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How to Write Personal Work Goals for Work

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At some point during your career, you are likely to be asked to develop personal goals related to your job. The most common reason to develop goals is to measure your improvement over time. Showing progress toward the goals you’ve identified gives your boss an objective measurement by which she can gauge your performance. However, on a more personal level, setting goals gives you a sense of purpose, and a road map for determining your priorities both at work and on your personal time. To set personal goals, consider the areas your boss has identified for improvement as well as what you hope to achieve, and identify the tasks you need to complete to make progress in those areas.

Identifying Your Goals

Before you list your goals, define the areas that you want to focus on. The easiest way to do this is to go over your most recent performance reviews. What areas did your supervisor identify as needing improvement? While your boss may set specific goals related to your job description or company priorities (such as increasing sales) consider goals that may not be directly tied to the position you have now. Think about the areas where you might struggle, or where you are lacking experience or skills. Are there assignments you would like to take on, but you lack the skills? What are your weaknesses? Those are the areas on which to focus your goal-setting activities.

S.M.A.R.T. Goals

The most effective way to set goals is to follow the S.M.A.R.T. model: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Results-Focused and Time Bound.

A specific goal is one that clearly answers the questions of what you hope to achieve, how you will achieve it and why it’s important. For example, if you have determined that you need to improve your accounting skills to move into a more advanced position, a specific goal might be, “Improve my understanding of basic accounting principles by taking an accounting course in the fall semester so I will qualify for a department manager position.”

Measurable goals are those that provide tangible, quantifiable evidence that they have been completed. Taking a class will give you course credits to show that you’ve studied accounting, and you will also, in theory, have improved your knowledge base beyond what you already had. This is also an achievable goal, as you are not planning to become a CPA or accounting expert, but rather improve your skills.

Results-focused means that your goal measures the outcome, not the activities. Note that in the example, the goal is to “improve accounting skills.” That is the what of the goal; the course is the why. The goal is also time bound. You are saying you will take the course in the fall, meaning that you can reasonably expect to achieve your goal within a few months.

Write Down Your Goals

Once you’ve determined your goals, the easiest way to record them is to create a chart for each goal that allows you to keep track of your progress. Create a document, or use a fresh sheet of paper for each goal. At the top of the page, create a header that includes the goal, the reason for the goal and the deadline. Then, outline the specific steps you must take to achieve that goal. In the example of taking a course, for instance, some steps might be to identify local accounting courses, sign up for the course, attend classes, etc. Leave space to take notes about your progress; you might need to record phone numbers, take notes to follow up on and so forth. By keeping track, you can identify potential problems as they pop up, avoid forgetting to tackle important tasks and have evidence of your work to show your boss or mentor when you check in on your goal progress.


An adjunct instructor at Central Maine Community College, Kristen Hamlin is also a freelance writer and editor, specializing in careers, business, education, and lifestyle topics. The author of Graduate! Everything You Need to Succeed After College (Capital Books), which covers everything from career and financial advice to furnishing your first apartment, her work has also appeared in Young Money, Lewiston Auburn Magazine, USA Today, and a variety of online outlets. She's also been quoted as a career expert in many newspapers and magazines, including Cosmopolitan and Parade. She has a B.A. in Communication from Stonehill College, and a Master of Liberal Studies in Creative Writing from the University of Denver.