How to Set Professional Development Goals

professional development goals

As a career-oriented, achievement-focused woman, you’re probably accustomed to setting and reaching your goals. Whether your goal is to land a dream job, earn an advanced degree, reach a financial milestone, or any number of ambitions so many of us have, it is likely that you’ve had a big goal in mind and have worked hard to reach it.

But what happens once you’ve reached that end goal? You’ve finally graduated from school or landed that dream job – now what? Sometimes, after reaching a big goal or milestone, we forget the importance of continuing to set goals.

That’s where professional development goals come into play. Professional development goals are goals or objectives that further your career growth and progress. They help you develop the necessary skills to advance and can even increase engagement and job satisfaction. Who wouldn’t want that?

Why are professional development goals important?

Many companies work with their employees to help them set and achieve professional development goals. But not all companies do, and not all of us work for an employer. No matter your employment situation, it is up to you to take the reins and set some professional goals for yourself. Successful women don’t wait around for someone else to set goals for them – they take matters into their own hands.

Setting professional development goals can help you rise up the corporate ladder, create a side hustle, or launch a new business. Not only that, but having goals, and reaching them, is empowering and creates a real sense of ownership over your career.

How to set professional development goals

Hopefully, I’ve convinced you that setting professional development goals is worth your time. Now, how exactly do you do it? It’s not as hard as you might think. While you will have to carve time out of your busy schedule to focus on reaching your goals, you’ll get hooked on what the results bring you and will want to keep on setting more. Here are the key steps to take:

1. Create a vision

Imagining what you want to achieve before you take any action is one of the most underrated ways to decide on a goal. With a clear vision of where you want to be in one, five, ten, or more years, you can work backward to set professional goals that will help you get there. (For a detailed plan on how to develop a vision and set goals based on that vision, check out this super helpful step-by-step primer from the University of California-Berkeley.)

There is so much power in creating a clear vision for your career, and then taking the time to sit down to set professional goals that will help you achieve that vision. If you do this, I promise you’ll be more likely to succeed and accomplish all it is that you want.

2. Decide what skills you need to achieve that vision

With a clear vision of your future in mind, decide what skills or milestones will help you eventually achieve that long-term vision. You might already know exactly what you need to do to move forward, but you might not. If not, take some time to brainstorm. What do others in your field know how to do that you’d like to master? Ask your colleagues for advice on what steps they’ve taken to get where they are.

Look to your mentors or those you admire for inspiration. Keep your eyes open for new ideas. Once you have a list of a couple of things you’d like to work on, move on to the next step: setting an actual, tangible goal.

3. Set small, achievable goals

Huge goals like “become a VP at my company within three years” or “grow my side-hustle to a full-time income” can feel overwhelming. And overwhelm can often lead to inaction. So, instead of focusing on one giant goal, set small, achievable ones. This way, you’ll get a sense of accomplishment as you work your way toward that end goal, and you’ll feel encouraged to keep going. Bit by bit, you’ll reach that big goal, too.

One of the best ways to put this into practice is to set what is known as a “SMART” goal. SMART stands for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-based goals. By setting goals this way, you’ll be more likely to turn a vague or daunting goal into something very achievable.

4. Make time for professional development

Professional development is just as important to your career development as your “real” work. Sometimes it’s even more important, as it’s an investment in your future. While it might feel like extra work on top of your already demanding schedule, making time to work on your professional goals will set you up for long-term success.

Treat the time needed to work on your professional goals as non-negotiable. Whether you are juggling multiple jobs, kids, pets, a wild household, or any other outside forces that tend to pull you away from reaching your own goals, decide the day you set your goal that nothing is going to interfere with your time.

Five examples of professional development goals

Got all of that? Ready to set some goals for yourself? If so, great! Get to it and let us know how it goes. But if you’re still not entirely clear on your vision or what professional goals to set for yourself, hopefully, these examples will inspire you to set some of your own.

1. Take a course

One of the best ways to make yourself more marketable and more valuable to your company (i.e., higher-paid) is to learn a new skill. There are so many options out there (many of which are free or very low-cost, such as Udemy or Coursera) offering courses that you can take right from home to develop a skill you might be lacking. Whether it is public speaking, Photoshop, PowerPoint, or anything else you can dream of, there is a course out there for you. (Be sure to check out our completely free Clever Girl Finance courses as well!)

2. Network

For so many professionals, it’s all about who you know. Some of us tend to let networking fall to the wayside, especially if it’s not forced upon us or if it doesn’t come naturally to us. Now, more than ever, it’s so important to network, with so many of us working from home and no longer having the face-to-face engagement we’ve been accustomed to.

Why not set a goal to expand your network? You could decide to connect with ten new people on LinkedIn every month, sign up for a virtual panel (bonus points for actually showing your face on camera and participating on that panel!), or resolve to join a new professional organization.

3. Become an expert

Investing the time now to become an expert on a certain topic in your field will help you achieve that dream vision sooner than you’d expect. It’s one way to stand out from the competition at work and, in turn, raise your profile and your earning prospects.

Become the go-to woman on something others at your company or in your industry find difficult or don’t have the time to learn. Read all about the topic, talk to others you consider experts in the field, and, soon enough, you’ll be the one everyone is calling for questions and advice.

4. Ask for more money

Never settle for what you’re making now. Always, always ask for more. Asking for more money, from your employer or from your clients, can be daunting, and we often never end up doing it. Instead, many women settle for whatever salary their employer has decided on for them.

But why not set yourself the goal of asking for more? To combat the intimidation factor of negotiating your salary, put a plan in place. Develop a strategy for how you will ask for that raise or bonus. Outline what you bring to the table, prepare your case, and advocate for yourself. Sure, you can tell yourself that you’ll ask for more someday, but if you set a goal and actually plan for exactly how and when you’re going to do it, you’ll be more likely to follow through. And more likely to get that raise!

5. Learn how to set boundaries

While this might not be as obvious a goal as some of the others, setting boundaries between work and personal life is a challenge for so many of us. But it doesn’t have to be. What if your next professional goal is that this year will finally be the year you learn to set boundaries? There are plenty of actions you can take to set boundaries, like learning how to say no and how to keep appointments with yourself. This can also help you avoid making rash career decisions.

In closing

Setting professional development goals builds you up, makes you more of an asset to your employer and your clients, and in turn, can increase your income. If you take the time today to envision what your dream life is, set some personal development goals that will help you achieve that dream life, and come up with a plan to reach those goals, I can guarantee you that you’ll see both your job satisfaction and your bank account soar.

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