If your professional life seems like it's been stuck in neutral for months—or even years—it may be time to craft some SMART goals to steer your career in a better direction. The beginning of a new year is the perfect opportunity to start fresh and make meaningful progress toward advancement and success.
For the uninitiated, SMART is an acronym that outlines the five key characteristics of meaningful, achievable goals:
S = Specific
M = Measurable
A = Achievable
R = Relevant
T = Time-bound
Whether you're 25 and just starting your career or 55 and making an important shift, incorporating SMART criteria into your goal-setting process can pay huge dividends toward helping you reach—or revive—your career potential.
For example, "Get a promotion" is vague and hard to quantify. A stronger SMART goal would be: "Apply for three senior management positions at my company that would count as a promotion from my current role by Q3." This sets clear expectations around the number of applications, the level of positions, and the timeframe, and ties directly back to advancement.
When crafting SMART career goals, make sure to ground them in your own innate strengths, skills, and interests. If you love writing and creating visual presentations, don't set a goal to start coding unless you truly desire a dramatic career transition. Play to your existing talents and find opportunities to showcase them at a higher level.
It's also crucial to regularly assess progress and recalibrate plans if needed rather than clinging rigidly to goals that may no longer make practical sense due to shifts in priorities, the economy, or your industry. The purpose is to thoughtfully guide your career—not restrict its organic evolution.
Setting SMART Goals Is Just The Beginning
Now that you understand the fundamentals of crafting SMART career goals, here is a step-by-step process to put them into action:
- Get Clear On Your "Why" Before defining the "what" and "how" of your goals, connect with your deeper motivations and the positive impacts career advancement will have on your life. Getting clear on your "why" gives goals more emotional resonance to sustain focus.
- Conduct A Skills Audit Make an honest assessment of your existing skills and experience. This gives you data to inform goal-setting and reveals priority areas for development.
- Research Opportunities Use audit findings to pinpoint lucrative opportunities suited to your abilities and interests. Explore options within your company and industry.
- Define SMART Goals Draft 1-3 top-level SMART goals based on the most promising opportunities that also align with your passions.
- Reverse Engineer The Plans Map out measurable objectives, monthly milestones, resources required and timelines to achieve each goal.
- Execute And Iterate Follow the plans, tracking progress against milestones. Adapt goals over time as needed based on learnings, challenges and new opportunities that arise.
Following this framework sets you up to actively make progress on SMART career goals rather than just declaring them. Adjust process details to fit your unique situation. Consistent discipline in execution is key!
By incorporating the discipline of SMART goal-planning, you can feel empowered, motivated, and set up for success, whether you're just starting on the path or actively working to level up. With clear goals mapped out for 2024 and beyond, this is the year your career finally takes off!