Developing Long Term Career Goals – the SMART way!

“Plan your work for today and every day, then work your plan.” – Margaret Thatcher

Should I pursue graduate school or not? Should I relocate or stay local? Should I apply for that promotion or look elsewhere for opportunity?

Career development – and really, life in general – is filled with options and choices. Sometimes, the choices are simple; selecting the job with the best benefits and pay or attending the graduate school with the best opportunity for research. Other times, however, a fork in the road can be confusing and challenging. For many, this confusion can be alleviated by developing long-term professional goals. These can include securing a first post-graduation position or gaining acceptance to a graduate or certificate program. However, even after graduation, long-term goals are valuable. When creating such goals for oneself, consider making them SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Bound.



While goals of any type can be helpful, goals that aren’t clearly defined are difficult to adhere to. Think of the difference between, “I’d like to earn good money after graduation,” and “I’d like my first position to include medical and dental benefits, and a salary of at least $37,000.” One is subjective and not necessarily helpful, while the other is concrete and detailed. Strive to include important details in each goal you create.


Strong goals can easily analyzed by an outside perspective. For example, “Getting better grades” is not the strongest goal, as “better grades” to one individual may look very different to another. However, “Earning a 3.8 GPA during the Spring 2017 semester,” is measurable and thereby, makes your objectives clearer and more attainable.


If an individual says, “I’d like to become an Olympic swimmer this year,” but the Olympics are over and they don’t know how to swim – odds are, they won’t achieve this goal. While it’s important and inspiring to dream big, it’s just as important to acknowledge logistical barriers. Sometimes, these barriers are immovable and make a goal less attainable – other times, with adequate planning, it is possible to remove these barriers and make a seemingly less-than-feasible goal a reality.


Does this goal match your overall objective? If your long-term plan is to become an accountant, pursuing a graduate degree in Chemistry isn’t necessarily relevant. Make sure that your goals align with your specific professional objectives and doesn’t derail you from your chosen path.


I recommend avoiding open-ended goals or ones that don’t include a deadline. However, consider the timeline being created carefully and thoughtfully. If one of your goals is, “I’d like to be a homeowner next month,” but you’ve yet to secure a mortgage or save up a down payment, that goal is likely no longer feasible. At the same time, saying “I’d like to own a home sometime during the next 20 years,” is also not necessarily helpful. Timelines can support ones goal and keep things in check.


If you’d like support with developing goals, or don’t know where to start, consider reaching out to the Center for Career Development or a mentor who both knows you well and can help you brainstorm possibilities. Think closely about where you are today, where you’d like to go in the future, and concrete steps to get there. Goals can help you in making your future your reality!

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By Ana Clara Blesso
Ana Clara Blesso Associate Director, Career Coaching & Experiential Learning