Turning a Vague Wish Into an Actionable Goal

Having a clearly defined goal makes the job hunt a lot easier. It is easy to have goals in life that are more like wishes or preferences than goals. Things like: “I want to find a job”. That is not really an actionable goal, and I want to explain to you why and what we can do to make it more accessible.

One very common technique for goal setting is SMART goal setting. SMART is an acronym that helps us remember five rules for efficient goal setting. In order to state a good goal, we need five things. The goal needs to be:

Specific – target a specific area for improvement
Measurable – quantity, or at least suggest, an indicator of progress
Assignable – specify who will do it
Realistic – state what results can realistically be achieved given available resources
Time-related – specify when the result can be achieved

These are all quotations from the original from George T. Dorhans article “There’s a S.M.A.R.T. Way to Write Management’s Goals and Objectives” from 1981. This goal-setting acronym has been used by individuals to big corporations like GE.

When Your Goals Don’t Pass The Test

I want to show you why the goal “to find a job” doesn’t pass the best. Let’s go through it with the five rules:
Specific: No. We are not stating what job we want.
Measurable – Yes. If we find a job, we have reached the goal.
Assignable – Yes. It says who has the goal.
Realistic – Yes. This person will achieve the goal whenever the person reaches this goal. There is no time limit so it could take any time really. So it’s realistic.
Time-related – No. It doesn’t say when the goal will be fulfilled.


The problem with having a goal like this is that it makes it hard to define strategies and execute on the goal.


Let’s try to reformulate this goal into a SMART one. First of all, let’s make it more specific. Are we looking for a specific type of role or maybe a specific level of income to support for instance our family? What is the purpose of the job?


Let’s say that we just want a job that covers food and shelter. In that case, it could be okay to have 10 000 kr/month to begin with. So, the goal is now “my goal is to find a job that pays me 10 000 kr a month”. So what other problems did we have with our goal? It wasn’t time-related.


So, the next step would be to make the goal time-related. We can do so by adding a date to the goal and saying “my goal is to in 90 days find a job that pays me 10 000 kr a month”. This is time-related. Why is this so important? Because it helps us developing a strategy. We can break down our goal in reasonable subgoals.


Breaking Goals Down

If we know that we will be invited to an interview on 2 % of all jobs we are applying for and we get a third of all jobs that we interview for, then we can work the math out:


If I want to find 1 job, I need to go to 3 interviews (1/3 success rate)
If I want to go to 3 interviews, I need to apply for 150 jobs (2 % of 150 is 3)
I have 90 days.


However, I also know that it will take at least one week for the employer to decide. Maybe two weeks, let’s say 15 days for making the numbers pretty. So I deduct that from the 90 days, ending on 90 – 15 = 75 days. Let’s now see how many jobs we need to apply for per day: 150 applications / 75 days = 2 applications per day.
Now the subgoals are

  1. I want to apply for 2 jobs a day that would pay me 10 000 sek/month
  2. I want to have 1/3 success rates on interviews
  3. I want to have 2 % success rate on applications


Improving The Weakest Link

The risky part of this plan is that if we don’t get invited to an interview on 2 % or get one job offer per three interviews, we will not succeed. However, what we do have now is something to have something that we can measure our progress against. Let’s say you have these goals and find yourself having these results:

I sent 150 applications

I got 15 interviews.

I didn’t get a single job.

In this case, you know that your application skills are enough to land you positions, but that you are not nailing the interviews. So, the interviewing part is what you need to improve. Do some analysis of all the interview and see where you could have improved, do some mock interviews with friends and read up on how to improve your interviewing skills.


One of the benefits of having broken down our goal is that it offers something that we can measure progress against and we can find the weak links in the process. We can look at the outcomes that we had to see where we could have improved.


Try being more SMART with your goals and see what part of the process you are failing when it comes to reaching those goals.

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