I started working professionally in 2014 after graduating with my Master’s degree in Economics.
My starting salary at the time was $48,000.
Since then I’ve over 4x’d my salary through a combination of internal promotions, part-time consulting, and completely changing companies four times.
I don’t have a STEM degree, I didn’t attend a prestigious university.
Setting and achieving the right professional goals has been the difference maker in my career and has allowed me to earn more than I ever thought possible as a broke college student.
Here’s how I approach setting professional goals and the type of goals I recommend setting.
What are professional development goals?
Professional goals, also known as career or work goals, are specific and actionable steps you take to develop your career.
Professional goals help define your ultimate career trajectory.
They provide measurable actions you can take to improve your work performance, get promoted, and make more money.
They can be the difference between stagnating in a job for years and getting that big money promotion with a fancy title.
What no one tells you about professional goals
What no one tells you in school is that the best performers on any team are always thinking about how to get to the next level.
Promotions often come from focused efforts to improve on specific areas of your career.
Step one is to identify what you need to learn. For younger employees, often this means becoming more skilled at your specific job. Be a better employee.
Then it could mean managing one person or a small team. The career goals of a manager are different than the goals of an individual contributor.
Managing people is the hardest job I’ve had so far.
As a high performing employee it’s straightforward to succeed. You improve your own efficiency, skills, knowledge, and output.
The better you perform the more you’re rewarded.
But as a manager you’re no longer measured by only your performance.
Your results as a manager are dictated by how your team performs.
If you have someone under performing then that’s a reflection on you and your abilities.
So to improve as a manager you need different goals than as an individual contributor.
Set both short-term and long-term work goals.
Short-term goals are achievable in the next few months. Long-term goals often extend over 6 or 12 months, or even longer.
One of my long-term goals was to become a Director of Digital Marketing.
To achieve that goal I knew I needed to learn how to become a better manager, have difficult conversations, and help my team achieve their goals.
Here’s exactly how to set professional goals for work.
How to set professional goals for work
My favorite goal setting framework is the S.M.A.R.T. method:
Specific: Clearly defined with no ambiguity
Measurable: Metrics based, e.g. take 5 classes.
Attainable: Literally is your goal possible or not.
Relevant: Goals should be focused on what helps you hit the next step.
Time-based: Restrict your goals to a period of time, e.g. this quarter.
There are other frameworks for setting professional goals, but this is my favorite based on past success. Once you do it a few times it’s easy to remember what each letter means, and over time you’ll find yourself setting them without even thinking about it.
I structure these goals in two sections like Do X by Y time:
- Grow traffic 10% by Q2
- Generate 500 leads in the next month.
- Read 50 books this year.
- Complete 10 hours of manager training before April.
Why do professional goals matter?
Professional goals matter because setting and achieving them will help you make more money.
They’re the straightest path forward to career success.
There’s a business saying by Peter Drucker who helped define modern business strategy: what gets measured gets managed.
Identify what your goal is then break it down into small chunks.
Most people are motivated by money, success, or fame.
But very few people are born incredibly wealthy, successful, or famous.
Unless you lucked out and are the kid of a rock-star, famous actor, or Elon Musk, you’ll have to work for it.
To be successful you need to work extremely hard.
But without a clear direction you can work on the wrong things, which is why setting professional goals matters.
Examples of Professional Goals For 2023 And Beyond
Here’s a list of 11 professional and work goals you can start tackling to make more money in 2023.
1. Build an online audience
This was my #1 goal last year. And if you’re reading this article then I was successful.
You can subscribe here:
Building an online audience is the first step into creating a successful side business.
This can take many forms. Starting a podcast, a newsletter, or a blog are some examples.
And right now the barrier to entry is smaller than ever.
It takes nothing to setup a newsletter.
Signup for Substack, start writing, and promote it on your existing social media accounts.
There are two hurdles you’ll need to overcome:
- Creating the content
- Being consistent
You can’t build an audience without content, and often you need a lot of content to build momentum.
This blog has over 120 posts on it. Building to that number took over three years.
Your first post, podcast, or newsletter won’t be your most successful piece of content.
And honestly it’ll probably be your worst one. You won’t have developed your tone of voice or flow.
You need to do it over and over again.
And that’s where consistency comes in.
Just like it’s easy to start a podcast, it’s even easier to stop doing it.
Consistency is the difference between being successful at something or failing. You have to grind it out.
Here’s how you can get started.
Take a subject you’re knowledgeable about and passionate for and base your content on that.
Don’t worry about what has the biggest potential for money or fame. Start with your passions because that’ll make creating content easier if you already know about it.
Then start creating. Start with these topics:
- What is it?
- Why do you love it?
- What would people who have no idea about this thing need to know?
- Who are the most prominent people or companies in that space?
Just do it. Pick a medium you resonate with and push go.
2. Learn to use AI
AI like ChatGPT is already changing the world.
To be successful now you need to understand AI.
There will be two buckets of people going forward:
- Those that know how to use AI
- Those that don’t
You don’t need to become an expert overnight, but start figuring it out.
Here are some ways I’m using AI:
- Generating blog outlines for my website
- Creating Python scripts for a SaaS app idea I have
- Writing thank you notes
The most powerful tool of our generation is completely free.
You can go to OpenAI’s website right now and use ChatGPT without anything.
Don’t get left behind by the AI revolution.
3. Take one class every three months
Ongoing education has been the #1 key to my professional success.
Nothing I do for a living was ever taught to me in school. I learned it all myself.
Affiliate marketing. Paid search. Business intelligence. Search engine optimization.
Those topics weren’t covered in high school, college, or graduate school for me.
That’s not the case for everyone, though. Lawyers and doctors are required to learn their skills in school and through residencies and internships.
But for most folks, formal education teaches us how to learn. And then we take that knowledge and apply it to the rest of our lives.
You have to learn how to learn. That involves understanding how you best process and retain information.
I learn best by doing. If I can’t get hands-on and do something myself I’ll never fully understand it.
Search for online classes that you can take. There are hundreds of options.
For digital marketing, my favorite is a course on Conversion Copywriting by CXL .
4. Master a new tool
I’m not a developer, but the developers at my company do something really cool.
They host coffee talks, where one or two people give lead a small discussion on a given topic. Usually it’s a specific programming language or tool that our business uses.
It’s a great idea to give people more practice at presenting, and it’s easier to present a topic you’re passionate about.
This lesson from my engineering team applies to other teams too. Become the go-to person for a specific tool at work.
It could be Salesforce, Hubspot, Mailchimp, or even Excel.
Do whatever you can to learn all there is to know about that tool. Take opportunities to showcase your knowledge. Offer to help other people with something.
Write internal documentation on your best practices. Teaching others is one of the most effective ways of learning.
This has the added benefit of improving your reputation at the company. You’ll become more respected as the expert in that specific tool.
Then move onto other tools. Soon you’ll be an expert in lots of things.
Some of my favorite new tools are project management tools.
I use them to help create the content calendar for this blog and to stay organized in my professional career too.
5. Track your time on the computer
How much time do you waste on the computer ever day?
For me it was Reddit and playing video games. I would spend hours in various subreddits.
It was a huge waste of time for me.
It can even block your worst distractions to help you stay focused.
This can help you be more mindful of the time you spend online. When you see that you spent 4 hours on Instagram last night, does that make you feel good?
Was that a valuable use of your time?
The same way that tracking how you spend money can help optimize your budget, tracking how you spend computer time can help optimize your priorities.
6. Do something for 30 days straight
Writing and publishing a blog post every day for a month completely change my life.
I hit the front page of Hacker News.
I started consulting which helped pay for my home renovation.
None of that would’ve been possible had I never started blogging. But blogging once a week or once a month is not enough.
That’s why I recommend doing it every day for 30 days.
Not only does it help build a new habit, but you’ll make way more progress than if you took a slower pace.
The one caveat I’ll add to this is be careful with physical activities. You may be tempted to workout or run every day, but that’s a great way to get hurt.
Listen to your body if it’s telling you something is wrong.
7. Read one book a week
Before the internet, books were the best way to learn something new. They’re still a great resource.
I read 17 books last year and if I tried harder I could’ve easily read double that amount.
Several of my friends frequently reads more than 50 books in a year.
Instead of doom-scrolling through Instagram at night, bust out a book. Or get a Kindle.
Set a goal to read 15 minutes every night before going to sleep.
What helps me is purposely leaving my phone in the living room when I go to bed. That way I’m not tempted to grab it from my nightstand for that instant hit of dopamine.
If I really want to check it, I have to get out of bed and go get it.
That barrier introduces friction, which helps me achieve my reading goal.
Here are my favorite books of 2020 to give you some ideas. It’s split between two for-fun books and two business books.
I don’t really consider business books fun, not in the same sense as fiction books. But that’s just me.
8. Become a better presenter
Presentation tip: record them in advance with a screen recording tool like Loom
I presented to the CEO of my company every two weeks for three years.
That amount of experience forced me to become good at presenting. But it didn’t happen overnight.
It took multiple complete screw ups for me to sit down and figure this out.
Presentation skills are one of the most beneficial areas you can improve on. Everyone has something they can be better at when presenting.
What helped me is the 10-20-30 rule.
- 10 slides
- 20 minutes
- 30 pt font
Anything more than 10 slides is too many. If you can’t convey your ideas in 10 slides or less then your topic is too complicated.
But if you absolutely have to, try adding your data to an appendix. Often data you think is necessary to support your main point isn’t useful. Adding it to an appendix is a way to include it without wasting time.
When I was presenting to my CEO, I’d put my conclusion at the very beginning.
But for years I did the exact opposite. I put the most important information at the very end.
And then the CEO would get hung up on one earlier slide and we’d never get to my final point.
Plus, executives are busy. They prefer to get the answer first and then ask questions later.
9. Increase Your LinkedIn Connections
LinkedIn is my favorite tool for expanding my professional network.
In 2022 I wrote a viral LinkedIn post that had over 1.5 million views.
Finding more LinkedIn connections is really easy if you’re not selling something.
All you need to do is search for people with a similar job title in your city, and send them a note asking to connect.
I’ve done this successfully with other Growth Marketing people in Austin. Here’s an example connection request.
“Hey John, I see that we both do similar roles in Austin. I’d love to connect with you.”
It’s rare I receive a LinkedIn message like that. Most of my requests are people trying to sell me something.
I’ve completely stopped accepting requests from Sales people. All too often they’ll send me an immediate message asking to get on a call.
That’s not how authentic human interactions are meant to be. Connections are built on mutual respect and an exchange of value.
Once you’ve added similar people in your city, expand to nearby cities. For me that would be Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio.
Eventually you’ll build up a network of folks who do similar things. Some of them will likely be posting interesting content on LinkedIn, or interacting with people that are posting good content.
You’ll start seeing people advertising jobs. Maybe you’ll find your next opportunity.
Try spending 15 minutes a week expanding your Linkedin connections with the goal of adding 100 new people this year.
And while you’re at it spend a few minutes optimizing your LinkedIn profile to appear in more search results.
Keeping an updated LinkedIn profile can seriously improve your job prospects. I’ve landed my last two jobs exclusively through LinkedIn.
10. Start tracking your habits
Tracking your habits is a great way to keep yourself accountable to your professional goals.
I track my habits with Notion and put together a free habit tracker Notion template.
But you don’t have to use Notion. In fact, the specific tool doesn’t matter.
Pen and paper is perfectly fine.
The best tool is the one that gets the job done. Some people find it motivating to buy a really nice journal because they love the feel of writing in it.
Just don’t spend hours researching tools. That’s a great way to spin your wheels and not actually get something done.
Here are some of the habits I track:
- Working out
- Reading books
- When I ate fast food
You can track any habit, and your habits can be anything that you feel will improve your quality of life.
For many people that’s exercise and diet. Those are great personal goals to have.
Another effective thing to track is how your time is spent at work.
Take a week and track how you spend your day in 30 minute blocks. Add up all the time you spend in meetings.
Do the same for how much time you spend actually working.
You might be surprised how much of your time is wasted.
11. Deep dive into your competitors
Researching your competitors is a great way to get inspiration.
It’s also an easy path to making wrong decisions.
Just because your competitor is doing something a certain way, doesn’t mean that is the right way to do things.
After working at technology companies for 10 years I’m no longer surprised at how frequently terrible decisions get made. Your competitors are no exception.
But there is value in researching them to try and understand why they do things a certain way.
I work in digital marketing, so I love reading my competitor’s blog posts. I use tools like Ahrefs to see what their top pages are and what keywords they use.
Looking at what topics your competitors posted blogs about in the last 30 days can give you an insight into their strategy.
Once you get inspired about something, translate that into what will work at your specific company.
My competitor research goal is to subscribe and read three competitor blogs. I try and rotate which three every quarter so I get a fresh perspective and don’t over index on one or two specific ones.
12. Join a professional community or Patreon
There’s a small community around every single business niche right now.
Sales. Marketing. Copywriting. Paid Advertising.
Each of those areas have dozens of professional communities.
I’m a marketing person, but here’s some of my favorite professional communities.
- r/PPC (Paid Advertising)
- Demand Curve (Growth Marketing)
- Online Genuises (Digital Marketing)
- Email Geeks (Email Marketing)
- Dave Gerhardt’s DGMG
- John Bonini’s Some Good Copy
For example, John Bonini’s Patreon group is a gold mine of copywriting tactics, ideas, and strategy.
It’s a shortcut to knowledge and expertise.
And it’s by far the best $10 I spend each month.
LinkedIn can be a great place to find communities or Patreon groups. You can also look up influencers in your specific industry, I guarantee you they have some kind of community.
12. Be interviewed on a podcast
One of my goals this year was to get on a podcast.
So I started my own podcast called Template Titans so I could interview the best Notion template creators to learn their secrets.
And I achieved it after Siege Media interviewed me on their SEO podcast.
Podcasts have become great ways for people and companies to build their brands. It feels like everyone has a podcast now.
And they’re always looking for more people to interview.
Here’s how you can get started:
- Looking up small podcasts in your industry. They’ll help you practice and you’ll have the easiest time getting interviewed for small podcasts compared to big ones with well known guests.
- Create a spreadsheet with the podcast name, style, host, and contact info
- Listen to a few episodes or briefly skim them to get a feel for tone and flow.
- Lookup the host’s email address or contact info and pitch them
I like to do a little research to understand what questions does the host asks and what topics do they cover.
Send each one a short email with who you are, why you’d love to come on, and some topics you can talk about.
Keep it short, say you saw X podcast with Y guest, thought it was great, and wanted to make yourself available if they had any openings in the next few months.
As you do more podcast interviews you can send them as part of your pitch.
Eventually you can work your way up to being featured on the top podcasts in your industry, which will be great for your career.
I hope this post on professional goals was helpful for you.
I wasn’t always as goal driven as I am now. No one taught me how to succeed in my career.
I learned all of this myself, often by making a lot of mistakes along the way.
If this was helpful please drop me an email by visiting my contact page.
I’d love to hear from you.