How to use SMART goals to build your career

Posted in: Advice, inspire, Tips & Hints

If you’re prone to avoiding tasks – because there’s always tomorrow, right? – or feel the need to hold something off until it’s perfect, you might benefit from setting SMART goals. SMART goals set clear, time-sensitive objectives and take away the option to put things off.

Ambiguity is stressful. You might find yourself making progress only to shift the goalposts. You might view your career goals as either complete or incomplete, a success or a failure, all or nothing. SMART goals help you take the right steps, without getting overwhelmed by the project as a whole. They are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-framed.


If you’re using the Careers Service, your end goal might be to get a job. But what does this mean specifically? What kind of job? What sectors are you interested in? What sort of strengths and values can you bring to the table? Keeping an open mind is important here too, but don’t let yourself be so flexible that your plans lose their meaning.

Your specific target might be researching what an investment bank does, or reaching out to alumni to find out what Bath graduates do. For the purpose of this example, our goal is to find and apply for jobs in IT.


The only way to measure a vague goal like ‘find a job’ is by – well, whether or not you’ve found a job! What other milestones do you need to meet, and how can you measure the results? This would be a great opportunity to work on your applications, setting targets around redrafting your CV and sending out x number of applications per week.

Remember to measure quality as well as quantity. You could say, ‘I’m going to measure the quality of my CV by booking a CV review and taking on feedback. Then I’m going to send out five good-quality applications this week.’


Or you could say, ‘I’m going to write the best CV in existence and send it to every IT company before lunchtime.’ You don’t want your goals to be so extreme that they’re not attainable.

Do your goals repel you? Do you dread the thought of facing them? Have you given up on them in the past? Start with something within your reach, knowing it will take you further in the long run. This might mean setting reasonable expectations around your long-term goal. Aiming for Head of IT will likely let you down if you don’t have experience – so aim for something you can achieve.


A goal being relevant might sound similar to it being achievable. The difference here is that your goal should be relevant to you – and you should want to obtain it. For example, you might be perfectly capable of securing that IT job, but have you thought about whether it’s right for you? Does it align with your values? Do you know enough about the company ethos to know you’d be happy there? You’re more likely to meet your objectives if they appeal to you.


Time-framed goals should encourage you to take responsibility for the task and see it through. This could mean getting your CV checked before the end of the week, applying for that IT job by Friday, or finishing an IT MOOC before graduation. Give yourself a deadline and hold yourself to it.

Note that in these examples, you are responsible for the outcome. Be careful not to set your targets outside of what you can control. Of course, your end goal is to get hired – but this is influenced by external factors. It’s really important to focus on achieving results that are in your hands, and avoid beating yourself up for outcomes you couldn’t have influenced.

Only you can say what SMART goals are right for you – but if you need guidance or support, you can book an appointment to discuss your career plans with an adviser.

Posted in: Advice, inspire, Tips & Hints


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