What Are Professional Development Goals? 10 Examples and How to Set Them

Written by Coursera • Updated on

Professional development goals can help you achieve your short- and long-term objectives in your career.

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Professional development goals are objectives you can set for yourself to help further your career. These might include taking steps to learn relevant skills, expand your professional network, or find more satisfaction at work.

Why set professional development goals?

Setting professional development goals can have many benefits. They can help you stay up-to-date on industry trends, increase engagement and job satisfaction, and align you with what you want out of your career and life.

Setting goals that are SMART—specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound—can clarify what you need to achieve in the short-term to arrive at your long-term goals. Read more about setting SMART goals below.

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10 examples of professional development goals

Here are ten examples of professional development goals to inspire your own:

1. Develop a new skill set.

Growing professionally often means expanding the arsenal of things you’re able to do. What skill you choose to develop can depend on your industry, job, and personal preferences. In-demand skills across the job sector in 2021 included cloud computing, data analysis skills like artificial intelligence and SQL, management, and UX design [1].

Don’t know where to start? Approach your manager and see if they have suggestions. You can also browse job descriptions of positions you’d be interested in pursuing; the common skills listed will help you get a sense of what’s in-demand in your field. Do some research to get a sense of what you want to learn and what will be useful to your work.

Develop skills by taking online or in-person courses, shadowing a coworker, going back to school, among other ways. Think about what fits your schedule and the level of expertise you’re aiming for to see what works best for you.

2. Develop your human skills.

Human skills are the tools and practices that help people in a workplace connect and interact smoothly with one another. Sometimes referred to as workplace or soft skills, human skills can be crucial for advancing to higher-level positions. Human skills include verbal and nonverbal communication, empathy, self-awareness, and leadership.

Specific goals might include:

  • Complete an online course on communication, negotiation, or psychology

  • Join a social public speaking club, such as a local Toastmasters chapter

Ready to get started? Explore courses that can improve your human skills on Coursera.

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3. Take up leadership responsibilities.

Actively seeking out leadership opportunities will allow you to develop leadership skills, and show others that you are striving to grow. Approach your manager to see how you might be able to put your leadership skills into practice. Have a few suggestions at the ready. Here are some examples to get your started:

  • Lead two team meetings this quarter

  • Plan and lead a team initiative to collectively learn a new tool or skill

  • Plan the next team offsite or activity

4. Expand your professional network.

Expanding your professional network can expose you to new ideas, build your profile, keep you informed of new job opportunities, and help you learn continuously. 

Sign up for events to attend in your field, join professional groups in person or through social media platforms like Facebook or LinkedIn, or find opportunities to volunteer your skills through volunteer databases like VolunteerMatch

Some concrete goals you can set include:

  • Attend five in-person or virtual professional events

  • Find and join three professional groups on LinkedIn

5. Level-up your credentials.

Beefing up your credentials can open up new career opportunities or clear a path to a promotion. Credentials can include certifications, professional certificates, and degrees. See what makes the most sense for both your short- and long-term career goals. Once you get your credential, don’t forget to inform your manager and list it in relevant places like your resume and LinkedIn profile.

Relevant goals might look like the following:

  • Earn a certification in your field in the next quarter or year

  • Complete a professional certificate

  • Find five degree programs to begin applying to

Read more: Should You Go Back to School? 7 Things to Consider

6. Consume media in your field.

Learning more about your field through various media—like books, podcasts, and news publications, to name a few—can enrich your understanding of the context around your work and inform you of ways to improve. Plus, as passive ways of absorbing information, you’ll be able to learn as you, say, go on a walk or wait for the bus.

Ask coworkers or professionals in your network about recommendations. Otherwise, a quick online search should yield plenty of ideas, whether you’re looking for marketing podcasts, books on project management, or something else.

Here are some concrete goals you might aspire to:

  • Read two books in your field in a quarter

  • Listen to one podcast on a relevant topic a week

  • Find 10 experts in your field on Twitter to follow

7. Find other ways to deepen job satisfaction.

Being satisfied as a professional doesn’t necessarily mean striving for constant achievement and earning promotions. Job satisfaction is tied to many factors besides enjoying the work itself—including forming fulfilling relationships with coworkers, achieving work-life balance, and keeping your mental and physical health in check. Plus, there’s evidence that links job satisfaction to higher productivity and less turnover in workplaces—being a happy worker is likely going to benefit your company too [2].

Here are some goals you might set to improve your workday:

  • Schedule lunch or coffee chats with coworkers 

  • Join or start a workplace interest group

  • Create a plan to prepare healthy meals for lunch

  • Set reminders to take intermittent breaks throughout the day

  • Clarify boundaries on work expectations outside of working hours

8. Take a relevant course.

Courses can help you develop skills, learn about issues relevant to your work, and flex new parts of your brain. Courses can be directly related to your work responsibilities, but this might be an opportunity to challenge yourself to stretch yourself in new ways. Data analysis, project management, or UX design courses may give you the skills you need—but consider other fields like creative writing, public speaking, or foreign languages that can deepen your work in more unexpected ways.

Specific goals for coursework might look like the following:

  • Complete a course on XYZ topic in a quarter 

  • Map out a plan for coursework you’ll take throughout the year

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9. Shadow another department.

Shadowing another department can have myriad positives: it can encourage communication and cooperation across siloed teams, inspire ways to improve your own team, and leave you with a better understanding of how your organization works. 

You can set goals such as:

  • Ask three people from different departments to lunch

  • Create a program in your workplace to encourage cross-team shadowing

10. Find a mentor.

A mentor can help you navigate challenges in the workplace and help you progress in your career. 

Finding a mentor might sound like a daunting task, but be assured that many have done it before. Some workplaces have mentoring programs in place that make it easy for people to connect with a more experienced professional. You might also find that your professional network will come in handy here. You can start by finding people who have had careers you find close to your aspirations in professional groups or alumni communities. Or if it makes sense, reach out to somebody in your workplace that you think you’ll be able to learn from.

Goals that will help you land a mentor include:

  • Create a pitch that you can use to contact potential mentors

  • Arrange a meeting with potential mentors to see if they’re a fit

  • Map out your short- or long-term goals (or both) of having a mentor

How to set professional development goals

1. Know what you’re working towards.

Start by taking some time to consider what you want out of your career, now or in the future. Goal-setting is a useful exercise because it can clarify what you really want out of your career, and identify tangible steps to achieve it.

Don’t know what you want to do in five or 10 years yet? Start smaller, and identify your interests. If you’ve always admired your manager who can speak eloquently in front of others, consider a public speaking course. If you find yourself fascinated by your coworker’s ability to analyze data sets, try learning Python or another programming language.

2. Set SMART goals.

SMART goals are goals that are specific, measureable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. Here’s what each of those components mean:

Specific: Goals should be well-defined and unambiguous so that you know exactly what you’re aspiring to.

Measurable: Goals should have a clear way of identifying whether you’ve achieved them, or if not, how close you came to them. For example, saying Finish three modules of my online course is more measurable than a goal like Work on my online course.

Achievable: Setting a goal that you can realistically achieve is key to actually achieving them. Plus, thinking in the back of your mind that a goal is impossible may be demotivating. Keep yourself motivated by setting reasonable goals.

Relevant: Your goals should be relevant to you—that is, they should align with your long-term aspirations and values. Think of this as the “why” of your goal.

Time-bound: Set a deadline for your goals so you can stay on track and motivated. 

Getting started on professional development goals

Professional development goals can help identify what you want your career to look like in the short- and long-term, and what steps you need to take to get where you want to be. Ready to get started? Learn from world-class institutions with over 5,000 courses, certificates, and degrees on Coursera.

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Article sources

1. Coursera. "Global Skills Report, https://pages.coursera-for-business.org/rs/748-MIV-116/images/coursera-global-skills-report-2021.pdf." Accessed March 25, 2022.

2. Harvard Business Review. "Proof That Positive Work Cultures Are More Productive, https://hbr.org/2015/12/proof-that-positive-work-cultures-are-more-productive." Accessed March 25, 2022.

Written by Coursera • Updated on

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