The Young Professionals Bucket List: Top 25 Career Goals to Hit by 40

The Young Professionals Bucket List: Top 25 Career Goals to Hit by 40

For young professionals aspiring to make it to executive ranks or the C-suite by age 40, setting clear career goals and long-terms plans are crucial. Professionals who map out their goals–and keep them visible–are far more successful.

In addition to establishing clear goals and writing them down, young professionals who master the art of networking, find mentors, gain executive exposure, and exhibit a high level of professional courage generally fare better at achieving their professional development goals.

Even still, the best-laid career plans can be a bit circuitous. Balancing your personal and professional journey can feel more like mastering a jungle gym rather than climbing the proverbial ‘corporate ladder.’ As a young professional myself, my personal goals, such as traveling abroad, are equally as important as the professional goals I set for myself. My personal and professional bucket lists are parallel in age and professional milestones. And while there is no one-size-fits-all blueprint for career excellence, a checklist never hurt anybody. Check out these top 25 career goals to hit by 40.

  1. Get Clear — Uncover what makes you tick and get clear about what you enjoy and the career that aligns with your core values.
  1. Don’t Stay for the Gold Watch — The ‘hire to retire’ model is the pocket watch of hiring models and gone are the days where professionals stay for the gold watch. To stay competitive and marketable, change companies at least 2-3 times in your career.
  1. Don’t Be So Obvious — Stop playing it safe and take a stretch assignment outside of your job function or department. Demonstrate that you are flexible and your knowledge and skills are transferable.
  1. Brand Yourself — Package your skills, talents, and experience so that you become viewed as an authority/expert in your field.
  1. Get Certified — Stay on top of obtaining required and elective certifications and advanced degrees–preferably on your company’s dime–so you keep your skills and professional network fresh.
  1. Try a Window Seat — Travel for business and for play; consider assignments–domestic or international–to experience your career dreams outside of wherever you call home.
  1. Build a Dream Team — Surround yourself with a team of mentors who can act as your personal board of directors and provide guidance, share insights, and check you on your career decisions.
  1. Master Mentoring — Mentorship is the rent you pay for career success; adding mentor to your résumé is a ‘must do’ before 40.
  1. Perfect Your Portfolio — Young professionals often want the promotion without the work; keep track of your work, accomplishments, and accolades.
  1. Discover Your Weaknesses — In the words of Kanye, “everything I’m not, made me everything I am.” Being able to identify your career weaknesses will help you become stronger.
  1. Be Prideful — in your appearance that is. The cliché is true, dress for the job you want and not the job you have. By 40, your professional wardrobe should include several ‘go-to’ ensembles that get you noticed.
  1. Don’t Knock the Hustle — Many a millionaire a side hustle has made. Whether you excel as an intrapreneur (being dually entrepreneurial in thinking and action both internally and externally) or have dreams of turning your side business into your ‘main’ hustle, pursuing a passion project that pays is a boss move.
  1. Don’t Be a Ball Hog — Servant leadership requires you to play the full court. Learn how to lead from the front and then transition from being a ‘doing’ leader to one who surrounds yourself with top talent you can trust to carry out your vision.
  1. Support a Cause — Work pro-bono, or volunteer at a nonprofit whose mission you are passionate about; invest in your community!
  1. Own Your Online Brand — Google yourself and scrub anything that isn’t the best representation of your professional brand.
  1. Get Comfortable with Failing & Feedback — Learn to fail fast and accept feedback so that you can get to success faster.
  1. Prune the Professionals — As you progress in your career, your college buddies can’t be your primary professional network; refine your network to reflect your present career
  1. Note Your Non-Negotiables — By 40, you should be clear on your minimum requirements for a job in terms of salary, work-life balance, travel, etc.
  1. Get the Job Title of Your Dreams — Despite what some may say, titles do matter. Chart the course of your career in such a way that you can add your dream title to your career narrative.
  1. Up Your EI Over IQ — Climbing the corporate ladder can be a roller coaster ride; upping your emotional intelligence will prove useful in navigating difficult situations throughout your career.
  1. Earn What You Are Worth — Whether it’s a six-figure salary, company car, bonus, or other perks, do your research and set a goal to earn what you’re worth.
  1. Fix Your Finances — Invest in your future by making sound financial decisions like hiring a financial adviser, paying down debt and investing in your company’s 401(k), pension, or health savings plans.
  1. Manage Up — Learn how to work the room and network with senior leaders in your organization. Find common ground and interests to discuss. Do you both play golf, like to paint, traveled to interesting places, etc.?
  1. Position Yourself — Take roles where you are more strategic than tactical. Position yourself for executive succession by taking on roles that give you high-level exposure and influence over corporate objectives, performance objectives, and P/L responsibility.
  1. Do Something You are Proud of — Whether it’s a plan for partnership or climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, put yourself out there to accomplish something you’re proud to brag about at your class reunion.



Toni is the CEO & founder of The Corporate Tea, an online resource that provides unfiltered advice to help professionals navigate their careers. Toni is a career strategist & HR blogger with over a decade of experience in corporate America. For more insights and advice, follow her @thecorporatetea.