How To Set SMART Job Search Goals

Intentionally set job search goals are ones that you set with purpose and that are actually attainable for you given the right focus, attention, and commitment. You may already be familiar with SMART goals. SMART is an acronym to help you remember the factors that play into whether a goal is intentional and within your reach. Here is what it means for a job search goal to be SMART.

  • SPECIFIC

    An intentional job search goal is something specific that you want to accomplish. Those that are clear and specific are ones you are much more likely to achieve. The other steps in the SMART model will help you gain specificity for your goal, but an essential first step is identifying what you want to accomplish and why is an essential first step.

  • MEASURABLE

    The best job search goals are those whose progress you can track and that have a clear endpoint. How will you know you reached your goal? What does it mean to be successful in this endeavor? Not all goals are numerically measurable, so you may have to think creatively about how you will measure progress, but keeping track of how well you are realizing a goal is crucial to achieving it.

  • ACHIEVABLE

    For a goal to be more than a dream, it must be something that you can attain. For example, setting a goal of winning a job as a CEO in six months is not achievable if you have just graduated from college and have little work experience. Not only is it something you could not achieve, no one could successfully meet that goal.

    Do you currently have resources, the knowledge, and the skills to reach your job search goal? If not, then setting intermediate goals that focus on getting what you need first will be necessary.

  • REALISTIC

    It is easy to confuse whether a goal is realistic with whether it is achievable, but they are different. Job search goals that are just outside your current reach help to stretch your comfort zone and force you to learn and grow, while goals that are too far outside your current capacity will just frustrate you and make you feel like you failed.

    You can combine several goals over time to help you step your way up to a more significant goal, but the one you should be focused on right now is one that you can actually achieve in the next few months.

    Realistic goals are those that stretch you just enough to keep you motivated and help you grow but are not so big you can’t do them with the resources and time you have. For example, it is not realistic to set a goal that you will make fifty new networking contacts every day, but setting a goal that you will make a new connection with five people every week is realistic and will likely still be challenging enough to keep you motivated.

  • TIMELY

    The final part of setting an intentional job search goal is that it is timely. What is your deadline? When do you hope to reach this goal? When there is no schedule, you can’t plan, and you lose motivation to make progress.

    Job search goals are often on a shorter timeframe than other goals you may set. Setting a timeframe that is within the next three months is reasonable. Setting monthly job search goals is also a great idea.

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SMART Job Search Goals In Action

Let’s look at an example to illustrate SMART job search goal setting in action. If you are looking for a job, it is tempting to make being hired for a job in X weeks the goal, and will it is the ultimate goal, whether or not you are offered a job is not something you control. It is better to set goals for factors you control. For example, you control how many jobs you apply for, how many networking contacts you make, and how much time you spend following up on job applications.

So, when it comes to a job search, I recommend that you determine what you need to do in order to achieve your ultimate goal of being hired for a new job and then set a goal for each of those actions.

Let’s use networking as an example.

  • Specific: You know you need to expand your professional network in order to learn about unadvertised job openings. You decide that at the end of one month, you want to have met and talked with 50 new people about your career and job search.

  • Measurable: You’ve decided that building your network by 50 new people is a good number. Broken down further, this means you will need to reach about 12 new people per week.

  • Achievable: Meeting 50 new people in one month will require commitment on your part. You have a strong LinkedIn network of 750+ contacts to start with, to request introductions and referrals to others. You also plan to setup and conduct informational interviews, and expect this strategy will help you build your network quickly. You are well versed in telephone, social media, and email etiquette for networking, and know how to use Zoom for virtual meetings.

  • Realistic: Since much of your contact will be conducted via phone and Zoom, it won’t require as much time as in-person meetings, allowing you to be more efficient and productive. You anticipate that you will need to devote approximately 3 hours per day to networking activities in order to connect with 12 new people each week, and have rearranged your schedule to block out this much time.

  • Timely: You will make contact with and build your network by 50 new individuals over the next 30 days.

So, your goal looks like this: I will make contact with and build my network by 50 new individuals over the next 30 days, discussing my job search and career goals with each. To do this, I will devote 3 hours, 5 days each week plus weekends as necessary and will conduct most meetings by phone and web conferencing to be most efficient. The strategies I will use include leveraging my existing network and setting up informational interviews with leaders in my industries of interest. I will keep track of all my activities and will evaluate my progress each Sunday evening, evaluating as necessary.

As you can see, this goal is much more intentional than “get a new job” and it has benchmarks and measurable ways to track progress. As worded, you are also already set up for success by addressing the types of strategies and tactics you will use to achieve the goal.

Those people who fail to reach job search goals, or other life goals, have generally set themselves up to fail by not being intentional about what they want to accomplish, why, how, and when. Vague goals are just dreams without any plan for attaining them.

You may set up similar goals for other major activities associated with your job search. For example, you might set up a goal to conduct research and identify 15 employers that you are interested in working for, gathering intel on each of them and mining your network for people who might have a connection to each. Or, you might set a goal to identify and apply for 5 job opportunities each week for which you are well qualified, and to do so with a customized resume and letter that you have prepared specific for the opportunity. You get the idea…

If you have lots of job search goals you want to accomplish, you might need to prioritize which you will work on at this time. While you can usually work on multiple smaller job search goals like those described above, you still need to be realistic. Don’t overload yourself, and always focus on the goals that are likely to have the biggest positive impact on your overall goal of landing a new job. In short, be SMART as well about how much you can accomplish at once.


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How To Set SMART Job Search Goals