistic expectations of how quickly you’ll rise in the ranks of your new career. After all, you’re optimistic and full of energy about your future, which is great! However, it’s important to realize that you’ll have to pay your dues in any new position as you work your way up. Western Union (WU) has some great advice on how to set realistic career expectations and strategize your career so that you feel happy and fulfilled no matter where you are on the ladder.

Think About Your Career Goals

Before diving into a new job, think about your career goals 5, 10, and even 20 years from now. For instance, if your goal is to become an executive, then think about where you’d need to live and what kinds of positions you’d need to be hired for in order to make that happen. If your goal is to own your own business, think about the steps needed to become an entrepreneur in your field, and what you’ll need to do to be successful. If your goal is freedom over your work hours, consider what sort of setup you would need in order to work from home or in freelance positions. If your goal is to retire early, you’ll need to have a plan to make that happen as well!

Consider Your Life Goals

Your career is important, but in the end, it’s only one part of your life! It’s crucial to think about what kind of lifestyle you’d like to have and what your non-professional goals are as well. Do you want to get married? Have a family? Where would you like to live? Do you want to have a lot of time for travel, or to spend with family and friends?

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With your life goals in mind, you can make the best career decisions for yourself that will help you attain the lifestyle you dream of. Once your life goals are aligned with your career goals, you’ll know that you’re on the right path.

Determine Your Strategy

Whether you’re starting off in an entry-level position at a company, or you’re starting your own business, you’ll want to figure out what your strategy will be toward the outcome you desire. If you want to eventually rise to a senior position at a company, what positions will you have to apply for over the years to make that happen? What additional training might you need? If you want to run a profitable business, what steps will you need to take, especially with advertising and marketing, to get there? Knowing the exact steps that lie ahead for you can do wonders in helping you to not jump ahead and set yourself up for disappointment.

Once you determine your path, set realistic goals for each step of the way. For example, let’s say you want to be a real estate agent. A wise idea might be to first get hired as an assistant in a real estate brokerage for several months to learn the business and make connections, and also make sure it’s the right job for you. Then you can enroll in real estate courses and complete your licensing requirements, and already have connections at the brokerage you’ve been working at. From there, you can ask agents at the brokerage how long it took them to get their footing, and ask for advice on what you can do to give yourself the best shot at success.

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Find a Mentor

One of the best things you can do for your career is to find someone who can mentor you along the way and give you practical, real-world advice. This way you’ll be able to set career expectations based on the reality of your profession, and also have someone to guide you so you make fewer mistakes along the way.


While working your way up in your career field, be sure to determine who the industry players are. This way you know where might be a good place to work to give you a leg-up in your next position, and who might be good to connect with. It’s important not to network with people in a disingenuous way, but rather to put yourself in a position to work and become friends with people who are where you’d like to be in your career, so you can learn from them. Having friends in your industry also puts you in a prime position to hear when new opportunities become available.

Be Patient

It takes time to determine your career and life goals, choose the right career path, find a mentor, and build your network. Know that it will likely take several years of dedication and hard work to craft the career you want. Therefore, it’s important to manage your expectations and make sure that the goals and timelines you set for yourself are reasonable and attainable, so you can be happy and productive as you work your way up.

Do you have any tips on how to manage career expectations? Share them with us in the comments!