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Achieve Success in Professional Development by Using Personal Goals

Professional development can be something which the majority of employers endorse and facilitate for their staff. In order to achieve success and accountability, this often includes the setting of relevant goals with line management and involves follow-up training and support.

But what if your long-term career development is something that your current employer’s not even involved in? For instance, if you’re looking to change career, working freelance or want to focus on personal growth … what can you do to successfully support your own professional development?

Why go with goals?

Setting goals to help you to plan your professional development can make it easier to define your options career-wise, even if you’re not exactly sure what you want to do yet. If a career change is looming, it will help you to visualise your next step or at least define certain criteria, such as the need for earning and learning or a timeframe for action.

As with workplace goal setting, creating personal goals to drive your personal growth or professional development helps to make you accountable for your actions, as well as making you consider what’s involved. Writing your goals down helps you define the direction you want to take, whether it’s towards income top-up or career change, goals will help you keep track of the steps ahead and start to identify the path you need to take.

By monitoring the goals as you go, it’s also possible to measure how successful the route you are attempting is.

Getting to grips with goals

So where do you start? Just as a line manager would ask you key questions in formal appraisal or CPD meetings, start by asking yourself relevant questions about your aims (within your professional development context):


Goals define your ambitions for your professional development, so ask yourself what it is you actually want. For example, I want to work in a more people-centred environment or I want to retrain to give myself options for working freelance or for myself.

The answers to most ‘what’ questions can be edited into credible goals, once you are ready to write things down, because once you’re clear about the end result you want to achieve, it’s easier to see the path you need to take.


Knowing why you want to do something can influence your success in achieving it, so defining the backdrop and motivation for your goals is vital to do. However, it’s key that this is defined in positive and professional terms.

For example, why re-train as an event manager? ‘Because I hate my line manager and am bored with my desk job’ isn’t a goal-setting motivational WHY, it’s a whinge!

However, the alternative ‘because I have more to offer than is recognised in my current role and I want to have a [more active, purposeful] role’ is, even if you don’t yet know what that role might be. If you do, just [substitute] it into the sentence and see how much more positive and purposeful it sounds. Other motivations include financial and family commitments, all of which will have considerable influence, so experiment with all of your whys until you come up with something that defines your main priority at this time.


Consider the steps you need to take in moving forward with your goals and make a list of these. It doesn’t matter how realistic or how close you are to being able to make those steps yet, it’s just important to recognise what the steps are: the goals you set will then take these into account in the shorter or longer terms.

Setting up SMART goals

Depending on the sectors you’ve worked in or how recently you left education, you might already know one of the best known acronyms relating to goal-setting, (it’s particularly popular in education and industry): SMART goals, which represents …


Using the SMART method will help to define the goals you’ll set for self-managing your professional development. As an example, we’ll remodel one of those very broad “what” goals, using the SMART method to define the original, very loose aim:

“I want to work in a more people-centred environment”

Specific – identify the preferred remit for this, such as retail, services, care and support. In the case of our example, the individual wants to work in event management.

So the goal becomes: “I want to work in event management”

Measurable – this checks on how success can be measured and would initially focus on the definition of work. For someone thinking of a complete career change, this might mean considering the first step towards actual work, like gaining work experience.

This redefines the goal to: “I want to gain work experience in event management”

Attainable – Making the goal attainable means literally adding on an action which will help you to attain the goal. This action could take many forms, such as freeing up time, pursuing continued education or training, speaking to a professional expert or networking. It’s worth noting that at this stage, a “want” statement should start to take the form of a more purposeful “will”.

So, in those contexts, the example becomes: “I will gain work experience in event management by taking a course in event management”

Relevant or resourced – keeping a goal relevant to the required outcome is important, whilst identifying the resources needed to achieve the goal can also be useful to add.

In our example, defining the course relevant to the circumstances might be useful:

“I will gain work experience in event management by taking a [college /online/short/free/weekend] course in event management”

Timed – the time factor is the clincher which helps not only with accountability but also with action and progress … without this, the goal is open-ended and easy to ignore. The time-factor should be included with a nod to relevance/resource and attainable too – no point in setting a timescale which won’t work because you’ll be out of the country for three weeks.

Remember to also take things which are already on the calendar or other timings, such as start dates for courses, into account:

“I will gain work experience in event management by taking a [college /online/short/free/ weekend] course in event management by the end of 2016.”

By responding to an initial personal, emotional (and understandable) reaction to a negative working situation, like: “I hate my line manager and am bored with my desk job,” defining what you want instead, and then using the SMART technique demonstrates how a very broad ‘want’ statement can be redefined as a goal.

This goal now looks like a plan of action which brings a personal, but very relevant aspect to professional development and increases the chances for success in meeting goals through accountability and clarity and setting the scene overall success in professional development.

Events could be the fresh start you're looking for