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Discovering your career

How to set clear career goals

A guide to using the SMART strategy to help you define and achieve your career goals.

Ask someone what their career goals are and you might hear a myriad of answers. Some may say they want to become a doctor or help save lives. Others may look at much shorter-term goals, prioritizing a bachelor’s degree and finding a paid internship.

Goals are important, but they are one part of the equation. Having clear direction, and tools to help you pave the way is essential to realizing your goals.

How can you effectively set a list of clear career goals?

SMART goals are an evidence-based approach to setting goals that are:

  1. Specific
  2. Measurable
  3. Attainable
  4. Realistic
  5. Timely

Using SMART goals in your career development to lay out a clear path for your career can benefit you in both the short and long term. You’ll begin to notice how much easier it is to reach the appropriate milestones in time.


Finding an entry-level or no-experience job in your industry is a great example of goal to set, but being specific about what you want and what you’ll need to get there will make a difference in finding the right role.

When setting the specifics of each goal’s milestones, also consider:

  • How you will accomplish the milestone. If your next milestone is to obtain a financial analyst position, what programs, skills, or experiences might you need to stand out when you apply?
  • The reason you want to achieve this goal. This will help you put into perspective which goals to prioritize when planning several.


Successful health regimes all have one thing in common. The goals are measurable. You’ll be more likely to eat healthier or get more sleep set thresholds like consuming 10g more protein per day or turning off your computer an hour before bed.

The same can be said about your career goals. Do you want to earn at least $50,000 annually by your third year of employment? Will you plan to stay at least two years at your first job? These are examples of measurable goals, because you know when they have been completed.


In other words, does the goal make sense based on your current trajectory. If you’re majoring in psychology, for example, becoming a licensed counselor will require more than a bachelor’s degree. You should plan to complete at least a master’s degree and months of supervised work after graduating from college.

Make sure you are aware of what it will take to accomplish your career goals. But don’t be afraid of a challenge!

Bonus step: If you’re having a difficult time determining what is attainable for you, consider using Handshake to browse entry level requirements in the field you’re pursuing. This will give you a great idea of what it will take to reach a potential goal.


Not every goal is successfully completed, and one should assume that every decision has some risk. But creating a goal that is realistic helps to mitigate that risk.

Using employment trends is an important factor in considering a career goal that may be overlooked, so make sure you know how to check! You’ll also want to consider whether the goal is attainable considering the time and resources available to you.


There’s no better way to create momentum than to set a realistic timeframe for your goals with a start and end date.Setting deadlines helps to keep you on track and ensures you will reach your goals in time!

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