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

Written by Coursera Staff • 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 to help further your career. These might include learning relevant skills, expanding your professional network, or finding 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. 


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 can 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 like to pursue. The common skills listed can help you understand what’s in demand in your field. Do some research to understand what you want to learn and what will be useful to your work.

Develop skills by taking online or in-person courses, shadowing co-workers, returning to school, and more. Consider what fits your schedule and the level of expertise you aim for to see what works best for you.

2. Develop your workplace skills.

Workplace skills are the tools and practices that help people in a workplace connect and interact smoothly with one another. Sometimes referred to as human or soft skills, workplace skills can be crucial for advancing to higher-level positions. Workplace 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

3. Take up leadership responsibilities.

Actively seeking out leadership opportunities will allow you to develop leadership skills and show others you are striving to grow. Approach your manager to see how you can put your leadership skills into practice and have a few suggestions prepared. 

Here are some examples to get you started:

  • Lead two team meetings this quarter.

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

  • 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:

  • Attending five in-person or virtual professional events

  • Finding and joining three professional groups on LinkedIn

5. Level up your credentials.

Beefing up your credentials can open 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 your short- and long-term career goals. 

Once you get your credentials, remember to inform your manager and list them in relevant places, such as 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

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 a passive way of absorbing information, you can learn while walking or waiting for the bus.

Ask co-workers or professionals in your network for 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.

Satisfaction as a professional doesn’t necessarily mean striving for constant achievement and promotions. Job satisfaction can be tied to many factors besides enjoying the work—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 will likely benefit your company, too [2].

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

  • Schedule lunch or coffee chats with co-workers 

  • 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. They can be directly related to your work responsibilities, but this might be an opportunity to challenge yourself and stretch yourself in new ways. Data analysis, project management, or UX design courses may give you the necessary skills. However, you can consider other fields like creative writing, public speaking, or foreign languages to deepen your work more unexpectedly.

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

9. Shadow another department.

Shadowing another department can have numerous positive effects. It can encourage communication and cooperation across siloed teams, inspire ways to improve your team, and give you a better understanding of how your organization works. 

You can set goals such as:

  • Asking three people from different departments to lunch

  • Creating a programme in your workplace to encourage cross-team shadowing

10. Find a mentor.

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

Finding a mentor might seem daunting, but many have done it before. Some workplaces have mentoring programs that make it easy for people to connect with a more experienced professional. 

Your professional network will also 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 you can learn from.

Goals that can help you land a mentor include:

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

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

  • Mapping 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 considering what you want from your career now or in the future. Goal-setting is a useful exercise because it can clarify your goals and identify tangible steps to achieve them.

Don’t know what you want to do in five or 10 years? Start smaller, and identify your interests. Consider a public speaking course if you’ve always admired your manager, who speaks eloquently in front of others. If your co-worker’s ability to analyze data sets fascinates you, try learning Python or another programming language.

2. Set SMART goals.

SMART goals are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound goals. 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 clearly indicate whether you’ve achieved them or not. If not, it should be clear how close you came to them. For example, finishing three modules of my online course is more measurable than a goal like Working on my online course.

Achievable: Setting realistic goals is key to achieving them. 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 help you identify what you want your career to look like in the short and long term and what steps you need to take to achieve your goals. Ready to get started? Learn from world-class institutions with over 5,000 courses, certificates, and degrees on Coursera.

Article sources


Coursera. "Global Skills Report, https://pages.coursera-for-business.org/rs/748-MIV-116/images/coursera-global-skills-report-2021.pdf." Accessed April 23, 2024.

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