Career Development

SMART Goals: Objectives for Your Career

August 25, 2020

Goals provide you with the steps and timeline you need to complete each step so that you can navigate your job search, career development and workplace success. Setting clear, specific goals for your professional development can help you determine each step of your career. In this article, we discuss what SMART goals are, explore how to set them and provide examples to help you develop your own.

What are SMART goals?

SMART goals are well-defined, trackable objectives you set to outline what you want to achieve, how you will do it and by when. Each letter in the acronym 'SMART' stands for a different element of this goal-setting strategy.

S = Specific

This part of a SMART goal refers to being as clear and specific about what it is you want to accomplish. Define your goal in simple, direct terms that allow you to understand your objective at any stage of your progress. For example, your specific goal might be 'I want to earn a leadership position that oversees the finance department of a company.'

M = Measurable

This refers to how you can tell when you've made progress and how much more progress you need to make. If you want to be a finance department leader, you could measure progress by the levels of leadership you can gain on your way to becoming a department head, such as team lead, manager and supervisor positions. You can use SMART goals to identify the milestones you want or need to hit on your way to success.

A = Achievable

This part of a SMART goal refers to how tangible the goal is and how realistic it is for you to be able to meet your objective. Achievable goals can be determined with practical time frames for completing each step and the goal overall. Think about whether you can achieve the goal now or if you should take additional steps that better prepare you for that goal.

Using the finance department leader goal, perhaps there are educational opportunities that can help you better develop your finance knowledge and skills, or maybe you should pursue another leadership role to ensure you're ready to guide a large team of professionals.

R = Relevant

This refers to how closely the goal aligns with your core values, personality and larger, overall life and career goals. To determine a goal's relevance, identify the elements of what makes you want to pursue to goal and the ways in which it helps you reach larger objectives. For example, if you pursue the goal of becoming a finance department leader, you may thrive in a fast-paced, high-pressure environment and enjoy the challenge of solving problems related to finance and accounting. Earning this leadership role may also demonstrate the long-time efforts of your hard work and dedication.

T = Time-based

This refers to the amount of time you plan to take to achieve the goal, which can help you better determine how long each step will take on your way to accomplishment. For SMART goals, consider setting a specific date or a more general time frame. Using the finance department leader example, you may use a general time frame of 10 years if you're an entry-level professional, while you may use a specific date, such as exactly two years from the date of your most recent promotion, as a mid-management professional.

Setting a clear timeline for completing a goal can help you stay focused on reaching each step and making regular progress. If you feel that the timeline no longer works, you can readjust, making this element vital to ensuring your goal remains measurable, achievable and relevant.

Why are SMART goals important?

While setting goals is vital to determining what it is you want from your life and career, having SMART goals allows you to:

  • Outline what you want to do, why you want to do it, when you want to achieve it and how exactly you're going to do so
  • Reminder you where you should be at each point
  • Identify what resources you need to complete each step of your goal, such as education, training, preparation, financial support or mentorship

How to create and use SMART goals

You can use the following steps to develop SMART goals for your career and professional development:

  1. Identify what you want to achieve overall. Think about what you want your life and career to look like, one year, five years and 10 years from now. Write down the elements you see, such as industries and roles you want to work in, where you want to be living and what personal commitments you see yourself having.
  2. Narrow down to a specific goal. Reviewing your overall goals, create one specific goal that aligns with a few or all of the elements you're looking to accomplish. For example, select a goal that relates to the timeline you want to set, the industry you want to work in and the salary you'd like to be making.
  3. Determine the goal's relevance and importance. Highlight what makes you excited to pursue this goal, like that it's an engaging challenge or that it can help you become a stronger professional or applicant. Reminding yourself why you want to achieve this goal and how it directly relates to your overall goals can keep you motivated through any obstacles.
  4. Establish a progress measurement system. Determine what progress toward the goal should look like to help you stay on track. For example, you can outline the specific roles in each level of experience needed to reach an executive leadership position.
  5. Create a clear timeline. Determine when you want to achieve this goal, such as in one month, one quarter, one year, five years or another specific time frame. Then, outline when you should be accomplishing each step of your goal, such as weekly, monthly, quarterly or yearly achievements. You can use these time markers in your progress measurement system.
  6. Write down your goal. Have a physical copy of your SMART goal, and place it somewhere you can see it regularly to remind you what you're working toward and why. You can also write down the SMART goal outline that explains how it's specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-based to keep you even more focused.
  7. Use your goal to find opportunities. As you search and apply for education, training and professional experiences, have your goal in mind so that you're looking at opportunities within your SMART goal outline. For example, you might keep your goal of being able to build original websites in mind as you research coding courses and web developer job openings.
  8. Re-evaluate your goals and values. Once you begin using your goal to pursue opportunities, determine whether the steps you're taking still make you happy, motivated and engaged. If the experience you're gaining to pursue your SMART goal isn't as interesting anymore, you can review the resources and opportunities needed for this step and find other engaging ones that still lead to that goal.
  9. Revise your SMART goal. You may also find that your overall goals change, perhaps because of a shift in your personal life or career aspirations. If the resources and opportunities you picked early on no longer align with current overall life or career goals, you can revise your SMART goal and select new, more relevant steps and timelines.

Examples of SMART goals

You can use SMART goals for a variety of professional development and career advancement situations. Here are some example SMART goals to help you create your own:

Career development SMART goal

An entry-level accountant sets the following goal:

I want to complete my chartered professional accountant certification, become a CPA and advance to partner at a firm within six years.

  • Specific: Two job titles are listed to clarify what the goal setter wants.
  • Measurable: Achievement involves pursuing a CPA and serving in a specific role.
  • Achievable: Each step is outlined within a realistic time frame that accounts for preparation, study and gaining more experience.
  • Relevant: As an accountant, this goal is within the goal setter's industry.
  • Time-based: They have six years to complete their goal.

Job search SMART goal

A recent graduate sets the following goal:

I will secure five job interviews before my graduation date on May 23, 2020, by applying to and following up on three job openings every day.

  • Specific: The goal establishes what they will do and how they plan to do it.
  • Measurable: The number of interviews and job openings provide metrics.
  • Achievable: The metrics can account for other responsibilities they may have, helping it remain realistic.
  • Relevant: They're about to graduate and are getting an early start on finding a job.
  • Time-based: Providing daily goals and an overall deadline creates a timeline.

Work performance SMART goal

A sales representative sets the following goal:

I will pursue 15 new leads and reconnect with 10 current clients to exceed my sales quota by 5% for seven of the 12 weeks this quarter.

  • Specific: It mentions the clear steps they'll take to reach their goal.
  • Measurable: Having a specific number of leads and client connections, a percentage and a number of weeks make it measurable.
  • Achievable: Actionable strategies within that time frame make it more realistic.
  • Relevant: Sales representatives can earn commission on the sales they make, so exceeding quotas can result in higher commissions.
  • Time-based: The goal setter gave themselves a whole quarter to achieve their goal.

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