|  January 20, 2015

Guest Post: How to set SMART goals

Thrilled to post another guest article from Lauren McGoodwin of Career Contessa. Like me, she’s a former recruiter and her advice is always spot on. January is the perfect time to think about setting goals for the new year (I’ve set a few myself!) but not all goals are created equal… making your goals “SMART” will actually help keep you accountable and make sure you actually achieve them. With that, I’ll kick it over to Lauren!

This post originally appeared on Career Contessa, an awesome site which you should absolutely check out!

“Hi Lauren, I’m feeling like my career progress has been flattening out lately, and I want to jump into the New Year ready to make some moves and take charge of my career. I think one of the ways I can do this is to set some goals for 2015 so that I have something to work toward. Do you have any advice as to how I should set personal career goals for the year and get off to a fresh start?”

– Megan, Dallas, TX

Hi Megan,

I love the new year and I love setting goals! I find setting goals to be a really therapeutic process, and having a checklist to measure your progress against can be very motivating.

When setting personal goals, I like to follow the S.M.A.R.T guidelines:


General goals tend to get lost in the busyness of our daily lives. When you get specific with your goals, you’re much more likely to accomplish them.

This is a general goal: I want to go to the gym more in 2015. This is a specific goal: I will join a walking club and walk for an hour before work on Monday/Wednesday/Friday.

To get started, consider the five W’s:

  • Who: Who is involved?
  • What: What do I want to accomplish?
  • Where: Establish a timeframe
  • Why: Specific reason, purpose or benefits for accomplishing the goal
  • When: Identify a location


Establish a criteria for measuring progress on each goal you set. Ask yourself: “How will I know when my goal is accomplished?” When you measure your goals, you stay on track and are that much more likely to see your progress and reach your target timelines—you also tangibly experience the momentum that keeps you going!


When you focus on only the goals that are most important and most attainable to you, you’ll be that much more likely to accomplish them. In addition, you’ll develop the exact abilities, attitudes, and skills to reach them. Think of it this way: you can reach almost any goal when you plan wisely, within a realistic timeframe—and the goal that might have seemed far away and out of reach eventually moves closer and closer to completion. Attaining your goals happens not because your goals shrunk but because you grow and expand to match them.


Set a goal that you’re willing and able to work toward. Your goal can (and should) be aspirational, but just make sure that you can realistically make substantial progress with every goal. To determine whether or not your goal is realistic, you might consider whether you have accomplished anything similar in the past or identify ahead of time the conditions that would have to exist to accomplish this goal.


Every goal should have a time frame. Without one, you have no sense of urgency to accomplish your goal. If you want to lose 10 pounds, when do you want to lose them by? “Someday” won’t work. But if you anchor your goal within a timeframe—“I want to lose 10 pounds by May 1st”—then you’ve set your unconscious mind into motion to begin working on the goal before the deadline you’ve assigned.

Now that you know what S.M.A.R.T goals are, I encourage you to take the time to come up with 3-5 (or more!) of them. I like to write mine down in my day planner and check-in with them once a month to see where I stand on my progress.

Also, I never worry about having to change my goals—life happens and it’s fine to adapt, so long as you use your best judgement. For instance, editing a goal because you don’t know where to start is not a good reason. If you don’t know how to accomplish a goal, find friends and family to talk to about it. Get their advice on where to start, but start somewhere!

Cheers to a productive 2015! Lauren


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