Setting SMART Career Goals

We are all familiar with the idea of setting goals in both our personal and professional lives, but how many of us set the right goals, put together a plan of action and actually achieve them?

Not many, according to research.In fact, a mere 20% of the population actually set goals for themselves and of those, only three out of 100 of them write those goals down. What’s more, a recent study by the University of Scranton showed that a whopping 92% of people who set New Years Resolutions never actually achieve them.

So, if you are serious about setting career goals for the next month, year or even five years, how do you ensure you will be in the 8% of successful goal-setters?

Set goals that matter

One way to ensure you achieve your career goals is by ensuring they are S.M.A.R.T. goals, which stands for specific, measurable, attainable, results focused and time bound.

A goal is the end result of focused action in an aimed direction. Imagine if you were to get in your car and start driving with no road map or destination in mind. Where would you end up? You see, having goals with no intentional focus on what you want to achieve will lead you nowhere.

Before you even start working towards any professional goals, you want to get clear on your vision for the future. A vision is a defined view of who you want to be in life and what you want to achieve during the journey. Writing your vision down in clear detail is very helpful for the goal setting process.

Career coach Brenda Underwood suggests the following questions to help you define your life vision:

  1. Who do you want to be when you grow up? (I know, I know, just entertain me for a moment)
  2. What is your life’s passion? Try to be specific with this question. If the answer is helping people, then how do you enjoy helping people: in medicine, teaching, physical health, etc. There are many different ways to help people, but the more specific you are the better your goals will be to help you accomplish your vision.
  3. If money was not an object and all your bills were paid every month as long as you worked in some full-time capacity, what would you do for a living?

To get even clear on what you truly want in your professional life, career coach Sally Anne Giedrys suggests you imagine your ideal day. “We all have some control over how we live and work every day and the first step in getting closer to your ideal is to spend some time letting yourself imagine what it looks like,” she explains. “What does your schedule look like? What type of work are you doing? What’s the environment like? How do you feel as you go through your day? Visualize it, write it down, share it with a coach or a trusted friend—entertain the possibility.”

Be realistic

Now that you have a vision in your mind, you want to use a critical eye to figure out how realistic that vision is. If you put too much on your plate at once, you run the risk of burning out quickly and not accomplishing anything.

“While you want to set goals that stretch you to new heights, make sure they still have some basis in reality, especially as it relates to time and pacing,” career coach Tonya Echols explains. “It may feel motivating to say you’re going to do a year’s worth of business in the first quarter, but it could end up leaving you feeling defeated once you are faced with the logistics of meeting that goal.  That’s not to say that incredible things can’t happen, but don’t rely on that when you are setting your goals.  Keep the realities of life, math and the laws of physics in mind as well.”

Visualize it

Goals tucked away in a drawer will never come to life. Your goals are a living document that needs to be reviewed daily or, at the very least, weekly.

“If time and money weren’t a problem, what is it you’d like build or create or take on? Visualize it!” advises career coach Lisa Pachence. “Sit with yourself in a quiet area and close your eyes or write it out using stream of consciousness or create a visual (Vision Board enthusiasts, here’s where you shine). It’s hard to know where you’re going if you don’t have a clear, obvious, attractive end result in mind.”

Bénédicte is also a fan of visualization. “Creating a visual board can help, it’s a very powerful mind exercise to help shape what you would like to see in 2018, when it can sometimes be difficult to articulate. There are a lot of websites and apps that offer the possibility to create a visual board online at no charge.”

Add a timeframe

Now that you have a clear understanding of your career goals, you want to set a timeframe. Having a timeframe to complete each of your goals will help you continually make progress. When you are making progress, your confidence builds and with confidence comes momentum. Focused efforts produce results. A timeframe helps you to take intentional action and holds you accountable to a deadline. Specifically clarifying your goals will help you to be realistic with how long each step will take.

If you have a long-term career goal that requires a series of steps to get where you want to be, plan it and break down the time it will take for each step and stick to it.

“Reverse engineer the vision. If you want to make $100k, then what are the milestones to get there?”career coach Lisa Pachence says. “Get a new certification or take a course in negotiating salary or research side hustles to add income OR learn how to amplify your business using social media. Then, map out the action items needed for each milestone. Make it so easy for yourself that you can’t NOT take the next steps.”

Track your progress

To keep yourself on the right path towards your goals, you need to track your progress. The smaller goals you have, the easier it is to work on them. In addition, once you realize you make a good progress, it motivates you to work not only harder but smarter as well.

To form the habit of tracking your progress, understand what works best for you: to-do lists, a bullet journal, monthly reports, spreadsheets or written forms. No matter what you choose, the main idea is to understand that your efforts are valuable and give results.

Stay motivated

Motivation is a driver when it comes to achieving your goals. Although all people are different and we all have different motivators, it’s important to find out what stimulates you to move toward your goals. It can be something mental or material, but it should inspire you every time you’re about to procrastinate on working.

Thinking of hiring a career coach to help you achieve your career goals? Browse our directory of career coaches and get a FREE consultation or request a personalized coach recommendation!