How to Make SMART Goals

This mnemonic for setting objectives works well for planning career success.


One surefire way to set yourself up for success is to create a specific game plan – a play-by-play if you will. And it’s not only about meeting your goals – you can exceed measurable ones by hitting the ball out of the park.

OK, enough with the baseball analogies. Proper goal setting ensures you’re on the path for achieving ambitions that are specific, manageable and attainable.

Alexandra Levit, author of “They Don’t Teach Corporate in College,” says: “Professionals are responsible for driving their own careers.” According to her, it's imperative to set goals with your supervisor and “know how to articulate your contribution to your company so you can be recognized.”

Sure, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed with day-to-day tasks, but if you lose sight of the big picture, you won’t generate the results you want to achieve. Levit adds: “If you aren’t proactive about your growth by setting career goals with your supervisor, it is likely that you will be at one level for longer than you might like.”

More specifically, goals need to be SMART. Tony Beshara, owner and president of the Texas-based placement and recruitment service firm Babich & Associates, says, “Success in any endeavor is pure chance without goals.” In fact, without goals, we become “wandering generalities,” he says.

Per the well-known management system of SMART, Beshara points out:

S: Specific, simple and stated in the present with sensory-based language. What exactly are you going to do? When and how?

M: Manageable, measurable and motivational. I can, I do and I feel. What are the criteria you should use to determine if you have achieved your goal? How will you tell if you’ve made progress along the way?

A: Attainable, achievable and agreed upon. What I can control?

R: Relevant, risk-oriented, challenge/skill balanced, meaningful, a stretch, hard but doable.      

T: Time-based. Measure the process and set dates of accomplishment.

Simply stated, SMART goals work. Beshara notes a famous study of 1950s Yale University students who were embarking upon graduation. Researchers followed the class for nearly 20 years and discovered that only three percent of them wrote goals for their future in a SMART format. “Incredibly, they found that more than 95 percent of the group’s net worth was controlled by the three percent that had written out SMART goals.”

As you set one-year, five-year and 10-year goals, plan to review them with people who are meaningful to you, such as a spouse, mentor and boss. “We all need help to get to our goals and these people will help us do that," Beshara says. "It's also important that you do the same thing for them.”

Plus, keep in mind that goal setting in a vacuum doesn’t work. Retired Brigadier General Becky Halstead, author of "24/7: The First Person You Must Lead is YOU" and founder of leader consultancy company STEADFAST Leadership, emphasizes that self-assessment for your “purpose, intent and end state” are clearly understood before you meet with your boss. “Your goals have to be able to answer the simple question, ‘So what?’" Halstead says. "Goals help us work smart, not just hard. We ought to be able to crosswalk every goal to a major task or mission we are responsible for accomplishing.”

Remember, your goals should take you from Point A to B and beyond. Beshara emphasizes the importance of relevancy, risk and time. “A timed goal/intention is an absolute necessity. Too many people design a goal/intention with no time limits. They let themselves off the hook from the outset.”

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  • Vicki Salemi

    Vicki Salemi is the author of Big Career in the Big City and creator, producer and host of Score That Job. This New York City-based career expert and public speaker possesses more than 15 years of corporate experience in recruiting and human resources. She coaches college grads individually with an intense Job Search Boot Camp, writes and edits the MediaJobsDaily blog on Mediabistro, and conducts interviews as a freelance journalist with celebrities and notable names. BlogHer named her one of the country's top 25 career and business women bloggers worth reading.

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