Conceptual vs Operational Career Goals

When you’re trying to make a move in your career, such as moving to another position within/outside the company or a leadership position, it’s important to do the work before you take action. A good way to get prepared is to write out your conceptual and operational goals; this will provide you with the necessary information to move forward.


A conceptual career goal involves “the nature of work experiences one intends to attain without specifying a specific job or position”; while an operational goal takes the conceptual goal and “translates it into a specific job or position” ( Greenhaus, Callanan, and Godshalk, 2010). The benefit of this exercise is that you will uncover and list all of your skills, values, personality traits, interests, and your lifestyle needs; it also includes your preferred work environment, the work you like/want to do with specific tasks, along with those job tasks that you enjoy/are a passion. These are all important in translating them to the resume.job application to get employers’ attention.

The operational goal takes the qualities and needs you uncovered above and names the specific position, and subsequent career path, you want to take. According to Greenhaus et al (2010), the operational goal is a ‘vehicle’ to get you to your destination. As an example, let’s look at Lisa’s goals: her conceptual goals might include: gaining exposure to project management, gaining responsibility for a project, and having more interaction with the project management team. Her operational goals might be: Project Management certification (PMP) in 6 months; Project Management position in 10 months; Lead Project Manager in 2-3 years.

I encourage you to look at your current role and goals in your career path, and write them out to include both conceptual and operational goals. This can gain you new clarity and direction to where you want to go, and can get you there faster as you will be clearer on exactly what you need to do and within a specific time-frame. This is an easy exercise that can be done frequently and which will keep you focused on your end-goals while better managing your career.


2 Replies to “Conceptual vs Operational Career Goals”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: