How To Set Smart HR Career Goals In 2021


The new year is here, and you are probably in planning mode to determine what the next year of your career will look like. It can be challenging to create HR career goals during uncertain times like these, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try.

There’s a famous quote by Jim Rohn that can be applied to your career goals, “Either you run the day, or the day runs you.” Having an action plan and goals to work for as an HR professional will help you think more strategically and accomplish more in your career. Avoiding goal setting can negatively affect your career trajectory and how much you get done every day.

Why Do HR Professionals Set Career Goals?

HR is a constantly changing career field. Setting actionable and measurable HR career goals will help you define your career phases and keep up with the professionals around you. If you don’t create clear goals, it can be easy to let the hustle and bustle of life as an HR professional overtake the actions that will pull you out of those endless negative cycles.

For example, picking a new employee onboarding software isn’t easy. If you don’t create a quarterly or yearly goal to select an onboarding software, it might never get done. Instead, you might be continuously bogged down with your current paper-heavy process.

Goals help you see the bigger picture. When you share those goals with others in your organization, they can hold you accountable and make sure you are progressing on all the goals you’ve set for yourself.

5 Tips For Setting Career Goals In HR

Now that you understand why HR professionals create goals, let’s dive into some tips for setting career goals that you can use to set your monthly, quarterly, and yearly goals as an HR pro!

Use The SMART Goals Method

One of the most common goal-setting methods, and one that we use at WorkBright, is the SMART goal method. People often create general goals that don’t give them much context or motivation. By taking a few extra minutes to create SMART goals, you will be able to understand your goal, and when you’ve reached it.


If you want to achieve any goal, it needs to be as descriptive and specific as possible. As you add in detail from the other parts of the SMART goal system, your goals should become clearer and easier to manage.


How will you know if you’ve reached your goal if you can’t measure it? The best plans have a measurable number attached, like a percentage increase/decrease or a specific number. For example, improving employee retention by X% or getting X% of people to buy into a new HR initiative.


When creating SMART goals, they ultimately need to be achievable by you and your team. Achievable is highly subjective to where your team is and how much bandwidth you have. Be clear about how much time you and your team have on your hands to accomplish these goals. For example, you might not want to achieve an applicant tracking system change while hiring a ton of employees. If your team is stretched thin with another massive project, it doesn’t make sense to tackle something large.


Next, you want goals to be relevant to who you are and where you see yourself in the next few years. We often set goals that don’t make sense for our overall life goals and plans. Sometimes it’s hard to understand the relevancy of goals. You might get a few weeks into a goal before realizing it wasn’t a relevant goal to go after. Do your best when picking the plans you decide to chase.


All goals need an end date. If you don’t create time-bound goals, it can be easy for them to get stuck and stop progressing. Setting a deadline and sharing that deadline with your coworkers will help you stay accountable to your goals.


Think About Where You Want To Be A Year From Now

Ultimately, all the professional goals that we set should help us move forward in our careers. Where do you see yourself a year from now? At a different company? In a different position? Maybe you’re in another career altogether? Wherever you see yourself, create professional goals that can help you achieve that vision.

Create Goals You Can Control

If given the opportunity to create a career goal, most people would say, “I want to get a 20% raise in two years.” While this is a specific goal with a measurable, it’s not something that you can control.

Setting goals that you don’t have any hand in will only set you up for disappointment and failure. Other people may have a small impact on every goal you set, but a plan to get a raise is almost entirely out of your control. You can work your fingers to the bone, but maybe your company only does 3% raises every year?

Instead of focusing on a goal like increases in money, think about the career goals that would get you there. For example, obtaining a higher HR certification might help you accomplish that money goal because you can go after larger companies or more elevated positions in your company. Goals that are primarily dependent on other people should always be reconfigured into something more worthwhile and self-reliant.

Focus Less On Yearly HR Career Goals

You can accomplish so much in one quarter. At WorkBright, we create a few annual goals, but most of our business goals are set quarterly or half-yearly. Most plans don’t take an entire year to complete.

We’ve mentioned Parkinson’s Law on the WorkBright blog before, and it applies to the goals we set.

“It is a commonplace observation that work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”

When you set yearly goals, you give yourself space to take a year, when you might have only needed three months. Consider your career goals and define the actual timeline you need to complete them.

Give Yourself A Three-Foot Toss

It can be challenging to think about goals, even when you create quarterly goals. At WorkBright, we believe in the power of the three-foot toss. A three-foot toss is a small thing you can do to move your plan forward, even when it seems like a mountainous task.

For example, maybe you want to go after the SHRM-CP exam by the end of the summer. What does the smallest part of that goal look like? Perhaps it’s purchasing a book on the SHRM-CP exam or looking for a local class on the topic. Keep it small and expand from there.

Sometimes all you can do to move forward with a goal during the week is doing a three-foot toss. Commit to those small activities that move your dream forward as you build momentum for the larger actions that help you accomplish your goal.

Reflect And Reward Yourself For Career Goal Completion

Positive reinforcement and rewards can make you want to dive deeper into setting SMART career goals. You should never move on to another plan before reflecting on the goals you’ve set and how you did with them.

At WorkBright, we have quarterly off-sites that help the team come together as a whole and chat about the goals we set and how we progressed on them. We always leave the off-sites feeling recharged and excited to tackle the quarter ahead.

Figure out how you want to reward yourself when you accomplish a goal. Reflect on any goals that went well (or not so well), so you can be better prepared for the next items you want to tackle.


Do You Need To Succeed With Every Career Goal?

You might be asking yourself, “do I need to succeed with every career aspiration I set for myself?” The answer to this is no.

Some goals will be a slam dunk, others will having you barely creeping across the finish line, and others will be blatant losses/failures. This is all a part of the process.

When you don’t succeed with a career aspiration or goal, reflect on it. What are the learnings you can take away from that failure? What can do you do better next time? What are the next steps for that goal?

For example, maybe your goal was to get 60% adoption of a new work initiative, but you only got 30% adoption. It’s time to consider a few things:

  • How much time did you have to get the initiative adopted?
  • Did you take longer in one of the initial phases of the goal than you originally planned?
  • What is your definition of “adoption?” Did people try the new initiative but not adopt it?
  • What did you learn when tackling this goal that you can apply to future plans?

Take the lessons you’ve learned and figure out what you need to do better the next time.

5 Examples Of SMART Goals For HR Professionals

Do you need more context into building SMART career goals? Here are some examples of SMART goals for HR professionals:

1. Take and pass one HR certification like SHRM or HRCI by the end of the summer.

If you are an HR professional who wants to be taken more seriously, you know how vital certifications like SHRM and HRCI are. This goal meets the SMART goal system because it is a relevant, specific goal with a strict timeline. You’ll be able to measure the goal once you have taken and passed an HR certification by the end of the summer. Based on your career trajectory, taking an HR certification exam should also be relevant to your career.

To further clarify this goal, you can break it down into a curriculum of sorts. You might want to layout:

  • The date you’ll be picking the test by.
  • How long you will take to study for the test.
  • What test date you will be registering for.

2. Connect with five employee onboarding software programs and implement one solution by Q3.

Looking for a digital onboarding solution isn’t easy. You don’t want to pick a solution too quickly without looking at competitors to find the best solution for you. Creating a goal like this will give you the structure you need to connect with different providers and put a solution in place on a deadline.

If you are looking for a remote onboarding solution, read our eBook on remote onboarding best practices first before diving into a goal like this!

3. Pick a new peer-to-peer rewards system for employees by Q2 and get at least 65% of employees sending one peer-to-peer recognition comment per week by the end of Q3.

Sometimes you need an adoption number to solidify your career goals. Creating an ideal adoption percentage ensures that you kick your goal into high gear and give yourself space to achieve that number. Instead of saving the big part of your plan (picking a platform) until the end, you’ll need to accomplish that part earlier, so you have time to boost adoption numbers.

4. Review 25 career sites and create a company career site by the end of Q1.

Everyone wants an excellent career site, but it can be hard to find time to make it happen. Create a quarterly goal of creating your career site and reviewing other sites along the way. Take the best results you’ve seen and figure out what you can do to create an excellent career site.

While this goal is a little vague, it can help you produce a stellar career website.

5. Assess the current state of paper usage in the HR department and roll out a plan in Q2 to cut paper usage by 50%.

We all want to be more conservative with our paper usage. Using too much paper can cause damage to the world and our filing cabinets. Going paperless is a goal that many companies have. As an HR professional, you can help cut down on paper usage in your department. HR uses a lot of paper by default with tons of forms that need signatures. Creating a plan to reduce paper usage will help you understand the current usage and then create a plan to reduce paper usage dramatically.

Conclusion: Set Positive HR Career Aspirations In 2021 & Beyond

Creating career goals isn’t easy. There is so much to consider when figuring out which goals will make a difference in your career. Whether you are just starting as an HR professional or you’ve been in the field for a while, creating SMART goals will help you think more strategically about your future in human resources.