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5 steps to writing a SMART career plan

Erin Delaney

Careers Commentator

Writing a career plan is a way to convert your hopes and dreams into practical, actionable tasks that will make them a reality. We’ve taken the SMART (Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, Time-bound) goal-setting method and turned it into a really robust (read: kickass) career-planning tool.

There are five steps to writing one, so let’s get started:

Step one: Set your macro goal

Consider what you want to achieve by writing this plan, and write down your ultimate goal. This will help to set the direction for the rest of the plan, and give the resulting micro goals purpose and meaning.

Make your big goal as specific as you can. A good specific career goal is “I want to become an art director”, as opposed to the more general “I want to work in the media”. Or “I want to work in software product management”, rather than “I want to work in IT”.

If you'd like to learn more about setting macro goals, we got in touch with a PhD candidate to relay their experiences with goal setting. You can read their story here.

Step two: Set your micro goals

Think about where you are now, and what you need to do to get to your end goal. Set incremental goals that will give you a regular sense of achievement, and make sure they are a good measurement of progress towards your overall aim. If you’re still at uni, set goals such as:

  • Finish exams
  • Graduate
  • Write a CV
  • Send to 50 employers
  • Gain an interview

… And so on. These kinds of micro goals will help give each day a sense of purpose as you move towards your end goal, while helping to keep your motivation high as you check measurable micro goals off your list.

Step three: Make it attainable

Make sure that the goals you set are attainable, or else you’ll run the risk of demoralising yourself. Setting a goal like ‘become CEO of Disney’ is a big goal that might end up being unattainable, but if you aim at a realistic achievement for the medium term like ‘Get a job at Disney’ you will get further faster without stressing yourself out (and not enjoying all those great free movies!!).

Think about the practicalities that your plan requires, and list down everything you’ll need to do to help yourself succeed. It’s always a good idea to keep a running list of ‘operational’ tasks that are broken down into small, simple chunks so you keep a sense of momentum. If you need to apply for scholarship funding or take an extra online course to cover something your degree doesn’t, make sure you factor these actions into your plan.

Step four: Make it realistic

Your goal has to be realistic given your time, knowledge and resources. If you can’t afford to keep studying, specialist training might need to be put on hold for a couple of years, and your knowledge and proficiency with software has to be good to understand how to make a software product better. Make sure your goals are realistic given your aptitude, skills, experience and finances.

Step five: Make your goals time-bound

It’s important to commit your goals to a timeframe so that you feel motivated to stay the course. You can run the risk of frittering time away if you have too much of it, or set yourself up for failure if you don’t allow yourself enough.

If you want to become an art director, your time-bound goals might look like:

  • Five-year goal: "Get hired as an art director."
  • One-year goal: "Land my first paid graphic design gig."
  • Six-month goal: "Graduate from my undergraduate Bachelor of Visual Communications degree."
  • One-month goal: "Find a graphic designer to intern with."
  • One-week goal: “Pull together a graphic design portfolio of all my work so far."

If you'd like to learn more about sticking to your goals, we asked that PhD candidate to tell us about beating procrastination, which you can read here.

Breaking down your macro goal into time-bound micro goals will help you stick to the plan, make the most of your time and keep you on track to achieve your overall career plan.