How to Evaluate Your Career Change Goals for Faster Progress


Are your considering voluntary career change? In the S.M.A.R.T. model of effective goals setting, the fourth criterion is R for realistic. In this article, we consider the relevance of realistic goal setting for career changers. 

If you’re thinking about a new direction for your work, you’re not alone. According to a 2021 poll, more than half of the participants (selected to represent the US population), reported that they anticipated changing jobs in the next few years. 

How Do you Know if your Career Change Goals are Realistic? 

Not everyone who responds to a poll saying that they anticipate job and/or career change will end up doing so. But if you’re thinking of making changes, it’s important to ask yourself if your goals are realistic and how the choices you make affect the outcome. Read this article for practical ideas that you can apply to your own career change.   

The “What” and the “How” of your Career Change Goals

Here are two aspects of setting realistic goals to consider. The first one focuses on the “what” of your career change goal. What is the outcome you want? The second one focuses on the “how” of your career change goal. What is the process you will use to get there? Let’s explore the “what” dimension first.  

How to Evaluate the “WHAT” of your Career Change Goal

According the the S.M.A.R.T. model of effective goal setting, goals should be realistic. For career changers, the fundamental question is “what is the outcome you want from your career change?” This is the starting point from which to ask the follow-up question about whether or not your goal is realistic.

Considering these questions asks you to focus attention both on what you want to achieve by changing career, and on your views about what is practical for you. Choosing realistic goals requires both self-awareness and taking action to move closer to your desired outcome.

Let’s begin with awareness. How clear are you about what you want to be different after you make a change in your work-life? Of the things that you want to be different, which are more important?

If you are still clarifying your desired outcome, you might want to revisit some of the questions already discussed in previous posts on choosing goals that are attainable and measurable

Even when it is challenging to answer these questions, it is a way of increasing your awareness. Your starting point may be one of confusion. For many career changers, clarity emerges from taking action.

That doesn’t mean that you should jump in do things in a haphazard fashion. You can use a tool such as gap analysis, described below, to help you move closer to choosing the goals that are right for you. 

A Tool to Explore the “HOW” of your Career Change Goal 

Choosing more realistic goals involves not only paying attention to your desired outcome, as discussed above, but also looking at the route map to get there. What will work for you in your situation?

Gap analysis is one easy-to-use tool that to help you to think through the “how” of your career change goals and choose which actions to take first.

Three Essential Questions 

Complete a gap analysis by writing a response to the following three questions:

  • Where am I now – point A
  • Where to I want to be – point B
  • To get from A to B, what needs to happen?

Write a brief description of where you are and where you want to get to. You now have two “markers” to work with. Sketch out the things that need to happen if you are to move from point A to point B. By completing this gap analysis, you have already gathered valuable information.

If you’re at an early stage in your career transition, many things will still unknown. Don’t let that stop you. Simply write as much as you know now. Include a note of the questions you have. Maybe there is research you need to do. Maybe the answers to some of your questions are not yet knowable.

Even if you find you still have many unanswered questions, at least now you have a more complete view of your current situation and the changes that are needed. This will help you make better decisions.  

The Challenges of Doing a Gap Analysis 

One of the downsides of doing a gap analysis is that it’s easy to get overwhelmed by “all that is unknown” or “so much to do.” Maybe you discover that the gap between A and B is bigger than you anticipated. Maybe you clarify the changes you want to make, but don’t yet know how to implement them. Remember that there is help available. 

Talk your ideas through with a trusted colleague or coach who can not only provide encouragement, but also expand view and help you “see blind spots.” Learn from people already in the type of roles that you are interested in. The nature of human information processing means that we are adept at misperception. An outside perspective is often invaluable. 

A gap analysis is one way of clarifying the “how” of your career change and arriving at a more realistic view. If you take the time to do it, you give yourself the opportunity to be more prepared. Once you have described the gap, you can now gather resources that can help you accelerate your progress. 


Career change is influenced by a complex web of individual and environmental factors. There is no simple formula to follow to decide what is realistic for you in your situation. Most of the choices that career changers make involve trade-offs. 

But by asking questions about both the “what” of your goals (the outcome you want) and the “how” (your plan of action) you will be more informed about which goals are realistic for you at this time in your career and work-life. 

In the final post of this series on the S.M.A.R.T. model for effective goal setting for career changers, we will discuss T for time. Choosing how to use your time in ways that advance your progress is one of the biggest challenges of career transition. 

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