Make sure that your career is always moving forward
Have you ever felt as though your career lacks any real roadmap to success? Do your long-term objectives seem as though they're as distant and out of reach as they were when you took your first step on the path to success? If so, then there's a good chance that your progress is being stalled by a simple failure to set concrete professional goals. Without those goals, you may not have the direction you need to keep your career headed in the right direction.
In this post, we'll explore professional goals and explain why they are so important for any successful career. We'll also examine some of the best ways to set goals at work, consider fifteen examples of these types of goals, and offer some tips to help you to achieve them.
What are professional goals?
Professional goals are objectives that you set to further your career. They include all the short-term goals that you establish for yourself – things like learning how to operate new computer software or completing a certification course, as well as long-term goals like getting a promotion or earning that corner office on the top floor.
Some of the goals you set throughout your career can be considered strategic, as they establish more long-term objectives that you can use to guide your career growth. Others are more tactical in nature, providing short-term, achievable objectives that you can use to ensure that you're making progress toward those longer-term goals. Together, these short and long-term professional objectives can provide the roadmap you need to get to your ideal career destination.
Why is it important to have professional goals at work?
As Tarzan author Edgar Rice Burroughs once wrote, “We are, all of us, creatures of habit, and when the seeming necessity for schooling ourselves in new ways ceases to exist, we fall naturally and easily into the manner and customs which long usage has implanted ineradicably within us.” You've probably heard some variation of that observation at one point or another in your life, right?
The fact is that human beings do tend to fall into patterns of behavior that become habits over time. While routines and habitual behaviors can help to ensure that most people are at least somewhat predictable and reliable, it can be a huge barrier to career growth. After all, a person who never tries to break out of their comfort zone is going to have a difficult time enjoying any real career progression.
On the other hand, someone who continually sets and strives to reach personal and professional goals is more likely to see continual advancement in their lives. That's because goal setting can have a powerful motivating effect that helps to inspire more effort to achieve your objectives. Of course, that only works if you know how to set the right type of goals and follow through on strategies to make them a reality.
What is the best way to set goals for your professional development?
Before you can achieve any goal, you need to make sure that you've set the right kind of objectives for yourself. One of the most popular strategies for goal-setting focuses on creating what are called SMART goals. Smart is an acronym that stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. Let's look at each of these important goal requirements:
Specific. To be effective, your goals need to be specific. What do you plan to accomplish? By making clear goals with easy-to-understand parameters, it will be easier for you to identify the steps you need to take to attain your objective.
Measurable. How will you measure your progress toward the goal? What metrics will you use to determine when that objective has been met? It is important to be able to track progress, to ensure that you remain focused on the effort required to achieve your goal and motivated to reach it.
Achievable. Is it possible for you to accomplish this objective? If not, are there other goals that you need to set first to ensure that you have the abilities you need to pursue this goal? Every goal you set needs to be within the realm of possibility. Consider all the factors that might deter you from achieving the results you want, including available time, monetary costs, and any lack of skills. Make sure that the goals you set are things that you have the power to achieve.
Relevant. Will the goal have a positive impact on your career, your job role, your team, or the company at which you work? To remain committed to achieving any goal, you need to understand why the objective matters to you. If you're doing something that only benefits others, you'll be less likely to remain motivated and on-task.
Time-bound. Do you have a set deadline for accomplishing your objective? Without a firm deadline expectation, chances are that your professional goals will eventually take a backseat to all those daily routine tasks that consistently demand your attention. Having that set deadline can help to motivate you to commit time each day to pursuing your goals.
But how do you use these principles to create SMART goals? The following steps can help you to begin to define the best professional goals for your career growth:
Think about what's important to you. Where do you want your career to be five or ten years from now?
Imagine your dream job. What type of work does it involve? What would you do each day? Which of your skills will you rely on to fulfill that role?
Start writing down professional goals that can get you to where you want to be. Start with the larger, long-term goals. Then work backwards to create all the short-term objectives that will help you to develop the skills and gain the experience you need to reach those big goals.
Apply the 5 SMART principles we covered earlier to ensure that your goals are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound.
15 examples of professional goals to set at work
If you've read to this point and are still wondering what types of goals you might set for yourself, we have you covered. Below, we look at fifteen examples of professional goals that you can set for yourself to spur further career advancement. Note that these goals are all designed to be of the short-term variety and used as milestones you can mark in pursuit of even larger goals like getting a promotion, breaking into a management role, or earning a bigger salary.
1. Create and solidify your own personal brand
When people in your industry think about you, what comes to mind? Do they perceive you as just another cog in the machine, or is there something about you that really stands out as your professional identity? Everyone has a personal brand at work, even if they haven't consciously created or cultivated it. Why? It's simple: we all make judgments and assessments about the people we work with. The good - and bad - news is that the brand you carry with you can have a powerful impact on your career advancement.
Once you understand that, you should be able to see why it's so important to take control over your personal brand. To do that, you need to actively identify your own personal unique value proposition, understand how your efforts contribute to the organization, and focus on building your brand around those positive attributes and achievements. Connect with other colleagues, find projects and initiatives at the company that align with your brand, and establish yourself as someone whose work really matters.
2. Develop your time management skills
Anyone who's serious about career advancement understands that the most precious resource they have is time. There are only so many hours in each day, so properly managing that time is necessary if you want to achieve anything of consequence. It's even more important when you're pursuing professional goals, since you'll need to find a balance between your work duties and personal life that provides you with the time you need to work on those objectives.
When you build time management skills, you learn to better manage your schedule, prioritize duties and obligations, and more effectively delegate tasks. Over time, these skills will help you to form new habits that enable you to enjoy a smoother workflow, avoid unnecessary distractions, and become even more productive.
3. Broaden your professional network
Another great professional goal that you can set for yourself involves your network. As you progress in your career, chances are that your professional network will become an even greater resource for critical information, insights, and advancement leads. Set a goal to acquire a set number of new and meaningful network connections each month. Use LinkedIn to find colleagues in your industry, attend conferences, and participate in networking events to expand your network of connections.
4. Forge strong work relationships
You may also want to set a goal of building better relationships with colleagues at work. There are several advantages to forging those stronger bonds, including the fact that most people who maintain friendships at work tend to enjoy their jobs and find greater happiness in the workplace. These strong relationships can also benefit you when it comes to promotions and project assignments. If you work for a large company, try to focus on expanding your outreach to other departments too.
5. Obtain a leadership role
This can be either a short-term focus on obtaining more leadership responsibility, or a longer-term plan to get promoted to a leadership or managerial role. The former can be a great short-term goal to help you establish credibility as a leader. The latter is obviously a bigger objective that takes you even closer to your broader career goals. Both may require you to set and achieve other short-term goals that expand your skill set and expertise.
6. Become an expert in your field
Speaking of expertise, you may also want to set a goal to become an expert in your job or field. When you set this goal, try to determine the factors that make others an expert in your role and industry. What credentials do they possess? What are their professional experiences? Then create a plan that helps you to obtain those same expert qualifications. And if you need motivation, just remember that added expertise can translate into better job opportunities, higher salaries, and respect from your peers.
7. Expand your skill set
With technology changing at breakneck speed, it's important to maintain pace with new innovations and emerging technology. Ask yourself which technical skills you may be required to use later in your career – and then develop a strategy to obtain those skills.
8. Become a mentor or a go-to resource for others
If you're already thinking about career advancement and professional goals, then it's likely that you're good at what you do. One way to expand your reach within your company is to make a commitment to helping others succeed in their roles. You can do this by taking on a mentor role, helping less experienced colleagues to improve their performance – or by just offering coaching to team members who could benefit from your experience.
9. Improve your ability to give feedback
This goal can be vitally important if you have an eye on a future leadership role. Commit to learning how to give better feedback to others, especially positive reinforcement. Leaders need to know how to motivate their teams and there are few things more inspiring for the average employee than this type of positive affirmation. Check out our article, How to Use the Power of Positive Feedback to Enhance Employee Engagement for more great tips.
10. Strengthen your communication skills
No matter what your career aspirations might be, your path to success can always be improved by enhancing your communication abilities. Set goals to 1) identify your communication style; 2) learn more about the right way to use the communication process; and 3) master the art of communicating effectively using every available workplace channel. By doing so, you can ensure that your communication skills will be strong enough to help you to achieve any career objective.
11. Become a more active listener
Do you ever find your mind wandering when others are speaking to you? Or maybe you feel as though you're not fully understanding what some people are telling you? If so, then you might want to commit yourself to developing those underused active listening skills. By improving your active listening skills, you'll gain new insight into how others communicate and become more adept at identifying their real needs and wants. Achieving this goal can open the door to a whole host of opportunities throughout your career.
12. Continue your education
As professional goals go, few offer more bang for your buck than efforts to enhance your educational credentials. Whether you want to obtain another degree, get some additional training, or complete a new skill certification, continuing your education can be a great way to advance your career potential. Thanks to the rise of the internet, you can even choose to take online courses to pursue this goal.
13. Develop your resilience
If you're not familiar with resilience theory, now's the time to brush up on the subject. Resilience is all about your ability to rebound from tough events or circumstances. When challenges arise and knock you down, are you one of those people who bounces back quickly or do you find yourself slow to adapt and overcome? By creating a goal to focus on developing a more resilient mindset, you can set yourself up for even greater success in the future.
14. Learn to manage conflict
Conflicts in the workplace are no laughing matter. Even minor disagreements can threaten team cohesiveness and stifle productivity. When problems like this occur, do you have the conflict resolution skills needed to resolve issues and get everyone back on track? If you set a goal to learn more about effective conflict management strategies, you can develop those skills and prepare yourself for future roles in management or leadership.
15. Adopt strong self-care habits
You might not think that taking care of yourself qualifies as a professional goal, but take it from us: it does! If your mental, emotional, and physical health are out of balance, it will eventually impact your work performance - and that, in turn, could directly affect your career advancement. Invest in yourself by setting a goal that motivates you to improve your self-care habits by focusing on healthy eating, exercise, and other stress relief strategies that can keep you mentally sharp, physically active, and emotionally stable at work.
Essential tips to help you achieve your goals at work
If you do choose to set any of the goals we've detailed throughout this post, then it's also important to know how to achieve them. Fortunately, we've collected some of the best tips on how to reach your goals in the most effective manner possible.
Pursue goals with a narrow focus
Try to remember that time is precious. As a result, it's vital to ensure that each of your professional goals is narrowly tailored to advance your career interests. Sure, you might want to learn a new language, but you might want to put that goal off for another day if it's not something you'll use in your job.
Track your progress regularly
The SMART goal approach includes “M” for a reason. If your goal is measurable, then you need to measure it by tracking the progress you're making. That can help you to identify potential obstacles that may require a modification to your goal strategy. Do a self-analysis at regular intervals, so that you always know how you're progressing.
Big goals are wonderful, but not always practical. You may want to be promoted to the C-suite, but that's not the type of goal we're talking about here. Practical goals are those that you can achieve in a reasonable period and that don't require you to rely on someone else's actions. A major promotion or raise is not always in your control, so try to focus on smaller goals that can help to make you a more attractive candidate for those bigger achievements.
Make sure that goals complement your ambitions
At some point in the future, you're going to wonder whether your goals helped you to pursue your career dreams. Try to think ahead as you establish short-term or long-term goals, and make sure that the objectives you set are ones that you'll appreciate ten or twenty years in the future.
Use short-term objectives to progress toward long-term goals
Whenever possible, try to create tiers of goals that include short-term objectives that contribute to long-term goals. This can help you to maintain a feeling of continual progress, as you complete those short-term efforts and see your long-term goals coming into sharper focus.
Stick to your deadlines
There's an adage that suggests that tasks without deadlines are tasks that remain undone. While it is not a universal truth, it is true enough that most recognize the concept. The fact is that most people don't prioritize tasks that are unattached to any hard deadline. Instead, they leave those tasks for last, and focus on more urgent duties. If you fail to set a deadline for your goals, it's likely that other obligations will crowd out your available time and you'll never get around to working on those objectives.
Use professional goals to drive your career growth
Professional goals are vital for maintaining purpose and motivation throughout your career. By learning how to set the right kinds of goals and creating viable strategies for achieving them, you can better ensure that your career development progresses at your desired pace. So, set those goals, implement those plans, and watch your career success come faster than you ever thought possible.
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