Setting intentional professional development goals is important for providing direction to your career development activities.
Achieving professional development goals takes initiative and a commitment to continuous learning. If you can master this, I guarantee you it will pay off!
Without undertaking strategic career development activities which directly align to your career goals, it can be difficult to make progress and to know exactly which steps to take to efficiently achieve your goals.
In this post I’ve provided 17 ideas for professional development goals, however you don’t have to complete all of them! Consider your own, unique career and what might be a good fit for your aspirations.
This post is about ideas for professional development goals.
What are professional development goals?
Professional development goals are objectives or strategies to improve your career-related skills, knowledge, behaviours or employability.
Without professional development goals, you risk your career becoming stagnant or disengaging, or falling behind on the latest industry technical trends and knowledge.
Consider this – would you trust your health to a doctor who hasn’t kept their medical knowledge up to date over the last 30 years? Neither would I!
If you have been in the workforce for a while, you may have observed a mixed level of enthusiasm for professional or career development. Make no mistake that apathy is the single biggest destroyer of careers. Don’t let this be you!
Here are 17 ideas for professional development goals to consider.
1. Build and nurture your networks
Professional networks can be a great asset to a career if built and nurtured appropriately.
There are so many benefits to professional networking. Just some opportunities include:
- access to the hidden job market
- sharing your own knowledge and establishing yourself as a thought leader in your industry
- benefit from more experienced practitioners’ wisdom developed over time
- learn new skills, information, techniques, theories, tools or methods related to your industry
- access to a ‘brains trust’ to help you solve problems
Building networks can be daunting. To get started, reach out to people you already know and tell them you are interested in building your professional network. It’s likely they will know someone else who is interested in the same topic or career as you, and may be willing to pass on their details to you.
Another tip is to connect with people you know have the same career path as you or are like-minded about a particular topic. Professional associations are great for this!
Upskilling involves improving an existing skill, including transferable or technical skills.
Upskilling is critical for professional development. Advancing your career means you must advance your skills and knowledge.
Upskilling can be done through your organisation’s learning and development programs or externally by undertaking formal qualifications, micro-credentials, MOOCs, reading books and industry journals, webinars and the like.
Recommendations for time spent on learning per week range between 1 – 5 hours. Realistically this will vary week to week with your schedule.
Transferable skills (often referred to as soft skills) are non-specific to a career path or industry. They’re skills which everyone can build, regardless of their vocation, and can be developed from a young age.
Transferable skills are equally important as technical skills. When developed to advanced and expert proficiently levels, these skills can skyrocket your career or business!
Employers are keen to recruit staff with strong transferable skills as they can be more difficult to advance compared with technical skills.
To find a list of the most sought-after transferable skills, go here.
Technical skills refer to your job-specific skills and knowledge, critical to your area of expertise.
Many professions require continuing professional development to remain a registered, practicing professional. Even if this isn’t the case in your career, upskilling in your technical area of expertise is important.
When developed to advanced and expert proficiently levels, opportunities for promotion, staff mentoring, leadership and thought-leadership become available.
Upskilling technical skills is also important for maintaining current industry-related knowledge.
3. Stretch exercises
Stretch exercises involve taking on challenging tasks which are different from your regular duties, but are still within scope of your profession.
Stretch exercises provide you with an opportunity to utilise skills you haven’t for a while, develop new skills, gain new knowledge about your industry or profession, work with different colleagues, develop your networks and so on.
Stretch exercises may be in the form of projects, short or long term tasks, establishing new processes or practices for your organisation or anything else that provides you with the opportunity to ‘stretch’ your skills and knowledge.
Let your manager know you are interested in undertaking a stretch exercise and work with them to identify one that supports your career goals.
4. Update your resume, covering letter and LinkedIn profile
Many people neglect their resume, covering letter and LinkedIn profile until they’ve decided to apply for a job.
Even if you aren’t looking for a job immediately, it’s a good idea to keep these documents or profiles current. This will save you so much time and angst when it comes time to use them 😉
Reflecting on your achievements to include in your resume, covering letter and LinkedIn profile will also provide you will some great examples when it comes time for your performance review.
5. Career change
Have you been daydreaming of a career change for years but not taken any action?
If you’re looking for a sign that it’s time to make the change, consider this to be your sign!
People often spend far too long in a job that isn’t the right fit for many reasons. This can have huge impacts on health and well-being, happiness, finances, relationships and more.
Don’t wait another year to find a job that brings you the satisfaction, fulfillment or purpose that you deserve!
6. Professional associations
Engaging with a professional association relevant to your industry is a fantastic way to develop your expertise.
A professional association is an overarching professional body that defines industry standards to guide practices and improve professionalism. For some careers, membership may be mandatory.
Regardless, professional associations are an excellent way to network with liked-minded professionals and to access quality and relevant information, and professional development opportunities.
Professional associations will often advertise job vacancies as well.
7. Read more books
Ok, I know professional and personal development books can have a bad rap, but hear out me on this one.
There is a wealth of information out there which can sometimes be too costly and inaccessible (think coaching sessions and courses). Books by the most accomplished thought leaders are so much more affordable and accessible (hello library!).
The benefits of reading books for professional development are endless! Here are a few reasons why it’s worth the investment in time:
- gain exposure to new techniques, tools, models and strategies
- observe demonstrated practical application or outcomes of these techniques, tools, models and strategies
- benefit from others’ experience and wisdom developed over time
- receive help to solve a problem or see it from a different perspective
- increase your depth of understanding about a concept
Not to mention the benefits to your transferable skills such as communication, vocabulary, concentration and more!
Don’t have time to read? Try listening to an audio book during your commute to work 😊
8. Implement one new professional development habit
Not ready to take the plunge and make a big change or commitment when it comes to your professional development? That’s cool.
Professional development doesn’t need to be about investing in lengthy university courses or expensive professional associations.
Setting aside an hour per week to read a journal, phone a colleague, watch a Youtube video, work on a self-paced micro-credential, reflect on and document your recent achievements, catch up on industry newsletters or read this blog (see what I did there 😉), can all provide benefits to your professional development.
9. Ask for feedback
It can be difficult to approach colleagues, managers and clients to ask for (and receive) professional feedback, however it’s important to get comfortable with the concept if you want to develop your skills.
Regardless of how self-aware we are, we all have a blind spot or two. Feedback is an efficient and effective way to undercover and address blind spots.
Feedback for professional development purposes is most commonly collected in the form of interviews (usually performance review discussions) or surveys.
To get started, choose four people to approach for feedback. This should be a mix of colleagues, subordinates and managers and/or clients. I recommended having a trusted and reasonably lengthy relationship with them (at least 12 months) and confidence that they will provide articulate feedback that is constructive and practicable.
Having one or many mentors provides significant benefits.
They’ll give you an honest assessment about the role/industry, help you to avoid pitfalls, introduce you to influential people and improve your networks, help you to problem solve, make decisions and provide advice.
A mentor will also improve your confidence, can provide feedback and help you to set goals.
Don’t forget about the importance of sharing your information as well. Even if you haven’t spent much time in the workforce, you are still able to mentor others. Giving your time to others who value your experience and wisdom is mutually beneficial.
11. Job crafting
Job crafting refers to an employee proactively utilising opportunities at their current workplace to incrementally shape their job.
Job crafting can bring about small or large changes to your role – the amount of change depends on your preferences and the opportunities available at your organisation.
Job crafting is a great way to boost professional development and can be useful to seek out those stretch exercises, upskilling opportunities and building and nurturing networks.
One way to start job crafting is to take on a stretch exercise. Once you have completed the tasks and demonstrated that you have the skills to perform different types of work, continue to express interest and seek out similar tasks.
12. Improve productivity or performance
Productivity and performance are two of the mostly commonly monitored measures in almost all businesses. These measures have a direct impact on the business’s deliverables or mission. These measures will vary widely, depending on the industry or business.
There are two ways you can approach improving productivity or performance – your individual performance or your team’s. You will know best what improved productivity or performance looks like in your role. If not, discuss this with your manager at your next performance review.
13. Improve organisational operations and processes
Whilst organisational operations and processes aren’t necessarily primary measures of success for traditional businesses, improvement in these areas can have a significant impact on business deliverables.
Over-engineered or outdated operations, processes or even systems can slow staff productivity and have negative effects on time management, efficiency and staff engagement.
Consider something at your organisation which is an irritant to staff, even if it seems minor. Can you think of a simple solution to either resolve or reduce the issue?
Bonus points if your solution saves the organisation money 😉
14. Improve client experience
Client experience is the holistic experience a client has with a business along the entire customer journey.
If your organisation delivers a service to clients, then you’ll know how important it is for them to have a good experience!
If you already know of a way to improve client experience, then this is your time to speak up.
If you’re not sure what to improve for your clients, consider conducting a client experience (or feedback) survey.
As above, this can be something minor. You don’t need to implement expensive transformational reform to make significant improvements.
15. Improve staff experience
Whilst most service-based organisations focus on client experience, many take their staff experience for granted. If you’ve ever worked for an organisation with human resource or cultural problems, you’ll know how negatively this can impact staff experience.
Making slight improvements to staff experience can have big impacts such as increased job satisfaction and reduced staff turnover. Any improvements made in this area will get the attention of management for sure 😉
Again, this doesn’t have to be a big, sweeping change. A minor change can positively impact workforce culture which is good for everyone.
16. Learn new technology
Whichever industry or role you work in, it will likely be influenced by new technology at some point, even if this is as simple as a Windows or Microsoft Suite update!
Getting on the front foot and learning about emerging technology (not just keeping up to date with existing technology) may lead to you becoming a subject matter expert and the ‘go to’ person in your organisation for particular tasks.
This is a great point to include in your resume and adds to your claims for a pay raise or promotion when performance review time comes!
17. Choose a ‘less strong point’ to develop
Whilst the bulk of your professional development should be focused on enhancing the key transferable and technical skills required for your career, working on your ‘less strong point’ (not weakness!) can have benefits too.
If you choose this approach, work on developing a skill that is needed for your next career move. For example, you may be an accountant now, but wish to move into a management position. This will likely require new skills such as staff management, negotiation and relationship management.
Keeping your skills and knowledge up to date is absolutely critical to ensure the longevity and progress of your career.
Undertaking professional development doesn’t mean you need to invest in lengthy and costly formal qualifications. Small time investments in reading, networking, trying new ways of doing things (or tasks, or technology) can have a significant impact on your professional development and career.
The key is to remain open minded, curious and commit to continuing learning.
This post was about ideas for professional development goals
Hi there, I'm Danielle Ward
Your go-to career development and human resource practitioner, guiding your career towards true north.
Latest posts by Danielle Ward (see all)
- Beginners guide to selection criteria: Read this before you apply for a public service job! - 17 January 2022
- What is CPD? 5 basic facts you need to know about continuing professional development - 12 January 2022
- Nail your next job interview by preparing for these 27 second interview questions! - 9 January 2022