Looking for inside knowledge on the best professional development goals? Working with global corporations in the UK, US and Asia, our consultant trainers have identified the skills that bosses are looking for. Think of us as your very own secret spy agency. Employers are facing new difficulties in the months ahead, they’re looking for people they can rely on. Tapping into what they need, we’ve come up with a list of tips that will help to supercharge your career. 

What are professional development goals for work?

Professional development goals are the achievements – big or small – that will help you get to the next stage in your career. To achieve your objectives, you might choose to start with a personal development plan outlining what you plan to focus on and how you will do so in practice.

Whether your goals stem from your own ambitions, or from suggestions given to you in feedback, it pays to focus on the things you truly want to pursue. That way, you have more chance of achieving them. These can be part of a broader set of near-term personal development goals (including objectives at work as well in your private life). Or they may be steps along the way to long-term career objectives.

Tips on how to set your professional development goals

The most valuable professional goals aren’t set in isolation, they’re a reaction to developments and trends in your industry (or the industry you’re trying to break into).  If you’re looking for new recognition – perhaps a promotion or a new job – it helps to be on the same page as employers. Prioritise the professional development goals that are not only important to you but are valuable to the people you’re aiming to impress.

Examples of professional development goals

Maybe choose from courses that can give you new confidence in communication or leadership skills, or take a look at specific industry-related objectives. The following are a list of tips and skills (in no particular order) that hopefully will give you some inspiration.

1. Challenge yourself

If the heroic Road of Change feels like a day-trip with dragons, maybe start small such as learning a new skill. Think about the skills gap between you and your manager. Which skills might help to put you ahead of your peers, or land the job you want? Put an action plan in place that will help you develop the skill to the level you need. Other challenges might help too. Reading more will improve your vocabulary, knowledge and communication skills. Or perhaps your challenge might simply be to address issues that stop you challenging yourself.

2. Maintain empathy

Skills in empathy will always enable people to outperform artificial intelligence. Empathy is the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes – emotionally – walk in them for a moment and see where things pinch. Without empathy, communication risks breaking down. As work becomes increasingly hybrid, empathy helps to bridge gaps, build connectivity, break down barriers and encourage creative thinking.

3. Get creative

Maybe save the cake-making and Insta gallery for after hours, but definitely bring your creative spirit to work. The uncertainties of the last couple of years aren’t going away any time soon. Bosses and businesses can’t take anything for granted anymore. Global crises, like the pandemic or supply chain issues, demand creative solutions. When faced with challenging markets, companies need inventive people to come up with new ways around a problem. Get creative, get inventive and get noticed.

4. Be understood

Communication skills always start from the same place. Whether you’re leading a presentation, writing a report or meeting a new client, the first thing to think of is your message. This isn’t how you want to come across, it’s what you want to say. If you get this wrong, you risk coming across as someone who doesn’t know what to say. What outcome do you want to achieve? Your answer will shape your message, in turn giving you a better idea about how you want to come across, for example warm and chatty, clear and decisive, thoughtful and considered, etc.

5. Improve your work life balance

This is particularly important in a hybrid environment. When the commute to work takes about 30 seconds, there’s less distance – physically and emotionally – between ‘home self’ and ‘work self’. The two can become merged, particularly in a working culture where you’re ‘always on’. Find realistic boundaries that will protect the balance between your work and home life. A good place to start is by thinking about how you like to recharge your psychological batteries. What do you need to do to make sure that happens? To be productive at work it’s better to work smarter, not harder.

6. Develop critical thinking

Critical thinking is essential when working alone at home. In taking a critic’s view of our own reactions, we can manage the misleading biases and assumptions that lead us to make snap judgements. For example, our immediate reactions might lead us to leave an ill-judged online post. By putting biases, reactions, online gossip and unsourced assumptions into context, we can make reliable decisions and choose better actions. Critical thinking helps you to trust your judgements, which in turn builds confidence when working in isolation.

7. Start networking

Networking needn’t be a teeth-grinding showdown in which you watch your soul dissolve. In fact, the more authentic you are, the more successful you’ll be in building your network. Senior people expect to be tapped for advice and connections. Online resources like LinkedIn are particularly useful in finding people who might be good to know. By maintaining a mutually beneficial working relationship with them, you’ll extend your reputation through exchanging ideas, advice and support.

8. Find a mentor

mentor can be invaluable, regardless of which stage you’re at in your career. On days when your job feels like one long walk in the rain, mentors can offer an overarching umbrella. They see the bigger perspective, covering all aspects of your potential. This overview allows them to see skills and opportunities you possess but that you yourself might have missed. The right mentor is experienced, empathetic and willing. Don’t be afraid to ask. You might find what you need in someone you previously overlooked.

9. Develop tech skills

Rising automation is transforming jobs across the economy, from manufacturing to media. Being tech-ready will help to future-proof your career. It’s the difference between scrolling through TikTok and knowing how to make edits. Some skills will never be replaced by automation (for example, everything else on this list), nevertheless it pays to become familiar with new tech that’s useful to you at work, so that you don’t feel left behind.

10. Think like a leader

The quickest route to recognition by senior people is to think like them. Listen to them carefully. What are their concerns and ambitions? What can you do to soften the first by helping to deliver the second? This isn’t about sucking up to anyone, it’s about talking the same language as the people you want to speak to more often. Regardless of your current position, it’s always important to be thinking about the next stage of your career. Keep in mind a clear objective, and use it to develop a personal development plan.

Tips on tracking your professional goals

What achievements do you want to be proud of this time next year? Begin by deciding what your objectives are, both personal and professional. For more information on achieving specific objectives at work, take a look at our complete guide to professional development skills. Accomplishing your goals won’t be a straightforward process, a few simple rules of thumb might help:

  • Make a note of where you’re at and where you want to be. This will make it easier to map your progress as you chase your goal.
  • Set realistic targets. One completed goal is better than a list of 10 that are perhaps too ambitious and soon overlooked.
  • Track your progress by setting incremental steps. Are you aiming to take action every week, every month?
  • Professional goals can be discussed within feedback at work. This allows a manager or colleagues to help you stay on track by monitoring your progress.

What are your strengths? Which skills do you need to develop? These questions will help you focus your intentions. Hopefully, the suggestions listed above might have inspired a few answers. Ultimately, by working on your weaknesses and developing your strengths, you’ll be able to build the momentum you need to get to where you want to be.

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