How To Set Professional Development Goals

  • Remote Working & Freelancing
Samantha Taylor
· 6 min read

You’ve probably heard stories of the elderly running their first marathons or mid-career professionals enrolling in medical or law school, all major feats that require diligent planning and dedication — in other words, setting goals. Even if you’re not itching to take on such a drastic new challenge or embark on a major career shift, you have room to grow, and giving yourself objectives to work toward is a great way to take yourself to new professional heights.  

Personal growth is undeniably rewarding and stimulating but not always easy. Even if you feel like you’re at the top of your game, it’s never too late to set personal development goals. After all, who’s to say what possibilities await? There are no limits when it comes to your development goals for work and personal milestones, too. 

What are professional development goals? 🤔

At the simplest level, professional development goals cover the bases we mentioned above: They help you advance at work, improve your competencies, and reach milestones that are important to you. 

Professional development goals will help you: 

  • Envision a future you desire 
  • Identify potential opportunities and improvements 
  • Improve focus 
  • Measure progress 
  • Increase productivity 
  • Become a better leader or team member

Before we delve into how to create goals, there’s an important distinction to make: Professional goals differ from personal ones, although they often look similar. For example, earning a higher salary and buying your dream home may go hand in hand, but the first is a professional goal that can push you to grow at work, while the second is part of a lifestyle you strive for. 

We mention this distinction because it’s important to avoid evaluating your personal and professional satisfaction as one and the same. Goals in different areas of your life may align, but professional development refers explicitly to your work.

How to set career development goals 🧑‍💻

Anyone who’s ever set a goal knows achieving it is easier said than done. Life happens, plans change and evolve, and obstacles and challenges arise. 

An important part of creating any new goal is understanding that the route to achieving it doesn’t have to be perfect. You can (and should) shift course as needed and be realistic about what you can get done. 

To make solid career goals, try using the SMART model. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Bound. The acronym rings true: Creating plans that check off these boxes is a “smart” way to work. Here’s a bit about each component and why it’s essential: 

  • Specific: It’s important to define what you want before you invest effort and time into achieving it. For example, the desire for a better experience at work is too general. What would you precisely like to improve about your experience? Do you hope to make more money, have better relationships with coworkers, or increase your efficiency? Pinpoint a goal that’s as specific as possible. 
  • Measurable: When you create a goal, ensure you can measure your progress. Seeing yourself get closer to achieving it can help motivate you. And if you find yourself getting off track, well-defined metrics can help you rechart your course. 
  • Attainable: We believe in reaching for the stars, but to get there, you’ll have to fulfill a series of smaller, readily achievable goals. If this seems frustrating, think of your trajectory as a ladder. When you climb a rung, you’ve pulled yourself closer to the next one. Even the tiniest of steps nudges you closer to your dream. 
  • Relevant: Determining the relevance of your goals requires a bit of soul-searching. You may set your sights on a step in your career path, but it just isn’t the right time. Ask yourself whether this is a worthwhile goal for this moment and if it’s one you believe in.
  • Time-bound: We know that putting a time limit on a goal only seems to add pressure, but doing so will help you track your progress. If your goal is to acquire a particular certification within three months, and you haven’t signed up for the course by the second month, you’ll know it’s time to shift your expectations. Time-bound goals also help you remember how powerful you are. If you set a realistic goal that you can accomplish in six months, you'll feel proud, accomplished, and motivated when you pull it off within that time frame. 

Once you’ve set SMART goals for professional development, you’re ready to start the journey to achieve them. Set small milestones along the way, track your progress, and reroute as needed. If you have to shift your direction or timing to reach a goal, that’s completely fine. You still arrive at the same destination in the end. 

Professional development goal examples for freelancers 👀

If you work (or previously worked) in a traditional corporate environment, the path forward might be easy to visualize. You’re aware of the raise or promotion you could earn.

But times are changing, and many professionals are setting out on their own — even part-time — as Independents. As a freelancer, you may have yet to establish a clear path to advancement. We think that’s a good thing; you deserve to blaze your own trail. 

Here are a few examples of professional development goals Independents can strive toward

  • Learning a new skill, such as public speaking
  • Earning a professional certificate 
  • Creating an ideal home office
  • Setting new rates
  • Improving time management and work-life balance

Here are a few goals entrepreneurs could pursue: 

  • Developing leadership skills
  • Expanding your professional network
  • Learning how to give and receive constructive feedback
  • Improving your communication skill set 
  • Boosting your presentation skills 

Strive for professional success 🙌

Setting goals is a healthy practice. It helps you stay open to change and life-long learning.  After all, a satisfying career is a series of challenges that allows you to reveal your strengths, one that goes beyond setting goals. 

Check out the rest of our blog to learn more ways to push yourself to greater heights.

While you improve as a professional, take a moment to share your accomplishments. With Contra, you can host your portfolio (past work experience and services), find new jobs, and get paid commission-free — all in one place. If you’re looking for a free platform to kickstart or grow your freelance career, Contra could be the place for you. 

Samantha Taylor
Social Strategist
Hi, I'm Sam -- community builder 👋 My skills in community management, social media marketing, copywriting and influencer management can be the game-changer for your brand. Let's connect!

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