Setting SMART career goals provides a roadmap to your career aspirations, and keeps you motivated and accountable along the way. Here’s how to effectively develop them.
Career goals should inspire and motivate you every time you review them. If you can’t see a clear path towards your ultimate career aspiration, then it’s time to review your career goals.
Developing career goals doesn’t have to be an overwhelming or complicated process. Understanding the crucial elements and following the SMART framework is key to success.
I’m going to explain in detail what career goals are, why you need one and how to set one that is exciting to pursue!
This post is about developing inspiring and motivating career goals.
What are career goals?
Long term career goals
A career goal is a statement that summarises your long-term career aspiration that you intend to pursue throughout your career journey.
Career goals can include:
- Job titles
- Specific accomplishments
- Experiences or skills
- Business metrics
- Projects or significant long-term tasks
- Career change
Popular sources will suggest goals should be developed using the SMART framework. As a general principle I agree, however if you have another goal setting tool that you prefer, free feel to use it.
When working with clients, I often use career mission statements as it provides a more holistic summary of your career. A career mission statement (or why statement or purpose statement) is a concise sentence or two that sums up the purpose of your working life, the reason you do what you do and how you will achieve it.
As your vision of your ideal career evolves, so too will your career mission statement.
Short term career goals
Once a career goal is developed, short, medium and long-term actions are then devised to achieve the goal.
Career goals can also be set with a short-term view, however they tend to be actions needed to achieve a long-term career goal, rather than a goal itself.
There’s not much difference between how short-term and long-term career goals are expressed; it really comes down to the time it will take to achieve the goal (more on SMART goal examples below).
Importance of career goals
Setting a career goal, or defining a career mission statement, is so important as it provides overall direction for career/professional development activities, and motivation and accountability to continue to work towards something that is important to you.
Without articulating a career goal or mission statement, it can be difficult to define an effective action plan to achieve your goals. You can’t have a roadmap to a destination if you don’t know what the destination is!
Often an employer will ask a candidate about their career goals during a recruitment process. The purpose of this is to determine if the candidate will be a good fit for the organisation on a medium to long term basis.
How to write career goals
Before a career goal can be developed, you need to know what your ideal career is and what you want out of it. If this is you, that’s great! You might want to move on to the next section. If not, below are a few self-reflection tips to prompt your thinking.
Many people make career decisions based on their interests. Understanding your interests and factoring them into your career decisions and planning is fundamental to achieving a fulfilling career.
Write a list of your top 5-10 interests (whether they seem career-related or not). Consider what patterns, connections or common themes there might be. What conclusions can you draw from these answers?
Career values cover a range of components of an individual’s career preferences. This can include anything from working environments, to the organisations you wish to work for, to the amount of autonomy you prefer or even the degree of creativity or risk you seek.
Write a list of the top 5-10 aspects of a career that are the most important to you. Consider what patterns, connections or common themes there might be. What conclusions can you draw from these answers?
Finding a career that provides an outlet whereby you can utilise your unique talents and skills is fundamental to achieving a satisfying career.
Write a list of your top 5-10 strongest work-related skills. Consider what patterns, connections or common themes there might be. What conclusions can you draw from these answers?
Career traits refer to an individual’s characteristics and preferences as they relate to a vocation.
Write a list of your top 5-10 most prominent traits. Consider what patterns, connections or common themes there might be. What conclusions can you draw from these answers?
If you are still unsure about your ideal career, help is available. This can be the hardest part of the career planning process and is usually when most clients get in contact with me. Soon you will be able to check out our services to see how we can help you further.
SMART career goal examples
The simplest way to write career goals is to use the well-known SMART framework.
The SMART framework is an acronym that contains the following elements:
Below are some examples of how the SMART framework can work to develop career goals.
Scenario 1 – An office manager would like to change careers to become an accountant.
SMART career goal: I will gain a role as an accountant by completing a Bachelor of Business (Accounting) by November 2024 and applying for positions in the Big 4 accounting firm graduate programs.
Specific: A clear objective to become an accountant (and where) has been defined
Measurable: Success can be measured by completing a degree and getting through a recruitment process
Achievable: Completing a degree and obtaining a position in a graduate program is an achievable goal
Realistic: Completing a degree and obtaining a position in a graduate program is a reasonable expectation to set
Time-based: A time frame of November 2024 has been given for completion of the degree
Scenario 2 – A school leaver would like to become a personal trainer.
SMART career goal: I will gain a role as a personal trainer at a gym by completing a Certificate III and IV in Fitness by December 2021 and applying for positions at gyms within 20kms of my home.
Specific: A clear objective to become a personal trainer (and where) has been defined
Measurable: Success can be measured by completing the certifications and getting through a recruitment process
Achievable: Completing the certifications and obtaining a position in a gym is an achievable goal
Realistic: Completing the certifications and obtaining a position in a gym is a reasonable expectation to set
Time-based: A time frame of December 2021 has been given for completion of the certifications.
Career goals for resume
Many people include career goals in their resume, usually right at the beginning. I don’t generally recommend this.
Your resume should be used to communicate to a potential employer your unique skills, knowledge and experience.
A resume is not about what you want from a role, rather what you can bring to a role.
If you have a career goal listed in your resume, I suggest you remove it and replace it with a professional summary or profile.
Now you know what it takes to develop a career goal that provides you with overall direction for career development activities, and keeps you motivated and accountable as your work towards your ultimate career aspiration.
Make sure you refer to your career goals on a regular basis to help prioritise the time and energy you spend on professional development.
I would love to hear all about your career goals. Please share them in the comments below.
You might also like to read about professional development goals.
This post was about setting inspiring and motivating career goals.
Hi there, I'm Danielle Ward
Your go-to career development and human resource practitioner, guiding your career towards true north.