Skip to main content

By Samara Reynolds

The start of a new calendar year is a great time to hit the “reset” button on your personal and professional development and to think ahead with hope and excitement about which new doors may open in the months ahead. The Education and Career Development Committee of the UNC-Chapel Hill Employee Forum encourages you to capitalize on this fresh, ambitious mindset to set career goals for 2016!

While you may have seen the acronym “SMART” for general goal setting in the past – Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely – here is a little twist on that acronym to encompass our tips for establishing thoughtful career aspirations:

S – Small

As individuals, we often focus on large, impactful career dreams like getting a promotion, changing jobs, or overhauling our work-life balance orientation. While those types of goals are absolutely worthwhile, they can often feel overwhelming, and minor setbacks can throw us totally off course. We see this same pattern with the big weight-loss resolutions people make: if they don’t see results right away, or they have one day of bad choices, they tend to give up on the goal completely. So, for life and career goals, we suggest breaking each big goal into the smaller steps that it will take to get to the big win. For example, what needs to happen for you to get a promotion or raise in your current role? Smaller goals that would add up along the road may include taking stock of the accomplishments you’ve been proud of so far and adding them to your resume, doing research to see what different salary or title might be fair based on comparable others, diving in to improve a particular process or add a new resource that you know would positively impact your office (and maybe your supervisor, specifically), and having a direct, thoughtful conversation with your manager about professional development. Breaking up a big goal for the year into smaller ones gives you a chance to celebrate multiple wins along the way and to really see your progress as it happens.

M – Meaningful

Set goals you actually want to achieve. YOU. Not your family, not your supervisor, not society at large. Think about what changes or improvements would truly motivate you in your work life, based on your individual values. While you may have a colleague who prizes advancement or recognition, you may get the most out of interpersonal connections or contributing to large-scale, mission-driven projects. Dig deep and be honest with yourself, and use what would really make you happier and more productive in your professional life to guide your goal-setting.

A – Accountability

According to Dr. Phil, the difference between a dream and a goal is accountability and a timeline. We’ll address both in this article! Accountability is critical because the more people you tell about your plans, the more people you will have checking in on your progress (making you feel great when you can share your small and big wins, launching you back into action if you’ve been slacking, or offering support when you hit a snag and feel like giving up). These people can be your cheerleaders and coaches, so you don’t have to go it alone. Bringing others into the fold will make you feel more obligated to reach your goal, which can help you push through to the finish line. Think about a few different people in your life – friends, family, colleagues, supervisors, mentors – that you want to share your goal(s) with, and ask them to hold you accountable.

R – Reflection & Reevaluation

It is incredibly important to set up “check points” for yourself in the months ahead to pause for reflection on your process and progress so far. Instead of thinking that the approach you try out in January is going to be the one and only way to get to your goal, and being disappointed if it doesn’t work, think ahead to when and how you can periodically check in with yourself on your career goals. Evaluate and reevaluate what is serving you, energizing you, and moving you forward towards your aspirations … and what is holding you back or taking you on an unproductive tangent. This type of regular, objective assessment will allow you to fix minor issues before they become bigger set-backs, and see the impact of changing or adding one or two small things to your process along the way. The people you identified to help you with accountability can also help you with reflection and reevaluation!

T – Timeline

Once you have set reasonably-sized, meaningful goals and have told people about your plans, it is vital that you set a timeline for your next steps. What can you do in the next 24 hours? This week? This month? Get out your calendar and plot out an agenda. And then be prepared to adjust those items as life creeps in or opportunities arise! Attaching dates to your process of moving towards a goal will help you stay on track, truly invest in what needs to be done along the way, and help make sure you are not front-loading or waiting too long on certain parts of your to-do list.

We hope these tips help you make the most of 2016 and make your professional development a priority. The Education and Career Development Committee is always seeking new members (you don’t have to be an Employee Forum delegate!) and we will be starting up a professional development brown-bag discussion series this semester, as well. Please feel free to reach out to Committee Chairperson, Samara Reynolds ( if you have any questions or would like to get involved.

One Response to “Setting Career Goals for the New Year”

  1. Dana Gatz

    Thank you for this article.

Comments are closed.