How to Set Achievable Career Goals

With the uncertainty and stress caused by the pandemic and schoolwork, setting aside time to plan out your career goals may seem difficult, if not impossible. Here at the Greene Center, we’re a huge fan of design thinking, a set of strategies to help you focus on what’s most important to you and your career. If you’re unfamiliar with the design thinking process, it focuses on taking small steps to try out new, low-risk plans you may want to try.

This idea is similar to setting ‘S.M.A.R.T’ goals, or goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound. Using the design thinking method to create goals that fit these criteria can help you find success in your career endeavors, whatever they may be. Any one of these life design steps can benefit from thinking about specific, measurable, attainable, and relevant ways to work towards your target. Using these methods to put your plans into a definitive timeline is the final step to setting achievable career goals. Read on to find out how to start!

Re-frame and Break it Down

I think these two steps go hand in hand. In order to help re-frame your perspective on your career goals, it might be helpful to break them down into what feel like more manageable steps.

Re-framing is when you take a goal that might seem impossible, and put it in a context that you feel comfortable with. For example, if you want to become a doctor, or the CEO of a company, it can feel like the steps needed to get there must happen right now. You might feel overwhelmed and have no idea where to start.

But by breaking down your goals into smaller tasks, you can learn to manage your stress and focus on what you need to get done now in order to achieve the next step and, eventually, your larger career trajectory. Writing out a timeline can help you visualize this process. Focus on what you need to get done first⁠—is it a draft of your personal statement? Or is it researching common questions that arise during your industry interviews? If a task that size is something you can manage, then great! If not, you can always break a step down even farther.

For example, have you reflected on your motivations for pursuing a certain career path? If not, maybe setting up networking meetings can help with this. If you have an interview coming up, setting aside time to look up common interview questions or practice interview responses might be helpful. You can always schedule a practice virtual interview with our AI Quinncia. Alternatively, working with other people might be helpful, so come to drop-in hours if you’re having trouble getting started!


This step is really designed to help you figure out new ways that you can try things out. A common misconception among students is that they need to know all of their career goals by 20, because everybody else has already figured it out by then. Or, they absolutely have to have an internship every single summer or they’ll never land a job post graduation. Neither of these are true. There are a ton of different low-cost, low-risk ways to work towards your goal, all while discovering the specifics of that goal. For example, if you’re interested in a field that comes up in a class, you might want to talk to your professor. They might know more about it or may be in contact with an alumni in the field whom they can connect you with. You can also try taking different courses at the university or starting independent projects!

Be Held Accountable

Hopefully through all these steps, you’ve broken down the things you need to do and have reasonable ways to prototype your goals. Now all you need to do is act on them! Working with a group of people might help to keep you motivated. You can join one of the Greene Center’s Slack Channels related to the industry you’re interested in. Talking to close friends and family or even making future appointments with an advisor can all help keep you on track.


This is the most important step! Know that you’ve worked hard to get where you are right now, and that your hard work will pay off! Remember to acknowledge your successes and use your mistakes as learning opportunities. There really is no such thing as failure. Everything you do⁠—whether or not you think it was successful⁠—can help you make better decisions in the future.

Hopefully these tips will help you set achievable career goals for yourself. As always, schedule an appointment with an advisor or drop by if you need more help!

By Nandini Samanta ('22)
Nandini Samanta ('22) Peer Career Advisor