Setting actionable professional development goals is invaluable for career progression. However, these goals impact many more areas of your professional life, including increasing productivity, clarifying your career path, improving job satisfaction, and becoming a better employee. Of course, the professional development goals you choose depend on your career aspirations.
You can identify reasonable individual goals by deciding where you want to be in five to ten years. Alternatively, you can use the results of your performance review to identify areas for improvement. Finally, ensure your goals are SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. This post covers examples of the most common professional development goals.
1. Do Your Job Better
Setting professional development goals can be intimidating, requiring both time and money. However, you don’t need to have your entire career path mapped to identify relevant goals. Instead, you can start where you are with what you have—that is, learn to do your current job better.
Workplace skills, also known as employability skills, refer to the basic proficiency or know-how required to perform your daily tasks at the workplace. These skills are often transferable, meaning they are still valuable even when you leave for a different company or start your own business.
Focusing on the skills related to your current job or position is essential. For example, learning a new language might help you communicate better with a particular client demographic. Similarly, improving your public speaking skill can help you make more impactful and exciting presentations.
Don’t worry if you don’t know where to start. Your most recent job evaluation can help you identify specific areas to improve. Some valuable workplace skills worth improving include:
- Time management
Developing your workplace skills offers some of the best returns on investment. For example, you’ll be competent and more productive in your current position. Furthermore, these employability skills are also attractive if you hope to be promoted or when applying for work at a different organization.
One pitfall to note is that workplace skills can sound vague and general. So choose a skill that aligns with your current workflow and set quantifiable goals. For example, improving your management skills might mean implementing a project management process that increases productivity by 30% and saves 20 hours a month.
You can use your organization’s reporting system to identify relevant goals. For example, your company may measure employee performance based on attendance, helpfulness, efficiency, and initiative. Therefore, it makes sense to use these metrics to identify the workplace skills you should improve.
Following the same example, attendance goes hand in hand with self-regulation and time management. These are ideal professional development goals since they feature in your employee assessment. Similarly, you should focus on organization, time management, teamwork, and communication skills if your organization measures performance based on efficiency and initiative.
2. Develop New Skills
Outside of improving your current job performance, developing new skills is part and parcel of professional development. So make time to expand the number of things you can do well. But, again, you don’t need a detailed career plan to identify the new skills you should acquire.
You can start by thinking of your dream job or a position you hope to occupy after your current one. Then, search for job descriptions for the position and note the skills listed to get a sense of where you need to focus your attention. Finally, prioritize the skills, starting with the most common requirement across job descriptions.
For example, if you’re eyeing an IT Manager position, some skills are bound to appear in virtually every job description you find. You’ll need to have strong technical skills, particularly with using IT management software. Furthermore, you’ll need a firm grasp of computer hardware, software, and networking.
Other standard skill requirements for an IT Manager position may include the following:
- Team management
- Strategic thinking
- Financial management
- Conflict management
- Project management
You’ll need self-awareness to identify your skills gap and prioritize which skills to acquire first. You can also consult with your boss, an esteemed colleague, or team members to provide feedback on prioritizing the skills you’ve discovered. Then, learn one skill at a time for the best effect.
Unlike improving workplace skills, developing new skills requires a more long-term approach. Generally, this means setting a goal that takes one or more years to accomplish. For example, you can take a four-year Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science or Information Technology to improve your technical skills. Similarly, you can opt for new certifications such as Certified ScrumMaster (CSM) or Certified Information Technology Manager (CITM), which typically take months to complete.
Also, be sure to apply your new skills to your current position. While bosses and employers appreciate the knowledge, they also look for experience. For example, you may offer to join the risk analysis team to hone the skills you learned in the Project Management course.
Finally, keep a detailed record of what you learned. Be sure to update your resume as you develop, master, and practice your new skills. This record can also help you track progress and identify areas for evaluation or self-assessment.
3. Grow Your Professional Network
Networking is underrated, but it is a critical professional development goal. You can trace the most successful people’s “lucky break” to their professional networks and associations. A professional network also provides an opportunity to exchange ideas with industry experts, opens doors for new opportunities, and improves your creative intellect.
The internet has made networking more accessible than ever. Professional social channels like LinkedIn make it easy to connect and share ideas with like-minded professionals without the pressure of face-to-face discussion. However, you shouldn’t limit your networking opportunities to behind the screen.
It certainly makes sense to attend industry-related networking events. These events are professionally organized and provide terrific value for your time and money. For example, you might discover industry trends or insights you wouldn’t get anywhere else.
Furthermore, don’t leave out former colleagues or bosses from your professional network. You can still leverage their connections, knowledge, and expertise. Word of mouth is also a big part of recruiting, so you may land a new job just because someone can vouch for you.
The main thing to remember is that a healthy professional relationship is a two-way street. You should also provide value to the people in your professional network. For example, you can share your industry knowledge if the chance presents itself.
Also, remember to keep in touch and follow up with the people you connect with to help strengthen these relationships. Exchanging contact information is only the first step to building a professional network.
It’s also not just about having an extensive or professional network. The network should also serve your career development. So, again, you can set SMART goals for growing your professional network. This way, you won’t waste time with events and people that don’t align with your goals and will be more productive at relevant events.
First, you need an overarching goal or purpose for building your professional network. A clear vision will help you set more specific goals for networking.
Some examples of why you need to expand your professional network may include:
- Grow your employer’s client database
- Improve your public speaking or other specific networking skills
- Build a referral network to grow your business-related resources
- Heighten your company’s brand awareness within your industry
- Learn to make more engaging and meaningful conversations
- Build your profile in your field
- Create a support network
- Increase your knowledge and expertise in your industry
Then, you can set more refined networking goals, such as:
- Attending X number of networking events per year
- Talking to at least five different people at corporate events
- Collecting at least ten business cards per month
- Making plans for coffee with at least one contact per month
Setting specific goals for growing your professional network will let you immediately identify suitable opportunities for connecting with others. You’ll also be more productive during conversations and motivated to follow up with potential contacts.
4. Obtain a New Certification or Degree
Like learning new skills, obtaining a new certification or degree is a terrific professional development goal. It will increase your chances for promotion, increase your salary, help you negotiate a higher starting salary at a new company, or make it easier to transition to a new career or position. Continuing education is challenging amidst a demanding work schedule and personal responsibilities, but it’s one of the best investments in your career development.
The first step in setting your education goals is determining whether it is mandatory. For example, some professions like healthcare, construction, manufacturing, and finance require a set number of continuing education units (CEUs) for license renewal. Therefore, you can prioritize these classes when choosing your course.
Alternatively, you may choose a certification or degree based on your dream job. Again, you can look at job descriptions for your ideal position to find the most common education requirements. You might not even need to enroll for a university degree.
Many organizations offer continuing education opportunities. You can speak to HR to learn about ongoing or upcoming training opportunities. Prioritize courses that provide certification at the end of the training and add these to your resume.
Other opportunities for continuing your education include:
- Independent studies
- Professional events
- On-the-job training
- Online courses
- Extension courses
Earning a new certification or degree might take time. So it’s essential to stay focused by transforming your vague goal into an actionable plan. You can break down your continuing education goal into smaller, actionable, and trackable goals. For example:
- Apply to X number of institutions/training programs in the next three months
- Curve out X number of hours per week to work on assignments or further reading
- Contribute to class discussions at least five times a week
- Improve your grade in a specific subject
- Improve research skills
- Complete the course in X months
Remember to update your resume for each new certification or degree. Many online courses let you learn at your own pace. You can look into online education programs like Udemy and Coursera, which let you set your pace and offer recognized certification when you complete the course.
5. Take Up More Responsibilities At Work
After improving your workplace skills, the next best goal is to take on more work responsibilities. But, of course, you should take on more responsibilities only when it is practical. So how do you know if taking on more responsibilities is appropriate?
First, ensure that your current tasks won’t suffer because of taking more work. Second, ensure that the new responsibilities ties into your overarching career goals. Finally, take projects that you understand and when you trust your capacity to complete the job correctly.
There are many benefits to taking more responsibility at work. If nothing else, the new responsibilities might show your boss that you’ve outgrown your position and put you on the fast track to a promotion. The extra work might also allow you to work alongside people you admire, enabling you to learn new skills and draw from their experience and expertise.
Some of the goals you might set to help you take more responsibility include:
- Complete your tasks within the deadline
- Spend two hours a week assisting a colleague with their work
- Meet with your boss to discuss opportunities for taking more work
- Excel in your current role by exceeding your performance metrics
- Offer to lead a project
- Be the first to volunteer when the chance comes
You can also show initiative outside of the office. For example, consider joining your company’s bowling team or other extracurricular activity. It’s even better if you’re proficient and passionate about the activity, allowing you to practice your leadership skills.
6. Learn How to Manage Stress
You won’t get far in your career if you’re stressed and overwhelmed. Career progression often means more responsibilities and higher stakes. So learning to manage stress is a critical but often overlooked professional development goal.
Stress management also has additional benefits. You’ll be more productive in your current role, feel more engaged with your work, and make better decisions. Stress management will also improve your overall health, job satisfaction, and morale.
Again, you can set specific stress management goals such as:
- Enroll in stress management training
- Learn at least one stress management technique per month
- Take a few quiet minutes per day to recharge
- Talk to a supervisor about stressors at work
- Learn to identify your stress triggers
- Find an outlet, such as sport, journal, or friend
Many organizations offer a stress training program or a similar program that you can look into. It’s also important to set realistic goals at work to avoid burnout. For example, professional development goals are terrific for advancing your career but aren’t very useful if you’re burned out. So take your time and consider carefully how much you can handle.
7. Join a Professional Organization
Joining a professional community is a good goal for advancing your career. There are professional communities or associations for just about any field. So you’re sure to find one that suits your career projection.
Most of these organizations also provide exclusive career resources that you can leverage. For example, the Project Management Institute (PMI) offers members discounts on certification exam costs, free material such as the PMBOK Guide, access to exclusive project management journals and newsletters, and the opportunity to join a local PMI chapter.
Joining a professional community can also help you kill two birds with one stone. For example, you may not need to set a different goal to grow your professional network. You can easily do this by joining a professional association’s national, state, or local chapter. Some associations also provide designations like ‘chartered’ or ‘fellowship’ to help you boost your professional image.
Again, you can set specific goals for joining a professional community, such as:
- Expanding your professional network
- Accessing exclusive industry materials such as research, case studies, or journals
- Finding a mentor
- Giving back to the community
- Enhancing your resume
You can start by checking if the organization’s goals match yours. For example, some organizations are dedicated to community outreach, while others focus on members’ professional development. Also, ensure that the organization is registered, recognized, and well-established in your industry.
Final Thoughts About Professional Development Goals
Setting professional development goals doesn’t have to be complicated. You only need to start with the end in mind and find a good reason for pursuing the dream. You can also break up long-term goals into smaller ones and set clear deadlines for accomplishing your goals.
Finally, start with one goal and track your progress along the way. It’s vital for staying on track with your goals. You’ll also be motivated to pursue your goals if you can see tangible progress on your journey to professional development.