What are professional development goals
Professional goals, aka career 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.
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.
It helps to set both short-term and long-term professional 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 is to become a Director of Digital Marketing.
To do that i know I need to learn how to become a better manager, have difficult conversations, and help my team achieve their goals.
How to set professional goals
My favorite goal setting framework is called S.M.A.R.T.
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.
It’s second nature for me to set goals that are: Do X thing by Y time
Grow traffic 10% by Q2
Generate 500 leads in the next month.
Read 50 books this year.
Why do professional goals matter
Professional goals will help you make more money. They’re the straightest path forward to career success.
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 rockstar, famous actor, or Elon Musk, you’ll have to work for it.
In fact, you’ll have to work you ass off.
But without a clear direction you can work on the wrong things, which is why professional goals matter.
10 Easy Professional Goals For 2021
1. Take one class every three months
Ongoing education has been the 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.
Want to learn programming? Check out ZeroToMastery.
2. 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.
3. Track your time on the computer
How much time do you waste on the computer ever day?
For me it was Reddit. I would spend hours in various sub-reddits. It was a huge waste of time for me.
An app like RescueTime can help you better understand and visualize your computer time.
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.
4. 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.
5. 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.
6. Become a better presenter
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.
7. Increase Your LinkedIn Connections
LinkedIn is my favorite tool for expanding my professional network.
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.
8. Start tracking your habits
Tracking your habits is a great way to keep yourself accountable to your professional goals.
I use Notion to track my habits and put together a free habit tracker 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.
9 .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.
10. 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 communties.
- 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.