How to Write Professional Goals

Mark Horoszowski

Mark Horoszowski is the co-founder and CEO of

To live is to choose. But to choose well, you must know who you are and what you stand for, where you want to go and why you want to get there.
Kofi Annan

Whether you want to change careers or advance your current one, setting concrete goals is proven to help you get there. In the MovingWorlds Institute we’ve found that the SMART goal framework is one of the most effective, and our previous blog post with 5 great examples of SMART goals for your career remains one of our most popular. You’ll find it included in multiple steps of our 10-part #SocialImpactCareerGuide series, and in this post, we want to elaborate on those great templates to help professionals looking to do more in their career set their own and unique goals.

Venus Williams Quote

WHAT are professional SMART goals

As a refresher, SMART stands for:

Specific: Try and answer who, what, when, where, why, and/or how.

Measurable: A clear metric or result that will show you have accomplished it.

Attainable: Stretches you just enough, but is still possible.

Relevant: Connects to your true direction.

Timed: A day that it will be accomplished by.

Guides for writing SMART goals are provided by our MovingWorlds Institute Career Growth + Social Impact Program.

EXAMPLE of a professional goal

To help this post make more sense, let’s take a look at a SMART goal that, while de-identified, represents a goal that a member of our MovingWorlds Institute achieved.

In 24 months from now, I want to be working at an organization in a managerial position (and making 20% more than today) where I am working to address the systemic challenges facing refugees entering the United States through a combination of policy and programs work, while doing so in a way that helps me continue to build my own network so that I can continue to grow as a leader to support my long-term goal of becoming a nonprofit executive director.

Why is this a good goal?

  1. It’s specific – In less than 2 minutes, you could share your goal with a stranger, tell them about your current job, and they could tell you whether you achieved it or not.
  2. It’s measurable – You easily look at your work and confirm if you have achieved it, or not. In this case, you either are managing people (or not) and you are making a certain amount of money (or not).
  3. It’s attainable – While it was a stretch, it was possible for this person given their current skills and experience.
  4. It’s relevant – It connects directly to the person’s purpose, strengths, and autonomy drivers, as well as the long-term career goal.
  5. It’s timed – It provides a specific amount of time to achieve the goal.
Zig Ziglar quote

WHY to write professional SMART goals

People that set goals, write them down, display them in a visible space, AND have a friend or colleague that is a check-in/accountability partner are scientifically proven to be more likely to achieve their goals. Our previous guide on writing SMART goals explains why.

HOW to write professional SMART goals

If you’re ready to take your career to the next level by writing out SMART goals, here is how to do it.

I. Find a goal-setting partner

Think of someone that knows you well and is willing to have a tough conversation with you if need be. This may be a family member, significant other, friend, previous co-worker, or current colleague. Now, ask them to be your partner in thinking through your goals. The ask here is not big – just a couple conversations where they can listen to you goals, and then ask you about progress every now and then.

Use this message to start:

Hey Name,

I just read this article about the benefits and science of writing professional SMART goals. I am thinking about writing my own, and it suggested that I don’t do it alone. Give it a read, and let me know if you’ll act as my “Accountabilibuddy” – a person to help me stick to the act of writing goals and sticking to them. I’ll owe you a nice cup of coffee!

Your Name

II. Brainstorm and write professional goals for 5 main career-related topics

At the end of this process, you can trim your goals to your key focus areas, but for now, the intent is to have some fun brainstorming without too much pressure that you need to write something perfect. You’ll notice that each topic has a different time horizon. These are suggested time frames meant to get you thinking, but feel free to make changes to tailor them for your career specifically. The basic idea here is that we think about growth across a few different time horizons, and later, you can hone in on the most relevant goals to tackle first:

With the first thing that comes to your mind, write your response to these prompts:

  1. What do you want your title to be, and how much do you want to make? In two years from now, I want my title to be ________ and I want my salary to be _______.
  2. What do you want your day-to-day work to be like? One year from now, on a daily basis, I want to be doing the following tasks ______. 
  3. Why will you be doing the work? Four years from now, I want my work to be contributing to the world in a way that makes me feel _______, while addressing issues like _______.
  4. Who do you want to be working with? Two years from now, I want to be working on-my-own/on-a-team with people who are _______.
  5. Timing wise, how much will you be working and who will manage your schedule? Three years from now, I want to be working ____ hours per day in ____(location) following these guidelines _______.

III. Rank your different professional goals

Take your answers to the prompts above, and discuss them with your accountability partner. Now, rank them. For each, explain why one is more important than all the others.

If you’re not sure how to rank them, use these questions to help:

  1. Which of these goals is foundational – meaning it needs to be accomplished in order for me to move on to subsequent goals?
  2. Which of these goals is most likely to make me feel fulfilled on a day-to-day basis?

IV. Write your professional goal

Take the most important pieces from your brainstorm and combine them to write your own SMART goal. Here’s a template to get you started:

By _________ [date], I will be working in an organization that is working on_______[organization purpose] in a ______[managerial/leadership/indiviudal-contributor] position making at least ______[salary] with a title of _______[role title], using my strengths in ___________[your Strengths] to help achieve ___________[your purpose] while working alongside ___________[types of people] on a schedule that is _______[describe work-life balance needs].

V. Put it on your SMART Goal in a public place

Using this template, finalize your SMART goal, print it out, and put it in a public place… preferably two public places like by your workstation and on your fridge or another common area that you will see consistently. This might sound silly, but research shows it will help you actually achieve the goal .

VI. Set reminders for your goals

Now, the final step is to build in some accountability. To do this, do the following:

  • Put a monthly calendar appointment, even for just 5 min, that is a 5min text messaging exchange with your accountability partner
  • Ask your accountability partner to text, email, or call you once a month to simply ask about progress on your goals
  • At every 6 month point, revisit this exercise and revise your goal based on new information

In Conclusion

It can be scary or intimidating to write a SMART goal, but not taking action is the only sure way to not reach your potential. Using the tips above, you will be certain to grow your career and make a bigger impact in the world. Just remember:

  1. Find a goal-setting partner
  2. Brainstorm and write professional goals for 5 main career-related topics
  3. Rank your different professional goals
  4. Write your professional goal
  5. Put it on your SMART Goal in a publish place
  6. Set reminders

Looking for more support setting professional goals and taking a hypothesis-driven design approach to achieving them? Apply to the MovingWorlds Institute Global Fellowship.

Bruce Lee quote