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Top 15 professional goals and ways to achieve them

November 4, 2022 - 20 min read


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What are professional goals?

What makes an effective professional goal?

Why are professional development goals important?

How to set professional goals that you can achieve

Top 15 examples of professional goals

Tips for achieving your career goals

You have a 1:1 meeting with your manager or a performance review coming up and you know your professional goals are going to be on the agenda. But setting then is not as straightforward –– for managers or direct reports.

Alongside being a popular interview question, understanding and setting professional goals may be one of the most important steps you take to build your career. With clear, measurable, achievable goals, prioritizing efforts at work becomes easier and more purposeful.

What are professional goals?

Professional goals are guideposts for what you want to achieve and where you want to go in your career. They can be short-term goals that are more tactical to help you today, this month, or this year. Professional goals can also be more strategic in nature to guide your long-term aspirations or calling to a second career.

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What makes an effective professional goal?

When setting career goals, you want them to be interesting, challenging, but not overly challenging. Along with these parameters, the SMART framework is helpful for establishing goals that you are enthusiastic about, and that ladder up into company goals and objectives.

There are different ways of unpacking SMART and what each letter stands for, but here is the general breakdown:

  • Specific: A specific goal makes it clear to you, your manager, and your team what you’re stirring for. It is also easier to develop a plan to achieve this goal when it is very clear.

  • Measurable: Professional goals should be measurable. This is the simplest way to determine whether you have met your goal and test out different ways of doing so if you’re still striving toward it.

  • Attainable: To keep you motivated and your goals grounded, select metrics that are challenging but attainable. Understand where you and the organization is now, and where you would like to be in the future. By choosing incremental leaps within this bracket, your goals should remain within reach.

  • Relevant: The best work goals are relevant to team and business objectives. These larger goals should serve as the backbone of the work you are doing, so tying your goals to these greater visions and objectives is crucial.

  • Time-bound: Selecting the right timeframe for a goal is essential. You want to give yourself and your teams enough time to achieve the goal without having so much time that it loses its momentum.

Why are professional development goals important?

Before jumping into examples and tips for writing professional goals, let’s explore why having such goals is important.

Here are three common scenarios and questions that many of us will face in our professional career journeys:

  • Planning your next career step. Your boss may ask you, “What do aspire to achieve in this company? Where do you see yourself in five years?”

  • Prepping for a job interview. Your interviewer may ask, “What are your top strengths? Tell me about a time you transformed a key process and your critical success factors in doing so. What makes you right for this job?”

  • Planning career transition or retirement. You may ask yourself, “What do I want to do next? How can I make an impact? How do I want to spend my retirement years?”

According to Kyle LeBlanc, personal brand strategist of Resumoxie, having well-thought-out and clear career goals is the first step in preparing for all these scenarios. With preparation, you can maximize these discussions from a position of confidence in your vision, instead of reactively fielding the questions.

LeBlanc states that, “clear professional goals anchor your value proposition. By integrating goals into the narrative, you evolve from simply explaining accomplishments to framing why that work matters and how you will drive value in the future. This approach lets you take command of the discussion, regardless of the questions asked.”


How to set professional goals you can achieve

There are no right or wrong professional goals, only the right ones for you.  There are some best practices, like the SMART method we mentioned. Additionally, you will have more success by setting work goals that support you in being clear on what you want to achieve and provide a framework for tracking your progress.

  1. Gain insight by looking at past successes. As you consider what you have achieved in the past, and the skill sets that have served you the best, think about how you feel about those achievements. How did they fulfill you? What was important about those goals then? What has changed in your life, in the business or in the market since then? 

  2. Start with your “why." Give yourself space to consider your professional development outside of a vacuum. How does it fit into your larger value system? What are your personal goals? Your goals should represent what is most important to you right now, not “what might have always been important to you”, what you “should” want, or what “others” want for you. Use a simple values exercise to answer the question, “What is most important to me right now?”

  3. Take some time for Inner Work®. Once you are clear on your “why”, take a little time to think about what you want more of, what you want to do less of, and what you genuinely enjoy in your professional life. Explore what you are clear on, what seems a bit fuzzy or not yet well-defined, and allow yourself some space for clarity to emerge versus trying to force it. If clarity does not emerge right way, not to worry. Creating goals is an iterative process so you can keep coming back to it any time you want. 

  4. Write down your goals. Now it is time to create some goals. Your goals should reflect what is important to you right now, taking into account your superpowers and what you love to do. Your superpowers are those things that you do almost effortlessly, that you are known for and that others turn to you when they need your specific skills or expertise. 

  5. You can use the SMART methodology to structure and evaluate your goals. Having clarity of your goals – where you are going, what is most important to you, how you will get there and how you will measure success – is the most important step.  SMART is an easy way to help you create your goals, and assess your progress along the way, ensuring your goals are Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Relevant and Time-bound.

  6. Compare your goals to your “why." I have mentioned that creating goals is an iterative process rather than a point-in-time static task. Once written, check back with yourself to make sure the SMART goals you have created align to your “why,” that they leverage your strengths, and that they represent what you want, where you want to go and what is important to you right now.

two woman discussing personal goals on couch

Top 15 examples of professional goals

To get you started, here are some professional goals that surface frequently with my clients.

(Note that these are not SMART goals yet. You will make them SMART by customizing them for you, adding in specificity, actions, measures of your success, and timeframes).

You’ll notice that they include learning new skills, developing technical or soft skills you already have, and more tactile goals. Try to mix up your goals so that you cover a few different areas of your career development.

1. Communicate with influence and impact

This often functions as both a short-term and long-term goal. As you progress in your career, it becomes increasingly more important to develop strong communication skills to influence and inspire others. It will be a given that you do good work. Now you need to show up as a leader through your spoken and written communication — both in meetings and large presentations or venues.

2. Develop executive presence

Spend some time on this popular professional goal, as it can be hard to define. It means something different to each of us. The culture of the organization can influence what “it” is and who has it.

Whether you are thinking about moving into a leadership role or just enhancing your professional skills overall, this executive presence is helpful to build

Try thinking of a person with an executive presence that you admire and write down what it is about them that you admire. This can be your starting point for some clues to how you want to build an executive presence for yourself, but make sure you craft your goal to be authentically you as well.

3. Effectively manage through conflict

No matter how large or small your team, there are bound to be conflicts. High-functioning teams have good habits of being able to work through conflict. Developing these skills will support you today, in the medium-term, and set you up for leadership in the future.

4. Provide effective feedback to others

We all know good feedback when we receive it. It is timely, specific, includes examples, and paints a clear picture of what went right and what to do differently in the future. For many, giving such feedback may feel daunting, uncomfortable, or unfamiliar — or it might just be overlooked in the face of busy workdays and urgent escalations. Yet doing it right is the gift you give to others. 

5. Effectively navigate uncertainty

In times of great uncertainty, it is natural for humans to seek out something stable to hold on to. Instead of trying to stop or manage change, or searching for someone to provide clarity and guidance, try looking inward. Developing your own resilience and leveraging your strengths leads to your ability to build your confidence to navigate no matter what change, transformation or uncertainty lies ahead.

It can also be helpful to consider what you have control of what you can influence, and what is outside your sphere of influence. Focus your energies on those things that fall into the latter two categories.

6. Adopt better time management skills

If there were ever a common goal among professionals, it is this one. Gaining control of one’s calendar involves some easy steps you can take, like blocking your calendar for think time or assessing if you need to be in every meeting you are invited to.  All of this leads to prioritization, delegation, and ultimately your ability to graciously communicate and collaborate with others as part of this career goal.

7. Develop inclusive leadership and teams

Consider what you want to focus on personally with this goal including how you want to impact your organization. This could involve fostering inclusivity and belonging across your organization through policy and process, developing yourself or your leaders’ skills in building more diverse teams, or influencing the broader organization to make DEI a strategic business priority. 

8. Complete a professional certificate or degree

Continuing your education via in-person or online courses allows you to improve your skills, broaden your perspective, and differentiate yourself. Depending on what you are looking for, this could be both a short-term and a long-term goal.

9. Expand your professional network and explore different departments

Having a wide and strong network of professional colleagues is a great way to support your career growth. Not only will it increase your visibility to opportunities, but it is a fertile ground for mentorship.

To widen your network, you can use LinkedIn to look both within and outside of your organization. Try writing down other departments you are interested in, doing some research to find out what they do, and accessing your current network for an introduction to someone who works in that department.

Additionally, try joining networking events, conferences, workshops, and professional social media channels to meet and learn from others in your industry.

10. Volunteer to learn new technology

It is important to stay on the leading edge of technology and applications. This is an excellent goal if you are looking to dabble in a new career path or dig deeper into your current expertise. Leaning in to learn new things may open opportunities to work with key customers. It could provide a way for you to support your team as new applications roll out, increasing productivity overall and further differentiating your value.

11. Build stronger working relationships

Having a friend at work increases a sense of belonging and overall happiness at work. This could be a goal in itself. If you already have strong relationships with the people you work with regularly, branch out. Strike up a conversation or schedule a virtual coffee chat with someone in another department.

two women working at a computer of their professional goals

12. Develop your peers

Peer coaching and mentorship boost confidence, build trust, and increase technical aptitude for everyone involved. Working to establish a strong coaching culture helps the larger organization to thrive and boosts intellectual capital. Try coaching a peer or others on your team on an aspect of your role or some tricks you’ve learned to streamline your work. If you excel at public speaking, offering guidance for developing presentation skills and deck creation is also helpful.

13. Improve your storytelling abilities

Whether you are attempting to get buy-in for a new initiative or sharing your reporting deck for the quarter, good storytelling skills are essential. Work on the preparation for your presentations, memos, and conversations.

Establish a clear beginning, middle, and end to your story, and focus on keeping your audience engaged. What do they want to know about your proposition? Understanding where they are coming from is a great jumping-off point.

14. Be intentional with self-care

In today’s climate, it is important to take care of your mental, emotional, and physical health. With burnout and stress running high, focusing on self-care is a helpful goal to increase productivity and retention. This could be more of a long-term goal to adjust for life and work fluctuations over months and seasons.

15. Develop your project management skills

Remaining organized is a highly sought-after skill in almost any role. It is always helpful to have people and the team who have technical expertise and the ability to track timelines, prioritize workloads, delegate tasks where appropriate, and manage communications. Leveling up here will help your team flourish overall, within your current role and as you progress.

man smiling past camera in blue suit discussing professional goals

Tips for achieving your career goals

  1. Set aside time to re-evaluate and assess your goals from time to time. Professional goals are not static because life is not static – what is relevant today might not fit tomorrow based on changing circumstances. So, re-looking at your goals on an ongoing basis is essential.

  2. Enlist others to support you in achieving your goals. Think of your family, friends, and professional network as resources who can assist you in achieving your goals. They can be a support system to encourage you along the way, or they may have valuable expertise that can help you attain your goals.

  3. Engage a certified or credentialed coach. Coaches are highly trained to support their clients’ growth and development, and goal setting is at the core of a successful coaching engagement. Coaches are skilled at asking powerful questions to help you be clear on what is important to you and to help bring clarity to your goal setting, whether for long- or short-term goals. Coaches can also help you get ready for career and goal conversations through role-playing and other techniques.

  4. Be intentional about distinguishing your short-term from your long-term career goals. Using your short-term goals as milestones for your long-term goals helps keep the momentum going. Focus on them both as relative to one another, but distinctly different forms of your professional and personal development. This will help you create an action plan that addresses each goal, determine realistic timelines for each, and remain patient and kinder to yourself.

Getting started with effective work goals

Setting effective goals is a key skill for becoming a successful and effective leader. Chances are, you haven't gotten to where you are today without setting and achieving goals, but we can all benefit from an occasional tune-up on our professional goals. True leaders are constant learners and always seek growth and improvement.

BetterUp helps develop the learner and leader in everyone through personalized growth that meets you where you are in your goals and your life.

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Published November 4, 2022

Nikki Moberly, PCC, CBC

Better Up Premier Fellow Coach

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