You might have heard of the SMART goal setting tool, but do you know the best way to use it to your advantage? We’ll go through each step of the SMART goal setting tool, highlight its pros and cons and set out exactly what you need to turn your goals into reality.
SMART is an acronym of steps that you can use to guide your goal setting. There are a couple of variations, but the SMART goal setting tool usually stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound.
How to use each step of the SMART goal setting tool
If your goal is vague (such as “I want to impress my supervisor”), it will be confusing figuring out how to achieve it. Make your goal setting clear and objective, and the implementation process will be a lot easier. Some examples of specific goals are:
“I want to secure an internship in my chosen industry”
“I want to gain industry certification”
“I want to achieve and exceed all of my performance indicators in my next performance review”
Specific goals set you up for the next step: tracking your progress.
It’s essential that you set out your goals so that your progress can be measured. You want to see how far you’ve progressed – this will serve as motivation!
Make a plan to track your progress, which can include milestones to achieve smaller sub goals.
A great tip is to set up a hierarchy of goals which can include short-term, long-term and recurring goals.
For example, you might have an ambitious goal like “I want to become an expert in my field”. It’s much less daunting if you break it down into smaller steps like:
Short-term goal: Complete any formal qualifications you need.
Recurring goal: Refresh skills in specific techniques/software/theoretical concepts.
Mid-term goal: Carry out research and publish your articles in industry journals.
Long-term goal: Gain a position at a relevant organisation.
There are heaps of great goal-tracking apps to track your progress here: a lot of them allow you to share your progress with friends and suggest incentives to motivate your further.
If you’re going to be successful in your goal, it has to be achievable with the skills, attributes or resources you have or are able to gain. Examine your goal objectively and try and pinpoint what’s already at your disposal and what’s lacking: are you able to gain what you need?
It’s often advised that you keep your goal setting realistic, otherwise you’re doomed to fail. However, other people argue that this might encourage you to aim too low. After all, if your goal is guaranteed to succeed, you won’t feel any pride when you do. Some surveys even suggest that people who set realistic goals – as opposed to difficult goals (sometimes known as Big Hairy Audacious Goals or BHAGs) – are less happy in their jobs.
Whether your goal is at the realistic or more audacious end of the spectrum completely depends on you. You know yourself best: if you need a crazy and difficult goal to motivate you, go for it. If you know it would terrify you into procrastination, err on the achievable side.
Whether a goal is relevant will make a huge difference to your commitment to achieving it. Your goals should align with your values, purpose and career vision. Don’t discount this step: Josh Mackenzie, author of The Graduate Edge, writes that “irrelevant goals are a waste of time”.
For a goal to be relevant, look at the motivating factors behind it. It’s helpful if the motivating factors are intrinsic – driven by your own ambitions and values – as opposed to extrinsic: motivated by the opinions or values of others. Never set a goal purely because it’s something others strive for, such as aiming to work for a company purely because of its reputation rather than because it aligns with your career trajectory.
Check out this article for more help with creating a career vision.
Time is such an important factor in the goal setting process and it’s often called out as a key reason goals fail. If you set yourself too much time to achieve you’ll goals, you’ll probably procrastinate endlessly and never take the action steps. Set yourself too little time, and you’ll probably induce mad stress and make the goal unachievable.
Make sure each step you need to achieve your goal has a target time attached to it. You don’t necessarily need a Goal Gantt chart (unless you really want to…) and you will probably need to re-evaluate the process along the way. But giving your goals deadlines helps the tracking progress and increases your accountability. Make sure you set incentives such as rewards for achieving your target deadlines – it will keep up your motivation along each step of your journey.
Author: Eliza Brockwell
Eliza is the Digital Producer for Careers with STEM. Eliza is passionate about creating content that encourages diversity of representation in STEM.