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Career development goals: 5 Ways to drive your professional life forward

Career Development Goals

For nearly two decades, Gallup has been tracking employee engagement metrics in the U.S. During that time, data has shown little to no movement. Just 32 percent of employees remain engaged in their work — meaning they are involved, enthusiastic and committed to their work and organization. And while employees are craving advancement opportunities, 40 percent of organizations polled in a survey admit they rarely or never provide career planning or development resources for their employees.

For many people who feel stuck in their careers, there comes a point when they realize they’ll need to take their professional development into their own hands. Halelly Azulay, leadership development strategist and author of Employee Development on a Shoestring, says that everyone is responsible for their own development.

“By being strategic and intentional about self-development, we can be the masters of our own career trajectories and the stewards of our own careers,” she adds.

As you're being proactive about your own professional advancement, consider the following advice from Azulay and a handful of other career development experts. It’s all about setting — and achieving —broad career development goals.

5 Career development goals to help you prioritize your professional growth

According to Katy Curameng, director of career planning and development at University of Massachusetts Global, mapping out your career aspirations can help keep you on track and in charge of your trajectory. “The career goals you set along the way provide purpose and direction,” she says. “They provide a map or path for where you ultimately want to go on that journey.”

When beginning your journey toward career satisfaction, it can be difficult to know where to start. The following five tactics can help you lay a strong foundation for the success you’ve been hoping to achieve.

1. Communicate your needs to your manager

More and more organizations are beginning to prioritize employee development. As you think about approaching your employer, it helps if you can demonstrate the return on investment (ROI) your professional development could bring back to the company.

One thing Ciara Hautau, lead digital marketing strategist at Fueled, has learned while working her way up the ranks is that taking the initiative to speak with your employer to communicate your aspirations can make a difference. It demonstrates your ambition and your willingness to work hard to achieve your goals — so much so that they may be willing to help you get where you want to be. You simply have to start the conversation.

“Ask for direct and consistent feedback so you can continuously work on your performance,” Hautau recommends. “Schedule weekly or monthly reviews with them to ensure you’re meeting your benchmarks.”


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But before you approach your employer, Curameng suggests mapping out a clear plan to demonstrate what it is you’re asking for and how it will benefit your department or the organization as a whole. This extra legwork shows your employer what they’ll get out of it. Curameng mentions that you could cite tactical factors, such as the value of learning a new software program. You could also discuss the benefits of developing soft skills. For example, strengthening your leadership style could improve the overall performance of your team.

“Whatever the opportunity is that you are asking for, make sure you are clear on how developing you connects to the success of the organization,” Curameng says.

2. Find a mentor who can help guide you

One of the most effective ways to advance your career is to consult someone whose career path you admire. “Maybe you have a friend or connection who has your ‘dream career’ — if that’s the case, talk to them,” Hautau encourages. She suggests taking them out to coffee to pick their brain. “They may even give you additional resources or let you shadow them a bit to assist you in your growth,” she adds.

Mentorship can be a powerful tool in just about any organization. Recent survey findings suggest that participating in mentorship relationships can greatly contribute to an employee’s overall career satisfaction. In fact, more than nine in 10 workers who have a mentor report being happy with their jobs. Learning from a seasoned professional whose career you admire can be a great launching pad to determining the path to your own success.

3. Revitalize your networking efforts

No matter your industry, you’ve likely heard people discuss the importance of networking. In fact, a recent LinkedIn survey found that nearly 80 percent of professionals think it’s important for career success. Additionally, 70 percent of surveyed employees were hired at a company where they had a prior relationship. Azulay agrees that connecting with other professionals within and outside of your current organization can have a long-term impact on your career path.

“This practice will allow you to continue to expand your access to information, new ideas, opportunities and support,” she says. “You will bring your network with you to every new role, expanding the circle of available supports, resources and inputs that enhance innovation in your new organization.”

One of most effective places to network with industry professionals, Curameng notes, is at conferences and seminars. Attending those types of events actually provides a few benefits.

“Conferences will typically provide sessions to learn industry updates or best practices, and they are well known for their networking opportunities.”

Azulay also suggests the following networking habits:

  • Like, comment on and/or share business-related social media posts from professionals within your industry.
  • Regularly share relevant podcast episodes, articles or book recommendations with your network.
  • Join industry conversations you see happening across the web.
  • Share the insights you learn at conferences or other events on social media.
  • Introduce your contacts to other professionals within your network.

4. Establish your personal brand online

The concept of building a personal brand isn’t new, but our digital age has escalated the importance of it. Apersonal brand is a summary of how a person presents him or herself to the world. In today’s digital era, that includes just about anything people can find about you on the web.

Think critically about all of the information that’s accessible when people search your name online. When curated effectively, a personal brand should be an evolving, largely digital profile that is composed of the unique combination of skills and experiences that would make you an asset to any organization.

“A powerful brand can help define your transferable skills when moving from one industry to the next, when pursuing a promotion or simply when you want to take on new challenges in your current role,” Curameng explains. “People are more willing to take a chance on you — even with no direct experience — if they have a positive perception of what they can expect from you.”

Building a personal brand gives you an opportunity to not only reflect on your past accomplishments, but also to look toward what you hope to achieve in your career moving forward. It’s so crucial for career development that we created an infographic to help outline some of the steps you can take in establishing your own brand. To learn more, visit our piece, “How building a personal brand online can help advance your career.”

5. Advance your educational qualifications

All of the above tactics are intended to help you better demonstrate your value to current and prospective employers. But according to Ellen Mullarkey, vice president of business development for Messina Staffing Group, one surefire way to communicate this even more concretely is to further your education by going back to school.

“Employers need team members who are bringing new concepts and ideas to the table,” she adds. Mullarkey explains this is why many companies offer educational benefits like tuition assistance. “If your employer has a program like this, be sure to take advantage of it. Every course you take will add value to your resume and increase your potential for growth in the industry.”

If the idea of going back to school intrigues you, there are a number of different compelling master’s degree programs you could take advantage of. But keep in mind that going back to school doesn’t always have to mean investing the time to earn a degree. You could also consider various professional development options, including singular courses, certificate programs, workshops and seminars.

Take charge of your career development

There are clearly a lot of opportunities to grow as a professional. Some of them might not be obvious at first, so Curameng suggests you remain open-minded.

“While it’s important to set career development goals, it is equally important that they are flexible and can adapt as circumstances change and the environment in which you work evolves,” she offers.

As you begin to map your professional path, consult the advice of our career development experts to help pave your way for success. If you’re hoping to climb the ladder within your current organization, check out our article “8 Things you should do before asking for a promotion.” In the market for a more drastic change? Consider the professional insight we’ve shared in our piece “6 Things to consider before making a career transition.”

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