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50 Smart Ideas For Professional Development Goals

Goal setting is not just for bettering our personal life. Setting professional development goals is something we should all be doing. Whether you are in the beginning stages of your career or are a well-established expert, setting professional development goals keeps us moving forward.

What are professional development goals?

They’re the stepping stones to help you get from where you are today in your current position to where you want to be tomorrow in your career.

It can be easy for us take ourselves out of the learning process and believe that we know everything already, but this is a great detriment to our careers. Learning new things, becoming a better teacher or a more efficient administrator, these are all things that help contribute to our professional development. There are a lot of opportunities out there, so let’s organize them and describe how they can work for you.

The goal here is for each person to create a list of ideas that will help move their career forward in some way. Not everyone will have the same ideas, which means that these ideas aren’t written in stone. There are no strict criteria for what qualifies an idea on this list, so some things might seem like they wouldn’t be very helpful while some other ideas might be more obvious. 

Don’t stress, you don’t have to have a full-blown professional development plan. Start with a few short-term goals and long-term goals. The only thing that’s important is having a list of ideas to consider and hopefully implement. 

With all that out of the way, let’s get started with 50 ideas for professional development goals!

ideas for professional development goals

50 Ideas for Professional Development Goals

1. Earn a new degree or certification in your field.

This might be part of your long-term plan and is important to evaluate if it is both important and necessary for your career path. Alternatively, you could get a degree or certification in an adjacent field to help improve your skillset.

Make sure you do your research beforehand to ensure your education is worth the cost. If you want to pursue a career in accounting, look into the most highly-regarded and sought-after accounting schools in the US to make sure you are getting the best value for your money.

2. Attend a professional development conference in your field.

Again, an easy goal to work towards every 6-12 months. Many times your place of work will happily send you to conferences for career development and networking opportunities. Take advantage!

You don’t have to earn a certification to make a course worthwhile! You can still add this to your resume.

4. Read books or articles about best practices in your field.

This should be a monthly goal, in my opinion. There are plenty of books, new research, authors, papers, etc published to stay on top of.

5. Listen to podcasts or watch webinars about best practices in your field.

Again, another easy way to continue your career development. Listen to a podcast episode or watch a webinar once a week to help propel your career forward.

6. Take practice exams to test your knowledge of best practices in your field.

This might not suit every career path but it can be helpful to refine your knowledge and help you identify a specific goal.

7. Take a personality or skills assessment test.

This can help give you an idea of what your strengths and weaknesses are so you can focus on improving in areas that will help you the most. Learning these traits and other soft skills of yours may help you communicate with your team members or your boss better.

8. Watch a TED talk, Tedx Talk or any other educational video that will inspire you to become more productive.

TED talks are great because they typically last about 20 minutes and give you ideas on how to improve in a specific area without investing too much time.

50 Smart Ideas For Professional Development Goals

9. Volunteer to give a speech, seminar, talk or lecture.

Seek out an opportunity to be an educator in your company. This will solidify you as an expert but also help you refine your networking and speaking skills and presentation skills.

10. Ask for constructive feedback from colleagues after presenting at a conference or giving a presentation in your field.

Going off number nine, ask for feedback after you give your talk. Constructive feedback will help you improve your skills.

11. Observe high-performing professionals in your field and identify three new skills you could learn from them.

To be a successful professional, it’s important to learn from those who have mastered their craft.

12. Look at your desk or workspace and consider how it affects the way you work. If you think it could be more productive.

Is your desk cluttered? Is the lighting in the right place for you to work? Does it affect your productivity?

Check out LinkedIn for online courses to see what your colleagues are learning. What do people in roles you hope to be in one day know? Start there!

14. Update your resume and list of references.

Update your resume now, even if you’re not actively looking for a job. You never know what opportunities might appear! Plus it’s the best way to keep track of the important things you’ve been working on, rather than scrambling to remember when you really need an updated resume.

16. Write a reflective paper on a professional development experience you had in the past. What lessons did you learn?

We’re big fans of journaling, so think of this as professional journaling. Make sure to type up a quick paragraph or two on your professional development experiences following each one.

18. Keep an ongoing list of professional goals (e.g., “present two workshops to colleagues in the next year”).

Keeping a list of your goals can help keep you motivated to reach them. It can also serve as a reminder to actively work towards those goals regularly.

19. Make a list of all the books you’ve read for professional development purposes, and make note of common themes or lessons learned.

Are you reading a lot of books about leadership? Or networking? Make note of what you’re learning and see if there are any patterns.

20. Create or join a mastermind group with colleagues in your field.

A mastermind group is a great way to get advice and support from those who understand your career aspirations and goals.

21. Write your professional mission statement (five-year plan), including what you hope to accomplish and the skills you hope to develop.

You don’t have to follow it exactly, but working towards something can keep you more motivated than working towards nothing. Plus, it helps to identify your career development goals.

22. Take a class or workshop on public speaking.

Speaking in front of a group can be nerve wracking for some, but it’s an essential skill for any professional.

23. Invest in a career coach.

Not sure where you’re headed? Maybe you need a third party to help you figure it out. Career coaches are such valuable resources and it’s worth it to have someone in your corner.

24. Create a portfolio of your work, highlighting your best pieces.

Make it digital and link it on your resume or keep it just for you to reference on your own computer.

25. Take an online course on how to be a better leader.

Leadership skills are always in demand and often scarce to come by. Be a true leader, know your value, and how you can lead others.

Start an online space from your own perspective sharing your thoughts on your field. Consider Twitter or LinkedIn to start.

27. Conduct an anti-bias training session with colleagues.

This is an important part of every workplace. If yours does not have trainings like this in place, be the one to start them.

50 Smart Ideas For Professional Development Goals

Actively engage in professional development by identifying relevant opportunities such as workshops, conferences, and online courses. Create a personalized development plan outlining specific goals and areas for improvement. Seek support from mentors, supervisors, or HR to align your efforts with organizational objectives.

Attend industry events, join professional associations, and network with peers to stay informed and connected. Embrace continuous learning through reading industry publications and participating in webinars.

Contribute to knowledge-sharing within your team and leverage online platforms for skill-building. Take the initiative to seek feedback, mentorship, and new challenges, demonstrating a commitment to personal and career growth.

29. Ask for feedback from your boss and colleagues.

If you don’t have a formal feedback process at work, don’t be afraid to reach out to your boss or colleagues for a one-on-one where you can help each other with feedback. This may help you set better performance goals and refine specific areas where you can improve.

30. Devise a plan to collaborate with other professionals (in your field or subject area) on a project or two.

Need more experience? Create a project yourself! Invite others to join in and collaborate with you. If you can’t find opportunities, make them.

31. Conduct a few informational interviews with people in your field.

This can help you learn more about a specific industry or company, and could be the first step to landing a job.

To conduct effective informational interviews, start by researching and identifying professionals in your field of interest. Reach out with a concise, personalized request for a meeting, highlighting your curiosity and respect for their expertise.

Prepare thoughtful questions about their career path, experiences, and industry insights. During the interview, actively listen, take notes, and express genuine gratitude for their time. Build rapport and seek advice on your own career journey. Follow up with a thank-you email, expressing appreciation and reinforcing connections.

This proactive and respectful approach fosters valuable relationships and insights, contributing to your professional development.

32. Volunteer for a nonprofit that is adjacent to your career path.

Nonprofits need as much help as they can get from people who are passionate about the work they do. If you have limited time to dedicate, even an hour or two per month can make a difference.

ideas for professional development goals

33. Work on your communication skills.

Communication is key – no matter what role you’re in. Work on improving how you talk to others, communicate within your workplace, and to your co-workers.

34. Refine your time management skills.

Time management is a vital skill in today’s workforce. We’re all incredibly busy and have to-do lists a mile long. Have you figured out what works for you as a way to manage your time? Balancing family, work, and life can be incredibly stressful. Make sure you’re taking time for you, we all need a work-life balance!

35. Learn how to conduct research and gather information on competitors or companies in your industry.

Learn how to gather intelligence, analyze data, and share what you’ve learned with colleagues and your boss.

To improve data analysis skills at work, start by identifying specific objectives and questions. Familiarize yourself with the relevant tools and software, seeking advanced training if necessary. Practice regularly by working on real-world projects, applying statistical techniques and visualization methods.

Seek guidance from experienced colleagues or mentors and actively participate in industry forums or online communities. Embrace feedback to refine methodologies and interpretations. Stay updated on emerging trends and tools in data analysis through continuous learning. Building a robust foundation, practical experience, and a proactive approach are essential for honing data analysis skills in a professional environment.

36. Sharpen your writing skills.

This is important – writing well is key to standing out as a professional. It goes hand in hand with communication. Both are vital and valuable skills to have as a professional.

To enhance writing skills at work, start by reading extensively to absorb diverse styles and techniques. Set aside time for daily writing practice, focusing on clarity, conciseness, and coherence. Seek feedback from colleagues or supervisors to pinpoint areas for improvement.

Embrace editing tools and software for constructive analysis. Engage in relevant training programs or workshops to refine specific writing genres.

Cultivate a habit of proofreading to eliminate errors. Join writing groups or forums to exchange ideas and gain insights. Consistent effort, a receptive attitude toward feedback, and a commitment to continuous learning are key to sharpening writing skills in a professional setting.

37. Make a list of people you look up to in your career field.

Think beyond your boss. Who runs companies you’re interested in working for? Who’s managerial style is admirable? Who would you like to have a business meal with? Work on a team with? These can lead you to better understand professional traits and skills you admire.

38. Strengthen your weaknesses.

Chances are in your career or line of study, you have a couple areas that could use improvement. Take this as an opportunity to ask for feedback and train yourself in those areas.

To strengthen weaknesses at work, identify specific areas for improvement and set clear, achievable goals. Seek feedback from colleagues or supervisors to gain insights. Utilize resources such as training programs, workshops, or online courses to acquire relevant skills.

Collaborate with mentors or experts for guidance. Consistent practice, self-reflection, and constructive criticism help refine weaknesses. Foster a growth mindset, embracing challenges as opportunities for learning. Take initiative in projects that target weak areas, and measure progress regularly.

Cultivate a supportive work environment that encourages continuous improvement. Embracing a proactive, dedicated approach ensures gradual and sustainable enhancement of professional weaknesses.

39. Learn how to properly give constructive criticism and accept it when receiving it from others.

This is critical to every workplace and industry – no matter what your role is or where you work. If you plan to pursue a leadership position this skill is a must.

idea for professional development goals

40. Study the art of negotiation and try to negotiate a salary increase or better benefits.

You may not feel comfortable doing this right away, but it’s important to at least understand how the process works. The sooner you start making more money, the more you’ll be able to grow your wealth.

Increasing your salary is crucial for financial stability, providing a means to meet daily needs, save for the future, and achieve personal goals.

A higher income allows for a better quality of life, enabling access to education, healthcare, and leisure. It provides a sense of security and empowers individuals to invest in their well-being, professional development, and community.

A higher salary not only acknowledges one’s expertise and contributions but also enhances motivation and job satisfaction, fostering a positive work environment. Ultimately, an increased salary is a key factor in achieving financial independence and fulfilling both short-term needs and long-term aspirations.

41. Understand your company’s culture and how to fit into it.

Every company has their own unique culture, and sometimes it takes a while to figure out how the company ticks. Get a feel for what makes your workplace go round, and try to adapt yourself accordingly.

42. Take on a role you’re scared of.

You’ll learn a lot about yourself and what you’re capable of by taking on new challenges. No matter how scary it may be, push yourself to do something you’ve never done before in order to grow and evolve as a professional. Don’t be afraid to step outside your comfort zone.

43. Have a difficult conversation you’ve been avoiding.

We all have conversations we avoid. Emails we left unread for months just because we don’t want to reply back. But it is time.

Reflect. How do you feel after? How did it go? This is a big confidence booster and will help in the future when you find yourself having to have difficult conversations.

44. Learn something outside of your industry.

Make it a goal to keep up with things in an industry you’re interested in but are not actively apart of. You might find it interesting to see how that sparks your creativity and innovation in your own work.

45. Find inspiration in someone who’s failed.

Maybe you’re just starting out and feel like it’ll be impossible to find an entry-level job, or the next big thing hasn’t happened yet for you. Take heart knowing that great things can happen when we try, even if we fail at first.

46. Learn a new skill.

It can be anything – coding, public speaking, cooking. The point is to continuously add to your repertoire and become more well-rounded. Not only will this make you more marketable, but it’ll also make you a more interesting person to be around.

50 Smart Ideas For Professional Development Goals

47. Make a list of things you’re grateful for in your career.

This could be anything from having a job during a recession to being great at problem solving. When you take the time to reflect on the good, you’ll start to see more of it. The more positive moments you can find in your career, the more motivated you’ll be to keep pushing forward to the next step.

48. Volunteer for a project outside of your job description.

Offering to help out with something that’s not in your job scope can show initiative and a willingness to work hard as well as prove your interpersonal skills. It can also lead to opportunities down the road, especially if you find yourself wanting to make a career change.

49. Volunteer your skills somewhere that needs someone like you.

Your skills could be needed somewhere , and this is also a great way to develop professional acumen that isn’t required in your job description.

50. Actually take time off from work.

Just as it is important to be “on” when you’re working, it’s vital to be “off” when you’re not. Make time for yourself to recharge, see friends or family, do something that you enjoy. Set boundaries around work. You’ll be better off for it.

Why Should You Set Professional Development Goals?

Investing time and effort in professional development is crucial for several reasons:

  1. Skill Enhancement:
    Professional development helps you acquire new skills and enhance existing ones. In a rapidly evolving job market, staying updated with the latest industry trends and technologies is essential to remain competitive.
  2. Career Advancement:
    Continuous learning and development contribute to career growth. Acquiring new skills and knowledge can open up new opportunities, making you more eligible for promotions and advancement within your current organization or in the job market.
  3. Adaptability:
    Industries and job requirements are subject to change due to technological advancements and market shifts. Professional development ensures that you remain adaptable and can quickly adjust to new challenges and opportunities.
  4. Increased Job Satisfaction:
    Learning and growing in your role can lead to increased job satisfaction. Feeling competent and confident in your abilities can positively impact your overall work experience and motivation.
  5. Networking Opportunities:
    Engaging in professional development activities often involves interacting with others in your field. This provides opportunities to expand your professional network, which can be valuable for future collaborations, job searches, and career advice.
  6. Staying Relevant:
    As industries evolve, certain skills become obsolete while new ones become crucial. Professional development helps you stay relevant in your field, ensuring that you have the knowledge and expertise needed in the current job market.
  7. Increased Confidence:
    Developing your skills and knowledge boosts your confidence. Confidence is not only beneficial for your own well-being but also for how others perceive you in a professional context.
  8. Leadership Development:
    Many professional development opportunities focus on leadership skills. Developing leadership qualities is not only important for those in managerial roles but also for individuals looking to influence positive change within their teams and organizations.
  9. Job Security:
    Employees who actively invest in their professional development are often viewed as valuable assets by employers. This can contribute to job security, as companies appreciate individuals who are committed to their own growth and contribute to the organization’s success.
  10. Economic Value:
    Continuously developing your professional skills can increase your economic value. Employers are often willing to invest in employees who bring additional knowledge and expertise to the organization, which can lead to higher salaries and better benefits.
  11. Adherence to Industry Standards:
    Many professions have industry standards and certifications. Engaging in professional development ensures that you meet or exceed these standards, demonstrating your commitment to maintaining a high level of professionalism.
  12. Personal Growth:
    Professional development is not just about acquiring job-related skills; it also contributes to personal growth. It can enhance your problem-solving abilities, communication skills, and emotional intelligence, making you a more well-rounded individual.

In summary, working on your professional development is essential for personal and career growth. It not only benefits you as an individual but also contributes to the overall success of your organization and the industries in which you operate.

ideas for professional development goals

Final Thoughts on Professional Development Goals

Remember, you don’t have to look into big professional development programs to make headway in your career or grow in your current job. You just need to set goals, like specific goals and smart goals, that excite and inspire you, which will help you move forward.

Thanks for reading! How else can one develop professionally? What are some long-term career goals and shorter career goals you have set? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

About the Author

Nicole Booz

Nicole Booz is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of GenTwenty, GenThirty, and The Capsule Collab. She has a Bachelor of Science in Psychology and is the author of The Kidult Handbook (Simon & Schuster May 2018). She currently lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and two sons. When she’s not reading or writing, she’s probably hiking, eating brunch, or planning her next great adventure.