Preparing for a career begins with setting the right goals, a strategy that successful professionals have honed over the years. Among the most effective techniques they use is creating specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound goals, or simply, SMART goals. Erika Garcia, a career advisor at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU), shared the significance of SMART goals and provided examples for students and budding professionals.
SMART Goals: Unlocking Students’ Potential
Understanding the essence of SMART goals is the first step toward effective career planning. Here is a breakdown of each letter and its meaning:
- Specific: clear and well-defined goals that are not too vague or broad
- Measurable: goals that have tangible evidence to indicate that they are being met
- Attainable: goals that are achievable and take resources and constraints into consideration
- Relevant: goals that align with broader objectives
- Time-bound: goals that have a specific timeframe for completion
Garcia underscored the importance of SMART goals for students as they encourage them to reflect on their progress, make necessary adjustments and uphold a feeling of accountability.
“The SMART framework amplifies students' chances of success by assisting them in developing their goal-setting capabilities,” she said. “The focus is on creating a clear roadmap for achieving their goals, thus enabling them to actualize their dreams."
Crafting SMART goals: An example to guide you
When it comes to goal setting, Garcia reinforced that specificity is key. You’ll want to be as specific as possible when setting your goals.
An example Garcia shared revolved around a hypothetical student who had the goal of improving their English writing skills by the end of the semester. While that may be a good starting point, the student can apply the SMART goal steps to take that goal to the next level. In practice, it may look similar to the following:
“I will improve my English writing, for academic and professional success, by focusing on sentence structure, grammar, and vocabulary and reaching a minimum score of 80% on my writing projects. I will practice writing for 30 minutes each week (separate from my assignments) and will see improvement by the end of the semester.” Within the SMART framework, Garcia's example goal is:
- Specific – focusing on sentence structure, grammar and vocabulary
- Measurable – reaching a minimum of 80% on writing assignments
- Attainable – practice writing 30 minutes a week
- Relevant – tied to academic and professional success
- Time-bound – improvement by the end of the semester
This is just one example of how you could craft a SMART goal for your already existing goals. You may also repeat this process and update your goals as you see fit.
Navigating common mistakes when setting SMART goals
You may not get it right the first time. Garcia noted some common mistakes students make when creating their SMART goals, including:
- Lack of precision
- Neglecting time-bound milestones
- Setting unrealistic targets
For example, a lack of precision could mean setting a goal like, “I want a better grade in math,” instead of being specific about what the grade you want is. A more precise goal could be, "I aim to score 85% on my next math test."
Neglecting time-bound milestones can also lead to a perpetual postponement of goals, so it's important to create a timeframe for goals that makes the most sense for you.
Setting unrealistic targets can set you up to become demotivated. Garcia said it's important to set more realistic goals while being mindful of your capabilities, available resources and potential time restrictions.
Garcia's solution to issues like these is a structured approach.
“Start with something specific,” she said. “Specify the precise area or subject that needs improvement and choose steps or benchmarks to gauge progress.”
Beyond academics: The versatility of SMART goals
Garcia said that the applicability of SMART goals isn't confined to education. You can also use SMART goals to improve personal development and enrich extracurricular activities. For example, if you want to work on your guitar technique to participate in a local talent contest, you could create SMART goals to aid you, Garcia said.
“The beauty of SMART goals is that they are highly adaptable and can be used for any type of goal setting,” Garcia said. “Whether it’s about mastering a musical instrument or enhancing photography skills, SMART goals guide you to create a clear plan and take concrete steps towards achievement.”
Preparing for the future: SMART goals and career paths
SMART goals provide more than just educational success; they can help you prepare for a future career.
“While setting SMART goals, students take into account their skills, limitations and potential areas of growth,” Garcia said. This boosts their self-awareness and paves the way for career advancement.
Continued reflection and goal review are essential too. This will ensure that you update your strategies and make the most informed decisions about your future career paths.
“When students continuously assess their progress and update their goals as necessary, they remain dedicated to their professional growth,” she said. “Moreover, by setting deadlines and goal dates, they learn to prioritize activities, allocate sufficient time for skill development and avoid procrastination."
Garcia said these SMART goal habits are valuable for any profession as they enhance overall productivity and success rates.
Empowering students: Tools for tracking SMART goals
While the concept of SMART goals is straightforward, tracking and managing them can be challenging. To help with this, Garcia introduced a couple of digital tools for you to consider: Strides or Smart Goal Planner.
“They are user-friendly and provide a robust platform for students to practice the SMART technique," she said. "It's crucial to remember that while these tools aid in keeping track of goals, they also allow room for flexibility and adaptation based on the student’s evolving needs and circumstances.”
Using SMART goals can extend far beyond the realm of education. They can help you set realistic expectations and motivate you to regularly assess and refine your strategies, leading to continued growth and development. By incorporating SMART goals into your daily routine, you can start to navigate your journey from academic life to a prosperous professional career with confidence and precision.
“The end goal is not just to achieve individual targets but to cultivate an attitude and habit of setting and pursuing SMART goals,” Garcia said, “thereby laying the foundation for lifelong success.”
Nicholas Patterson '22 is a writer at Southern New Hampshire University. Connect with him on LinkedIn.
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