Chapter 2: Career Goals

2.2 Smart Goals

Make SMART Goals

One of the most important ways that you can turn from imaging careers to having a career is through goal setting. You need to identify the thing you want to do or be, and then identify the steps that will help you get there. This means that you may need to research, reflect, and write in order to come to a meaningful goal. Did you know that writing down your goals exponentially increases your chances of achieving them? When you commit your goals to paper, you are helping to increase your accountability. You are starting a plan that you can turn to and use to assess how you are progressing.

Coming up with a good goal is not just about the act of writing. What and how you write your goal matters, too! Goals need to be SMART. It is important to write SMART goals. You may already have heard of SMART goals. This acronym stands for:

SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Relevant, and Timely and Timebound.
Figure 2.1 SMART Goals.

A SMART goal is a goal based on research and reflection. It is often something that you revise, add to, and change to make it better. You don’t need to write it perfectly the first time. Instead, you can improve it by using the SMART framework as a guide.

Improve Your Goals with SMART

Let’s start with a common goal and see how we can revise it using SMART. Imagine your goal is to save money to buy a car. This is a good goal, but it is vague, which means it will be more difficult to achieve and lacks the planning needed for you to stay on target. Let’s look at how to make this a SMART goal.

Goal: I want to save money to buy a car.
  1. Specific. The first step is to make it specific. This means that you need to narrow and focus your big idea. Ask questions like who, what, where, when, why and how. In this case, you should ask, how much money do I need to save? What exactly do I want to buy? You may need to do some research to help.
    Revision 1 (Specific): I want to save $5000.00 to buy a used car.
  2. Measurable. This is now specific and somewhat measurable but how can we make more measurable. The fact that you have identified an amount is a big help. However, it isn’t clear how you will meet that goal. Adding specificity increases the chance of accomplishing your goal. Also, making it measurable helps you keep track of your progress. It may be worth creating a visual or adding incentives to help you keep going. For this goal, you might ask, how will I save the money? One way to add another measurable element might be to save a set amount from each pay cheque or each month, or to set an end date or other time frame.
    Revision 2 (Measurable): I want to save $5000.00 to buy a used car by saving $150.00 per pay cheque.
  3. Attainable. Attainability means that it is possible to meet your goal. Your goal needs to be manageable with everything else going on in your life. Sometimes, this means going a bit slower or sacrificing a bit more. Can you manage with $150.00 less each pay cheque and still pay all of your bills? If so, great, but if not, you will need to adjust your goal to be more attainable. Most of the time, making a goal attainable means balancing this priority against others. You may need to take something else away. For example, maybe by eating out less, you could lower your monthly bills. Ensure that your goal is attainable, if you attempt something that is so far out of reach, it is easy to become discouraged and give up.
    Revision 3 (Attainable): I want to save $5000.00 to buy a used car by saving $150.00 per pay cheque by never eating out.
  4. Realistic and Relevant. You can see your goal is getting bigger, but you are also planning a way to make it successful. To determine if your goal is realistic, you will have to do some reflection. Think about your personal circumstances, skills and past behaviours. To determine if it is relevant, do some research. Sometimes our expectations are much bigger or smaller than they need to be. Explore options and see how other people have done it. You can even strike up a conversation with a friend, advisor, or faculty member. You will need to check to ensure that each part of your goal is both realistic and relevant. Will $5000.00 buy you a good used car? Is saving $150.00 per pay cheque realistic? Is it realistic to never eat out if you usually eat out every night? If so, great, but if not, this is the time to make adjustments. Ensure you choose something that is relevant to your situation, if you love eating out and your workplace is on the bus route, maybe saving for a car isn’t really relevant for you.
    Revision 4 (Realistic and Relevant): I want to save $5000.00 to buy a used car by saving $150.00 per pay cheque by eating out only twice a week instead of every night.
  5. Timely or Time-bound. The final element of a SMART goal is timely or timebound. This is where we add the element of time into the goal. Goals need to have end dates to help keep them practical and attainable. Your time element still needs to be realistic and relevant. Some times are connected to major life events, like graduation. Other times will be based on other factors, like your income or level of skill development. If you wanted to save $5000.00 by setting aside $150.00 per pay cheque, that would take roughly 34 pay cheques. If you are paid biweekly, it would take 16 and a half months to save this money. Is a little more than a year a reasonable amount of time to save? When and why do you need the car? If you want a car sooner than this, you need to adjust one of the elements such as how much you save each pay cheque.
    Revision 5 (Timely or Time-bound): I want to save $5000.00 to buy a used car by saving $150.00 per pay cheque for 34 pay periods by eating out only twice a week instead of every night.

Writing clear SMART goals will help to make them more attainable. Engaging in SMART goals incorporates research and reflection to ensure you can meet your goals and reap the benefits!


  1. Think about what you want to achieve. It might be an education goal or a financial goal. Attempt to write a SMART to help you achieve this.
  2. Review the following goal and identify the SMART elements in it: I want to secure six job interviews before my graduation date of May 27, 2024, by applying to and following up on three job openings every day.
    • Six job interviews: This goal is specific and measurable. It speaks to what you want to accomplish and how you will track the progress.
    • By May 27, 2024: This goal is timely. The time frame and date set tells by when you want your goal to be achieved.
    • Three job openings: This goal is specific and measurable. Stating how many job openings provides a target and how it will be tracked.
    • Every day: This goal is timely.
    • Graduation: This goal is relevant. Linking the tasks help to support the larger objective.

Make SMART Career Goals

Now that you have engaged in self-assessment and learned about how to write a clear SMART goal, is time to bring those two pieces together. It is time for you to try to develop some smart career goals. Here are some points to keep in mind when you are applying the SMART framework to work.


  • What credentials do you need?
  • What job titles do you want?
  • When do you need to complete each step?


  • How will you know when your goal is met?
  • Can you quantify your goal?
  • Can you identify each step or stage in your career goal?


  • Can your achieve your goal with your current resources, values, skills and interests?
  • Do you need to add in additional steps to meet your goal?
  • Does your goal account for other factors in your life?

 Realistic and Relevant

  • Does this goal align with your values, skills and interests?
  • Do you need to complete this goal to achieve your career aspirations?
  • Will employers see and value the actions you are taking?

Timely or Time-bound

  • Can you achieve your goal in the time you have allocated?
  • Have you allocated time for each step or stage of your goal?

 Case study: Mackenzie sets SMART career goals

Mackenzie has decided to complete their two year Social Service Worker diploma. They still have their list of career prospects and has narrowed down their options. They have done some more research and even booked an informational interview with a local Crisis Counsellor. The work sounds very challenging but rewarding. They want to focus their attention on gaining a similar position in a mental health context.

They are ready to set some goals. They start with a brainstorm to identify what they need to do to get to their goal. Once they have their ideas, they can start forming them into a SMART goal.

Here is their brainstorm:

  • Complete my Social Service Worker diploma
  • Get job experience in mental health
  • Complete a crisis intervention course
  • Get suicide prevention certification

Now, they work to refine each of these items to turn them into a SMART goal. They also put them in the order they will want to complete them:

  1. Volunteer from May to August at least two nights per week with the Canadian Mental Health Association.
  2. Take a work-integrated learning course in the Fall 2022 to gain relevant job experience at a mental health organization.
  3. Take a crisis intervention course online through Justice Institute of BC in Spring 2022.
  4. Work part-time on the Peer Support Hotline at my college for my second year.
  5. Complete my Social Service Worker diploma in June 2023 with a B+ average.
  6. Apply and secure a job in mental health within six months of graduation.
  7. Within 2 years, get a job as a crisis counsellor for a minimum hourly wage of $28.00.

Media Attributions

  • “Figure 2.1 SMART Goals” by Deb Nielsen, Emily Ballantyne, Faatimah Murad and Melissa Fournier is licensed under a CC BY-NC 4.0 licence.


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License

Getting Ready for Work-Integrated Learning Copyright © 2022 by Deb Nielsen; Emily Ballantyne; Faatimah Murad; and Melissa Fournier is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book