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!
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!
3. Take a course related to your field online or in-person.
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.
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?
13. Learn a new software program related to your field-of-study.
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.
26. Start a blog or join an online forum related to your field of study.
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.
28. Participate in professional development opportunities that are not directly related to your job, but that will help you in your current or future position.
More than anything, this gives you the opportunity to network.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.