How to Improve Career Change Goal-Setting for Easier Work-Life Transitions

Buoys in the water are signposts. They aid navigation. They tell us to look out for hazards below the surface. They can warn us about distant threats such as tsunamis on their way. Career changers also need sign posts to help them navigate the uncertainties of work-life transitions. 

Last time we talked about the first dimension of S.M.A.R.T. goals, having specific goals for your career change. This article is about the second criterion in the S.M.A.R.T. goal model, having goals that are measurable. We will consider when measurable goals can help you with your career transition and ways to go beyond typical uses.

The Relevance of Measurable Goals for Career Changers  

How might you as a career changer benefit from choosing measurable goals? Here’s one example. Say you are summarizing your accomplishments for your resume or CV.  Assuming that, for now, both are relevant to a job you want, ask yourself which of the two statements below work best?

a) My team reduced errors by 70% in 6 months,” or 
b) I’m a good team leader and a skilled communicator. 

Both of these statements may be “true” for you. It may be that the skills of team leadership and effective communication described in (b) were pivotal to your success. But if you use measurable outcomes to communicate your accomplishments, you make it easier for potential employers to quickly match what they need with the skills you describe. Quantifiable data point to a more credible story.  

What other types of measurable goals might be relevant to your career transition?  Some things such as time and money are easy to quantify. (We will consider time later as it is identified as a separate criterion for effective goals in the SMART model). 

Other easily measurable goals include criteria, such as salary range, commuting distance, and size of organization that you prefer to work in. These help you choose where to focus. A different category of quantifiable goals might be actions you take, such as the number of people you add to your network or the number of employers you research. But sometimes you need to go beyond measurable goals. 

How to Go Beyond the Limits of Measurable Goals 

The extent to which quantifying your goals is useful to you will depend on where you are in your transition and your preferences for ways of working. But you don’t have to limit yourself to one approach. By adding two other dimensions to the measurable criterion for effective goals, you can enrich the process. Consider also why and how your goals motivate you and are meaningful. Here’s a way to get started. 

What Makes these Career Change Goals Meaningful for Me? 

There are many planned and unplanned reasons that professionals decide to change career. Maybe you are changing to something that you’ve always dreamed of doing and you have decided that now is the right time.

On the other hand, your decision may be a response to changes in your circumstances that you didn’t choose. Or maybe you want to get away from a toxic work environment or choose work that is more aligned with your current priorities. Or perhaps it’s a combination of factors.  

It’s important to clarify this for yourself. Take some time to reflect on what your decision is based on. Ask yourself what is the difference you are hoping for by changing direction in your career.

Find a trusted conversation partner such as a colleague or coach who will listen to you and ask clarifying questions without imposing their views.  Build on your past experience. Consider what was important to you when you began your current role. What were your hopes then? What are your hopes now? What has changed?  

If you are dissatisfied or unhappy at work, it may feel like “anything is better than this.” 

Having the opportunity to hear yourself “talking out your thoughts”  is often very helpful in surfacing what is most important and meaningful for you as you develop your vision for your future. Finding ways to stay motivated during the transition process is considered next. 

How do I Rekindle my Motivation?

It is common for career transitions to take longer than individuals anticipate. It can be challenging to stay motivated. Based on their research Richard Boyatzis and his colleagues propose that sustainable change is more likely if we ask not only “what we want to do,” but also “who we want to be.” 

If you find that the quantifiable goals you chose, although initially motivating, now induce feelings of discouragement or negative self-evaluation, it is time to expand your perspective. 

Try returning to the question of “who you want to be?” This can open up new possibilities.  By switching from data-based goals to your aspirations, you can expand your perspective and engage your creative thinking. You may uncover different ways to move forward.

SMARTer Career Change Goals: Measurable + Meaningful + Motivating

Whether or not you were already familiar with the SMART goal model you already have plenty of experience with goals. As a career changer, goal-setting is under your direction. The SMART model may be helpful, but it’s important to adapt it to your personal situation.

As one of the criteria for SMART goals, measurable goals have their place. Expanding the M for measurable to include M for meaningful and motivating, your experience of goal-setting will be richer and more useful in your career transition.

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