Skip to Content Request Info

Your Guide to Setting SMART Goals

Your Guide to Setting SMART Goals

Much like entering the starting and ending points for a trip into Google Maps to get detailed directions for how to get to your destination, setting SMART goals will help chart the course for reaching your career and life milestones. What is a SMART goal, you ask? Let’s answer that question and look at some SMART goal examples.

What is a SMART Goal?

We have all set goals in our lives, with varying degrees of success (think New Year’s resolutions!) SMART goals are different in that they have built-in mechanisms for ensuring you achieve your goals. SMART stands for:


Vague goals will usually render you powerless and make you feel defeated when you don’t reach them. A specific goal, on the other hand, will let you know exactly what you are shooting for. For example, “I want to find a new job” is non-specific, whereas “I will revise my resume and apply for 3 jobs by the end of the month” is specific.


When you put a number to your goal, you can measure if you have achieved it. Making your goal measurable allows you to objectively review your progress and level of success. The above example applies here. You can clearly gauge if you are moving towards your job goal by measuring how many jobs you’ve applied for. Likewise, by breaking your goal into smaller steps – mini-goals – you can chart your progress more effectively. Earning an accelerated online degree in two years can be segmented into the number of courses you will take each term, for example.


Make sure your goals are realistic and that you can achieve them in the timeframe set. This may require that you evaluate your time commitments, your methods, any obstacles or weaknesses that may hinder you, and the resources available to you. If you considering furthering your education, for example, Ottawa University’s Student Services Team (SST) walks you through each phase of your educational journey to help you attain your goal. They help you determine the academic plan that’s right for you and ensure you have the tools and resources to cross the finish line.


When setting goals, it’s easy to get side-tracked by inserting new goals that don’t align with your ultimate goal or by getting distracted by the latest craze or opportunity. A good question to ask is, “Does this directly help me achieve my goal?” For example, if you are offered an internship in theater, it might be a good opportunity, but if your career goal is business, an internship in marketing would be more relevant.


Procrastination gets the best of all of us. That’s why ensuring your goals have an end date is critical. By giving yourself a deadline, you are much more likely to get to the finish line. Breaking down your SMART goals into smaller goals with steps and dates for achieving each will set you up for success even more.

SMART Goal Examples

Setting SMART goals can apply to any area of your life, but if you are an adult seeking career advancement or a student pursuing a degree for a career change, a few SMART goal examples can help you begin the process of systematically realizing your ambitions.

  • Join a professional organization related to my career goals and attend at least one meeting by the end of the semester.
  • Over the next three weeks, investigate degree options in line with my career goals and contact an enrollment advisor for more information.
  • Spend a minimum of 1.5 hours on coursework 5 out of 7 days each week for the next month. Evaluate and adjust as necessary to complete my courses on time and with a GPA of 3.0 or above.
  • Meet with my manager in the next two weeks to identify potential areas for advancement.
  • Update my resume in the next two weeks and apply for a minimum of six jobs by the end of September.
  • Map out my degree completion plan by the end of the month and enroll in at least one course.
  • Within the next three months, attend two networking events and add 6 professionals to my contact list.
  • Research available internships and apply for at least one by the end of the month.

Setting a SMART Goal

Even the best-intentioned goals can get derailed. That’s why it’s a good idea to put some guard rails in place to maximize your chances of success when setting a SMART goal. What is a SMART goal guideline, exactly? Consider these:

  • Challenge Yourself

Don’t go too easy on yourself when setting SMART goals. Goals that stretch you outside of your comfort zone and require greater effort are generally achieved at higher rates and give you a greater sense of accomplishment once completed.

  • Limit the Number of Goals 

 On the other hand, it is important to realistically evaluate your schedule, commitments, and abilities when setting goals. Setting too many can quickly sabotage your dreams. Setting only 1 or 2 long-term goals and/or 2-3 short-term goals at a time will give you a sense of accomplishment without becoming overwhelmed.

  • Set Sub-goals

In line with limiting the number of goals, breaking bigger goals down into steps or sub-goals with tiered deadlines will make the finish line more attainable. Reaching each milestone will energize you for the next until your ultimate goal is in sight.

  • Make Them Visible

By taking it out of your head and putting it tangibly on paper, your SMART goals become a bit more real. Keeping that paper visible, whether with a magnet on the fridge or through a scheduled email, will also be a constant reminder of what you’re wanting to achieve.

  • Tell a Friend

Beyond writing it down, you’ll hold yourself even more accountable by sharing your goals with a friend and asking them to be your encourager and friendly nag. Better yet, develop goals together and be mutual accountability partners.

  • Utilize Available Resources

Make it easier to achieve your goals by using resources that keep you on track or help get the job done. Whether it’s a professional app like LinkedIn, a resume template, a study group, or a time management program, make use of tools that will assist you with goal completion.

  • Use a Calendar

It will serve you well to develop the habit of entering deadlines and setting up reminders on a digital calendar that will prompt you when a goal milestone is approaching. This simple discipline will be another friendly nudge to keep you moving down the road to achieving your goal.

  • Chart Your Progress

Keeping track of your incremental progress can show where you may be falling behind, but it will also give you a visual of how far you’ve come and that you are making headway. Don’t be afraid to set up a reward system for achieving goals, too. You’ve earned it! 

  • Adjust as Necessary 

It’s important to be realistic when we have a setback or when things don’t pan out as we planned. If you see that you aren’t making the progress you outlined, don’t get discouraged. Instead, take a step back, reevaluate, and reset your goals to line up with your adjusted timeline and capabilities.

Achieve your SMART Goal!

As a professional, earning an online degree from Ottawa University over the next 2-3 years is a specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound goal. We would love to help you advance your career by achieving this SMART goal. Call us today to get started!

See Also:

Self Assessment for Career Development

Boost Your Career with an Accelerated Online Degree

Tips to Nail That Interview

Posted: 08/03/2022 by OU Online
Back to top