How to Create Professional Development Goals for Yourself This Year: A Step-by-Step Guide

If you’re like most people, you probably set New Year’s resolutions every year. But how many of those resolutions actually involve your professional life?

At the end of the day, you are in charge of your own career. That’s why you need to take professional development into your own hands.

Once you’re ready, it’s time for you to set the goals you want to achieve. You will then use this goal as the foundation of your professional development plan.

Define What Professional Development Means to You 

Before you can set any professional development goals, you need to define what professional development means to you. What are some skills that would make your life easier?

Think both short- and long-term.

Some people know exactly what they want. They want to work in the advertising industry and work with big brands like Coca-cola’s and Red Bull’s. If that’s you, then your professional development goal would be to land a job in the advertising industry.

Others might not have such a specific goal in mind, but they know what skills they need to learn. Maybe you want to start your own business, but don’t know how to create and market a website. In this case, learning about website creation and online marketing would be your professional development goal.

Whatever your definition of professional development is, make sure it’s something you’re excited about and you know will be useful.

Don’t Know Where to Start? Look at Your Recent Performance Review

If you’re unsure about what professional development goals to set, look at your recent performance review (if you have one). Companies often have annual reviews so you can take a look at what your manager wrote about you.

If the goals or things to improve on aren’t explicitly indicated, take a look at the content and examples used. Extrapolate the skill(s) that she wants you to do better at. For example, if the review says something about you not sounding confident during presentations, then that’s definitely about communication or public speaking.

But when you’re still in doubt, ask your manager to elaborate.

Be SMART About It

The most basic goal-setting reminder that’s always used is to make it SMART—specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-bound.

You already know this, but it bears repeating.

Without a clear goal, you won’t know what to do or how to measure your success.

So if you want to get better at public speaking, make it specific by saying “I will be able to deliver an effective presentation in front of 100 people.” That’s more specific than just wanting to improve on public speaking. It also makes it measurable.

When you’ve set your goals, make sure they’re realistic and attainable. If you want to learn a new skill in six months, but have never even tried doing anything related to that before, then don’t expect it can be done in six months. Adjust your timeline accordingly so that the goal is still challenging but realistic.

Finally, set a timeline for your goal. This is what makes it time-bound and will give you enough motivation to do the work required to achieve that goal.

Break Down Larger Goals Into Smaller Ones

One of the basics in project management, breaking bigger goals/tasks into smaller ones is key to getting things done. Then, when you incorporate this with SMART, you get to set specific milestones that you can achieve which, together, will help you achieve your end goal.

Breaking down a professional development goal into smaller milestones makes it less daunting and more manageable. So if learning how to code is your goal, you can set the following milestones:

  • Researching different coding
  • Trying out one or two coding languages
  • Learning the basics of at least two coding languages
  • Becoming proficient in one coding language
  • Becoming an expert in one coding language

The great thing about this is that you get to choose the order of these milestones, so if you’re feeling confident and want to try out a new coding language right away, go for it!

Again, each of those can still be broken down into smaller milestones. For example, in “trying out one or two coding languages,” you can enroll in an online course that has 4 modules. You can set timelines for yourself to complete 1 module per week so that in a month’s time, you would have already completed that bigger milestone.

Check out this article on tips on creating your professional development plan.

And if you’re still having trouble creating a professional development goal for yourself, take a look at these examples.

Incorporate Your Goal Into Your Plan

After listing down your professional development goals, it’s time to put them into your plan.

Continue breaking down your goals into specific tasks that you need to do or finish by a certain date. Again, you do not need any fancy software or tools for this. A regular notebook or bullet journal will do just fine. If you’re more more advanced, you can put that in Asana or Trello or OmniFocus.

The key is to make your goals actionable. Learning a new skill like coding or presentation isn’t actionable. Finishing the modules and submitting assignments are individual tasks you can give you progress. That’s what you should have in your plan.

At the end of the day, professional development is about self-improvement so that you can become a better professional. If you are not progressing towards your goals, i.e. getting closer each day, then you’re not doing it right. You’re setting yourself up for failure. Follow the recommendations above and you will be well on your way to becoming a better employee and professional.

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