How to Develop SMART Goals (With Examples)

Updated 22 September 2023

Goal setting is an essential tool in furthering and changing your career. Learning how to set actionable and achievable goals can help you organise your career path, decide what goals are actually beneficial to you and make big changes seem more manageable. In this article, we describe what SMART goals are, teach you how to create them and give examples of what they might look like for specific jobs.

What are SMART goals?

SMART goals are a helpful way to build the career you want by setting a clear roadmap of how you will reach your intended target. SMART is an acronym that stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-based. The SMART framework is used to create goals that are carefully planned, clear and trackable.

Often when goals fail, it's because they are too vague, aggressive or poorly framed. Working towards a poorly crafted goal can feel daunting and unachievable or can be harmful to your career. Creating SMART goals can help solve these problems. Whether you're setting personal or professional goals, using the SMART goal framework can establish a strong foundation for achieving success.

For example, the statement "I want to be in leadership" is an example of a goal that could be more specific. Building this statement into a SMART goal can help you reach your goal through actionable steps, even helping you plan your career further into the future. Below, we demonstrate how to turn a goal like the aforementioned into a SMART goal.

Related: How to make a life plan and achieve goals in 8 steps

How to write SMART goals

Follow these steps when creating a SMART goal:

1. Consider the goal

Before creating a SMART goal, it's important to consider the type of goal you want to attain. Consider whether you want to make something, improve something, save something or reduce something. Analysing your goal in this way can help you narrow down exactly what you want to achieve.

Related: Objective vs. goal (The key differences)

2. Set check-ins

Creating the original goal can be exciting and even give you a burst of motivation. However, this initial focus and enthusiasm can fade the longer it takes to achieve the goal. Therefore, it's important to set progress checks to help you stay on track and increase your motivation. Think of specific metrics appropriate to your goal to measure your progress and create a timeline that reminds you when to check-in.

Related: What is tracking a project? (Importance, steps and tips)

3. Make it specific

Be as clear as possible with what you want to achieve. Utilise specific titles and terms when creating your goal. This is essentially your mission statement, and it should answer all questions related to what you're ultimately trying to accomplish. The narrower your goal, the more you'll understand and perceive the steps necessary to achieve it.

Related: What are goals in life and how to set them?

4. Make it measurable

Decide what evidence you will provide to prove you are making progress towards your goal. Think of metrics that will help determine if you are on your way towards achieving your goal or if you have been detracted and need to re-evaluate and course correct. For example, if your goal is to earn a position as a sales manager for a pharmaceutical company, you might measure progress by the number of projects you have led and interviews you have completed. Having tangible results can help you track your progress satisfactorily, with many mini-accomplishments along the way.

Related: How to create and utilise different types of SMART KPI

5. Make it achievable

Having an achievable goal can both inspire and increase the likelihood of you setting another SMART goal in the future. Also, having a goal that you're capable of accomplishing within a certain timeframe can keep you motivated and focused. Some goals may require you to learn a new skill or possess certain credentials, which is something to think about when deciding whether a goal is attainable. Before you even begin working towards the goal, make sure any additional steps or requirements are realistic within your timeline.

Related: How to Create an Actionable Personal Development Plan

6. Make it relevant

When setting goals, consider whether they apply to your career and needs. Ensure that your goals align with your values and long-term objectives to avoid spending time on extraneous tasks. Ask yourself why the goal you've set is important to you, how achieving it will help you and how it will contribute towards your long-term ambitions. Examining the reasons for setting your goal in this way may help remind you how the goal will benefit you in the long run and, in turn, inspire you to achieve it.

7. Make it time-based

Having an end date can both provide motivation and help you understand certain aspects of a goal that you may not have previously considered. If you haven't completed your goal within the timeframe, it may be time to re-evaluate how realistic it is. You may even discover that some requirements necessary to meet your goal aren't yet possible at your current level, and the goal may be more attainable in the near future. There is always something to be learned from not completing a goal within a certain timeframe. Use this knowledge to help you set future goals.

Related: Time-Management Skills: Definition, Examples and Tips for Improvement

8. Celebrate all wins

Achieving a goal takes time, that's why it's important to celebrate even small wins or milestones along the way. Include incremental goals as part of your timeline to give yourself a boost of motivation. You don't need to wait until you've accomplished your ultimate goal before you celebrate, instead you should acknowledge all small victories along the way.

Advantages of SMART goals

Using the SMART goal framework sets boundaries and defines the steps you'll need to take, resources necessary to get there and milestones that can indicate progress along the way. The specificity of SMART goals allows you to visualise them more easily and stay on track. With SMART goals, you'll find yourself more likely to achieve your goal efficiently and effectively.

SMART goals examples

Here are three examples that show how the elements of SMART goals work in everyday situations:

Example 1

I will obtain an entry-level civil service job related to environment and sustainability, preferably in the Consumer Council for Water organisation, within six months.

  • Specific: The goal is well-defined, down to the preferred organisation. It also leaves room for course correction and re-evaluation if the goal setter receives a civil service job within a similar organisation.

  • Measurable: Success can be measured by the number of applications, interviews and job offers. If one of the initial interviews does not result in a job immediately, the goal setter can still celebrate the win of completing an interview and consider it a learning experience.

  • Achievable: The position is entry-level. If the goal setter has the educational requirements for this specific department and passes the civil service exam, this goal is appropriate.

  • Relevant: The goal planner wants to have a career in government. Obtaining an entry-level job in this organisation will lead to more positions within the government.

  • Time-based: The goal setter has set a deadline to achieve this objective within six months.

Example 2

I will earn a promotion to health service manager within my hospital by completing the necessary training requirements and applying for the role at the end of the quarter.

  • Specific: The goal setter has a clear objective to be promoted to health service manager within their own hospital.

  • Measurable: Success can be measured by completing the necessary training requirements. Every completion of a training requirement can be counted as a small success.

  • Achievable: The goal setter is aware of the skills they will need to possess to apply to this position.

  • Relevant: The goal setter is planning to apply to the position within the same field. This will then lead to a higher position within their present organisation, making this goal relevant.

  • Time-based: The goal setter has set a deadline to achieve their objective by the end of the quarter.

Example 3

I want to have a healthier work-life balance while still maintaining my role as a restaurant manager. I will do this by slowly decreasing the number of overtime hours I work. I want to have a reduction of 10 overtime hours by the start of my next holiday.

  • Specific: The goal setter is clear that they do not want any changes to their career but feel that a reduction in overtime will benefit their personal life.

  • Measurable: Success can be measured by the slow decrease in overtime hours, week by week, until the goal setter's holiday.

  • Achievable: The goal setter is making small, incremental changes in the number of hours they work until they reach the desired number.

  • Relevant: This will not change the goal setter's role within the organisation but will positively affect their work-life balance.

  • Time-based: The goal setter has set a deadline to achieve this goal by the start of their holiday.

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