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What is a goal, and how can setting goals help you in your career? A carefully created goal can serve as a powerful stepping stone between where you are now and where you want to be a week, month, or year from now.

Learn more about the importance of goal setting and how writing SMART goals can move you forward in your career.

Why Are Career Goals Important?

Sometimes, goal setting may seem like a pointless exercise. Why not just
keep plugging away and assume you’ll eventually get to where you want to
be? The reality is, without goals, we can easily stall out and even regress in
our careers.
Goal setting helps you be more intentional about becoming the type of worker
and person you want to be. In fact, research shows that people who clearly
define and describe their goals are more likely to accomplish them, so simply
generalizing about the future isn’t enough. Taking the time to set goals—and
do so in writing—is essential if you want to move forward.careers.

Setting goals can help you:

  • Achieve more and boost your performance in your current role.
  • Stay motivated and engaged in your current role.
  • Attain a promotion or qualify for a different position to advance your
    career.

Whatever you’re hoping to achieve, setting career goals can help you get
there.

SMART Goals Overview: What Is a SMART Goal?

Not all goals are equally helpful. Consider the difference between the following goals set by a professional who struggles with giving sales pitches that convert:

  • I want to improve my sales pitches.
  • I plan to dedicate at least two hours per week to viewing sales training materials, and I will meet with a colleague to practice my sales pitch at least once per week to increase my conversion rate by at least 5 percent by the end of next quarter.

Which of these goals do you think will have a stronger impact?

The second goal is an example of a SMART goal. The SMART goal has become a popular
tool for effective goal setting. You’ll find a few different definitions for this acronym, but one popular version is specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART).

Each of these elements contributes to a goal that is practical and actionable rather than abstract, so you know what you’re working towards and whether you’ve achieved it.

How to Apply SMART Goals to Your Job

You can use SMART goals in any area of your life, including your personal life.

Professionally, SMART goals can help you push yourself in positive ways that contribute to your career.

For example, you may want to:

  • Broaden your professional expertise.
  • Form stronger connections with colleagues.
  • Sharpen soft skills, such as communication or time management.
  • Learn a new technical skill.
  • Take steps toward a promotion or career change.

These are just a few examples. Whatever you want to achieve, goal setting can help. You probably already know how you would like to improve or where you want to be a year from now, but what steps are you taking to get there? That’s where SMART goals come in!

How to Write SMART Goals

Now that you know what SMART goals are and how they can benefit your career, let’s get into how to write them.

Then, we’ll look at some career SMART goal examples so you can get the hang of what your goals should look like.

When it comes to writing SMART goals, the name says it all. Let’s look at how you can make your goals SMART.

S — Specific

A goal that’s too vague or too broad won’t be helpful. Instead, goals should include specific language and be narrowly focused. For example, stating that you want to improve your performance at work isn’t specific enough. What aspect of your performance do you want to improve? And what steps are
involved in getting there? Your SMART goals should include these specifics.

M —Measurable

It’s important to create measurable goals because otherwise, you won’t know
whether you’ve met your goal. Ensure your goal includes specific criteria for achieving it. When goals are measurable, it keeps you accountable and can provide the push you need to make a real difference in your career.

A — Attainable

Be sure you don’t set a goal that’s unrealistic to achieve. A recent study showed that when someone fails to meet a lofty and specific goal, it leads to a decrease in affect, self-esteem, and motivation. However, that doesn’t mean you should set goals too low—research also shows that setting challenging
goals is necessary to activate your brain and become more successful. So strike a balance with a goal that is challenging yet achievable.

R — Relevant

Make sure your goals are relevant to your career and the direction you want to move in both professionally and personally. In other words, you should consider the big picture and how your individual goals relate to your broader long-term goals. A 2018 study found that people are more motivated to achieve their goals when those goals are connected to their identity and core values.

T — Time-Bound

A “someday” goal is not as practical or achievable as one with an attached time or deadline. SMART goals must include a time or deadline for completion. For instance, you may want to accomplish your goal within the
next month, quarter, or year. You may also specify steps you will complete daily, weekly, or monthly to accomplish your goal.

5 SMART Goal Examples

Now, let’s look at some SMART goal examples for career- and business- related success.

  1. Achieving a Promotion

    Over the next quarter, I will complete the remaining training required to qualify for a promotion and apply for the position upon completion.

  2. Completing a Project

    I plan to check in with team members twice per week over the next four weeks
    to ensure the project we’re working on stays on schedule and is completed on
    time.

  3. Improving a Professional Skill

    I will complete the online workshop “Building Motivation and Resiliency for At- Risk Students” by the end of this year to improve my ability to help at-risk
    students in my classes.

  4. Making a Career Change

    I will peruse job boards daily and apply for at least three jobs per week until
    I’ve secured a position in my desired field.

  5. Achieving a Benchmark

    I want to qualify for a bonus by meeting or exceeding my sales quota for the
    next quarter.

The Role Higher Education Can Play in Achieving Your Goals

Goal setting can sometimes reveal the need for more education to help you reach your eventual career goals. In these cases, education should become a goal itself. For example, you might set a goal that you want to complete a certain course by this time next year to help you add a new skill to your
resume. Alternatively, you may set a goal to obtain a new degree within the next four years to make a career change. For big goals like this, it’s wise to set smaller goals to contribute to the larger goal. For instance, you might specify the courses you plan to complete on a certain timeline to fulfill the requirements of your degree program.

Get SMART with Your Goal Setting

SMART goals can help you become a better employee and take steps forward in your career. If you want to complete courses or obtain a new degree to advance your skills, you don’t have to put life on hold.

Online degree programs from Mount Vernon Nazarene University are designed with working adults in mind.

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