SMART career goals: How to set them (+ examples)

November 23, 2022  •  Reading Time: 8 min.

Are you looking for a guide on how to set goals for your career?

Especially if you want to achieve long-term goals that are perfectly aligned with your skills, or if you wish to create a framework that will help you accomplish career success, SMART goals might be just the way to go!

In this article, you’ll learn how to set 🚀 SMART career goals, with examples for career starters, career changers, and professionals who want to advance in their jobs!

What is a SMART goal?

Goals in life and at work provide a sense of direction and motivation.

SMART goals allow you to turn your aspirations into concrete results. SMART goal setting therefore helps you to set clear and trackable objectives.

“SMART” is an acronym for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely.

S – specific goal

Since a vague goal does not provide a clear direction, you first need to think about exactly what you want to achieve.

To do this, you can consider the following W’s:

  • Who is involved?
  • What do I want to achieve?
  • Where do I want to achieve it?
  • What is the reason for achieving the goal?
  • What is the time frame?

🚫 A bad example of a specific goal:

“I want to write something cool.”

✅ A good example of a specific goal:

“I want to complete a project that can be submitted and accepted for publication in XY magazine.”

M – measurable goal

Measurable goals help you gauge your progress.

In this step, pay special attention to using numbers or other markers, so you can really see the effectiveness with which you’re progressing toward your goal.

💡 Tip: Set specific criteria that you can use to measure whether you are making progress on each goal.

To make a goal measurable, ask yourself:

  • How do I know if I have achieved my goal?
  • What is my indicator of progress?

🚫 A bad example of a measurable goal:

“I want to do a better job of filling out paperwork in the office.”

✅ A good example of a measurable goal:

“I want to complete and submit five reports per day to improve my efficiency by 10%.”

Office worker at desk thinking about his SMART goals

A – attainable goal

Attainable goals make it easier for you to actually accomplish your goals.

That’s why it is good to focus on exactly those goals that have a high likelihood of being achieved. This will increase your motivation and, over time, you will most likely develop exactly the skills, attitudes and abilities you need to accomplish your next goals.

🚫 A bad example of an achievable goal:

“I want to make $5 million within 3 years.”

✅ A good example of an attainable goal:

“I want to increase sales by 5% within the next quarter by gaining three new customers.”

R – realistic goal

It is very important to set a realistic and at the same time relevant goal.

This step is also closely linked to attainability. Consider how your goal relates to your short- and long-term goals. Is it relevant at all? If your goal is unrelated to other goals you are pursuing, it may be difficult to achieve.

🚫 A bad example of a realistic goal:

“I want to get rich as soon as possible.”

✅ A good example of a realistic goal:

“I want to be promoted to manager within five years.”

💡 Tip: Ask yourself whether the goal is both realistic and within reach. Are you really able to commit yourself to achieving the objective?

T – time-bound goal

Setting goals that you can achieve within a certain timeframe will help you stay motivated and focused.

📝 Note: Trackable goals also help you “program” your subconscious mind to the objective, as it creates a sense of urgency. Just make sure you set a reasonable amount of time for your goal.

🚫 A bad example of a timely goal:

“I want to increase overall sales.”

✅ A good example of a timely goal:

“I want to achieve $1 million in total sales over the next three years.”

Career woman at desk in the progress of setting SMART goals

Now you know how SMART goals and the goal setting process work.

To help you create your own objectives, take a look at this example:

Using the SMART goal framework with a full SMART career goal example

Utilizing the SMART goal framework can provide a solid foundation for achieving success  regardless of whether you want to accomplish personal or professional goals.

We will now show you how to transform the goal 🎯 “I want to be in a leadership role” into a SMART career goal:

“I want to develop my leadership abilities by the end of the year by immersing myself in new situations where I can advance in particular facets of strategic planning and team leadership. At the same time, I want at least four people who are more senior than me to recognize my development as a leader. My ultimate goal is to lead a team of 10+ people in my organization within the next three years while maintaining a good work-life-balance.”

Here you can see very well that before you begin working towards a goal, you should decide whether you can achieve it immediately or if there are additional steps you need to take in order to be more prepared.

In our case, the person seeking a leadership position has set a clear preliminary goal (progress in strategic plannings, team leadership, and recognized development) before tackling their main goal of becoming a leader.

✅ More SMART goal examples for career starters:

  • “I will update my resume with relevant qualifications by December 15, so I can apply for three open Junior Marketing Manager positions.”
  • “I will enroll in an SEO course by next week to ensure I am qualified and trained to work in organic growth marketing.”

Check out these SMART goal examples to get an even better understanding of how SMART goals can lead to career success or help you achieve personal goals:

Examples of SMART goals that will help you with goal setting

These examples of SMART goals are specifically tailored to people who are currently on the job search.

💡 Tip: Whether it’s your very first job or a new job because you’re looking to change careers, be sure to check out all the examples (and read our comprehensive guide for career starters)!

📝 Note: If you want to advance in your current job, check out “Examples of SMART performance goals in your job” down below!

Examples of SMART career goals for students

Goal #1: Engaging more actively in the professional world

“I want to be active in my industry and secure a job after I graduate. Therefore, I will join the student club of my local trade association and attend one networking session per week.”

Goal #2: Better understand the chosen career path

“I want to gain a better understanding of the field I will be working in after graduation. Therefore, I will contact five companies during my senior year to complete an internship by the end of the year.”

Examples of SMART goals for changing career path

GOAL #1: Determine actual interest in the new field

“To support my desire to pursue a different career, I will contact industry experts to gain relevant first-hand experience. These will help me determine my true interest in the field.”

GOAL #2: Acquire job-specific skills

“In order for me to gain a foothold in XY industry, I need to improve my transferable skills and acquire XY-related skills in order to land the targeted job in that field within a year or less.”

Examples of SMART performance goals in your job

GOAL 1: Increase department sales

“I want to increase our department sales by 20% over the next year through a weekly online promotion, an internal giveaway, and a new incentive program for all employees to monitor their personal goals.”

GOAL #2: Improve presentation skills

“I want to become a more effective presenter, specifically by reducing the total time it takes me to give presentations. To accomplish this, I will rehearse for thirty minutes each weekend for my upcoming meetings and attend a presentation session each month to improve my abilities.”

Young professional setting a SMART goal for her career success and typing it into her phone

SMART career goals – conclusion

As you can see, setting SMART goals is not that difficult. After all, even though finding the right goals can be challenging, using the SMART framework allows you to organize the process and thus have a clear structure to stick to.

💡 Tip for career starters: To impress hiring managers, make sure your goals align with your desired career path by asking yourself this question: “Can my goal contribute to my personal development, and can it also support the overall success of the company?”

Hopefully, this guide has been helpful and given you a better understanding of what SMART goals are and how you can use them to set career goals as part of your career planning on the path to career success!

📝 Note: SMART goals are great for your resume and cover letter. After all, these documents should not only show your work history, qualifications and skill sets, but also your career goals!

💡 Tip: SMART goals can also help you ace the job interview process!

Illustration of a woman who successfully set SMART goals for her career

SMART career goals – FAQ

What are some examples of career goals?

Professional development goals are, for example: 1️⃣ Deepening professional knowledge. 2️⃣ Increase in salary. 3️⃣ Gaining new experience. 4️⃣ Obtaining a leadership role.

How do you set SMART goals for your career?

Ask yourself these questions: 1️⃣ What do you want to achieve? 2️⃣ Why do you want to achieve it? 3️⃣ By when do you want to achieve it?

What are the 5 SMART goals examples?

The acronym SMART stands for Specific (learn new sales techniques to increase sales at work), Measurable (double sales in the next six months), Achievable (already has two years of experience in sales), Relevant (wants to advance career), Timely (goal time frame of six months).