“SMART” Career Goal Setting

SMART Short-term & Long-term Aspirations

Do you want to be successful in your career and have some ideas around what that looks like? So how do you go about building success in a methodical, intentional way? In this blog, we will discuss how to use SMART goals in order to address your short-term and long-term career aspirations.

What does your success look like? When I ask this question in my coaching sessions, some would say, “I’d like to be a Sales Director”, “I’d like to be a successful writer” and some would say, “I’d like to make good money so I can buy a house soon.” Some of the answers come in the form of job titles, some as money aspirations and some as lifestyle desires. Either way, it’s important to be specific and set out a system to help you measure how you’re doing and where you are on your journey.

Suppose you’d like to join the C suite one day – Chief ‘something’ Officer – the top jobs in a lot of organizations. How would you go about achieving this ? As we all know, whenever we set out on a journey, bringing a map along or your GPS device is a pretty good idea. Otherwise, how would we know where we’re heading and whether we’re on the right track? So one way to go about the process of career advancement (which by the way will be the same for any career aspiration) is to learn to use and implement SMART goal setting.

And what is SMART? Well, it’s Specific (S), Measurable (M), Attainable (A), Relevant (R) and Time-bound (T).

Two things to note before we dive in. ONE: I use “sales” as our example since it’s generic enough that many can hopefully relate to this career choice. You can however of course replace it with any of your own career choices and their paths. TWO: We will always start with long-term goals and move to our immediate and mid-term goals as they will support your long-term aspirations. Suppose you are at the foot of a mountain that you want to hike. You’ll have an idea of which peak you want to reach which will be the basis and start of your journey. Imagine then several stops (campsites) along the way (sub-goals) which will eventually lead you to the top. Same idea for your career aspirations. You’ll need some places to rest and celebrate your progress, take a breath and then carry on.

1. Set your Long-Term GOAL

Be Specific: What exactly do you want to accomplish?

You are currently a sales representative. Your long-term goal is to become Chief Sales Officer (CSO) one day, ideally in your current workplace as you are happy with your employer. This specific job title works as your specific goal. As a coach, I ask you: “Why is it important?” Your answer will hone in on the relevance as we shall see below.

Relevant: Why are you setting this goal? How strong is your WHY?

The stronger the why, the easier the how becomes.

Jim Rohn

Suppose you are setting this specific goal, yet you don’t really believe in it. You are not even sure if “sales” is your thing. Your motivation needs to be strong and sustain your energy in the effort that needs to be made when aspiring to achieve success in practically anything. Motivation is the juice and powershake for your body, the gas for your car, the fuel for your rocket.

Luckily for you, you have a strong passion for sales and the top job in sales will validate your career life. You have the motivation to work hard towards this goal. So far so good. But motivation alone won’t be enough. Next question: Do you have the qualifications needed for this career climb (i.e. is it reasonably attainable)?

Attainable: Do you have the skills & resources to achieve your goal?

Not everyone who wants to be the top dog in any chosen profession can be one. You will need to ascertain if this goal is attainable. Perhaps you already have what it takes in terms of skillset (good for you) or perhaps more likely, you will need to work hard to acquire some additional skills. So start with research and educating yourself. What is required of a CSO? See if you can find a role models in your company and/or in your current industry/sector. Who currently holds the job you’re aiming for and what qualifications do they have? What does your online research tell you?

As well, google “What does a CSO do?”, “What are the qualifications for a CSO?” and “What makes a CSO successful?” You will likely find some commonalities in the various articles on-line.

So now you’ve identified a set of qualifications requiring extensive sales experience and a proven track record in sales. The rest of the qualifications are mostly related to leadership i.e. problem solver, change agent, analytical, strategic thinker etc. You feel that all of the qualifications can be obtained in your current career as you move forward and continue to develop. At this point, you’re confident in several areas; you are a natural problem solver, you’ve got analytical skills and you embrace change. Great. You may only have a couple of years of sales experience but know that you have a knack for it. So, keep going.

Measurable: How do you know that you are progressing? How do you know that you achieved your goal?

You have researched the general career path for becoming a CSO. You’ll also want to look at your own organization and identify what your next steps may be there: Sales Manager, then Director, followed by VP, Sales and finally CSO. So now that you’ve established that your goal (CSO) is attainable (aspirational but possible), you’ll want to focus on your next steps – Sales Manager (your mid-term goal: see below). So now you will ‘measure’ your progress by lining up the career path that you’ve identified already in your research.

And always keep in mind that you may also look outside your current organization for opportunities to apply for Sales Manager positions in other companies in order to progress towards your ultimate goal.


Based on the information that you’ve collected through conversations, coaching, online research and reviewing the organizations that you already know, you’re estimating that the time it takes to progress to CSO from Sales Representative is a minimum of 15 years. That may seem like an eternity; however, with focus and motivation, you’ve decided that this is your goal to achieve within the next decade or two. To be successful at anything in life takes time and effort. Unfortunately, there are no short-cuts here. You may get a lucky break or two in your life. But you ALWAYS have to be ready. Which means hard work.

Great! You’ve completed the S-M-A-R-T process, not necessarily in that order but you’ve contemplated all the aspects of this goal-setting strategy. Now it’s time to review your steps to get from where you are right now to your final goal.

2. Set your Mid-term Goal leading to your Long-term Goal


Your mid-term goal is to be promoted to Sales Manager at your current employer or obtain an offer for a Sales Manager position externally with another company, which you may not necessarily go for but which will prove to yourself (and your current employer if you disclose) that you are achieving your mid-term goal. Keep in mind that, one of the most obvious ways for you to prove yourself to your current company is to receive a job offer from another company. This also motivates you to sharpen your job skills needed to progress instead of being impatient (and worse, complacent).


Working towards the Sales Manager position keeps you strongly motivated as this process leads you to your long-term goal. As well, gaining this position will validate your career path and the fact that you are on the right track.


Reviewing the job duties and qualifications for the Sales Manager at your current organization will help you decide if this move is attainable. As well, you will want to reflect on your current boss’s skill set and how they perform at their job and compare what areas you may need to improve on in order to narrow the gap.

You may consider speaking to your boss or your HR person. What would you need to work on in order to be considered for a promotion when the opportunity arises? Make sure that you approach this exercise respectfully and from a humble learner perspective instead of running the risk of seeming audacious or too ambitious as that may seem threatening – especially to your immediate bosses. In a healthy work environment as well as with a confident and caring boss, your eagerness to learn and grow should be seen as positive. Still tread carefully on this one.

Your performance review may point you in the right direction as well. You and your supervisor may have, for example, collectively identified that you will need to improve your report writing skills. This will become your immediate goal (See below).

What qualifications does the industry advertisement say that a Sales Manager needs to have? Are there clear industry frontrunners that you wish to work for instead? Do they require certain qualifications that you need to acquire? Always think big and widen your search to the industry as a whole versus just looking at your own company. Even more ambitiously, consider positions outside your own industry.

This may not be something most folks think about but the fact is that some industries do become obsolete and new ones take their place. So does some careers and professions with evolving technology and other environmental factors. Is your company agile and good at adapting to changes? Even better, is it innovative and leading the industry? How about your industry as a whole? If the culture of the industry is one that won’t change to adapt to new realities, it may be a risky one to stick around.


Yes, it is. You will know that you have achieved this goal when you’ve been successful in obtaining the Sales Manager position either from your own or another company.


You want to be considered for the next promotion opportunity.

3. Set your immediate goal leading to your mid-term goal


Your immediate goal to improve your sales report writing is very specific. You may also list particulars from your past reports that you need to work on: (1) your reports often lacked qualitative information, (2) you didn’t always survey enough clients to obtain solid evidence for your advocacy because you were often hurrying to meet your deadline.

Each of those two report improvement areas will make your specific goals.


Report writing skills are essential in order to be fully prepared for your next level career. You are motivated to master this skill improvement.


By starting your report writing a week earlier that you’ve typically tasked yourself, you will make it possible to survey enough clients and use substantial data to back up your report. You may need to reschedule a couple of unrelated tasks until after the report deadline passes in order to free up enough time/bandwidth to complete the report writing task effectively.

Measurable, Time-Bound

You’ve decided to ask for feedback from your boss (measurable) in order to validate the improved quality of your reports addressing all of the above issues. As well, you’ve now identified that starting in on your report-writing earlier than you have in the past, is meeting your immediate goal as well ((time-bound).

Two important Must-Do’s for achieving goals of any kind

One: Your goals must be in your calendar

Your next step is to translate your goals into actions in your calendar/agenda so that you will review this in your daily, weekly and monthly schedule. Having your goals as your guiding posts will help you on your path to being successful in your career. In the above CSO example, your goal articulation may look like this:

Quarter 1 report is typically due the first Friday of April. Make sure “Q1 Report Due” is clearly in your calendar along with steps/tasks needed on the way to completion. For instance, you will need to mark down when you want to begin the process of writing (one week prior to it being due). As well, you will want to schedule a time to work on the research needed or data that needs to be pulled and interpreted. If you need to survey clients (working with other people’s deadlines and availabilities) you will need to build in even more advance time to accommodate for their delays in getting the critical information to you. The bottom line is, schedule your tasks. Or risk being late or running out of time, yet again. Most importantly, act on your scheduled plans.

Two: Evolve goals according to changing environments

This is not to provide us excuses for our failure to meet our commitments or inactions. When you work towards a goal, be open to changing environments and adjust your goals and plans accordingly. Nothing in life stays the same so be flexible if circumstances change and you need to adapt. In fact, this may be one of the most sought-after professional skills to procure (flexibility/adaptability) as change is inevitable. In fact, change is the only thing constant in life. That we can be sure on.

Work S.M.A.R.T. and play hard.

What are your career aspirations?

Start with your long-term aspiration. Can you make it into SMART goals. If so, what are your mid-term goals to achieve your long-term goal? Can you action them into your calendar?

Good luck with your career journey! It can be extremely satisfying when you do what fulfills you. Not everything is in your control but certainly, setting goals are. And working towards them are. So be empowered! If you need to have a conversation about your career, please get in touch.

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