It’s the start of a new year and you want to set yourself up for success in your career. You’re feeling refreshed, energised and motivated after the holiday break. So how do you maintain this momentum into 2024? By setting clear and achievable professional goals.
In this article, we’ll discuss 11 professional goal examples for the new year. These professional goals are commonly set as building blocks to help people grow their careers step by step.
We’ll outline why these goals are important, how you can tailor them to your ambitions, and how you can take small steps each day to achieve them.
Why set professional goals?
You probably have lots of ambitions for your career. Perhaps you want to become a manager, take on challenging projects, improve your skills in a field or even run a business. Ambition is what drives your career forward, but without clear and measurable goals to keep you accountable, lots of these dreams will stay as dreams.
Think of professional goals as a way to harness that ambition and turn it into a roadmap that guides you to your ultimate destination. Without professional goals, it’s hard to know where you’re going or how you’ll get there.
Professional goals keep you accountable
Turning your ambitions into a reality isn’t as simple as dreaming it and then doing it. The process requires focus, strategic planning and constant self-reflection. By making your goals clear and breaking them down into granular, achievable steps, you can measure your progress week by week and see if you’re falling behind. Setting regular short-term goals and tracking your success against them keeps you accountable to meet those long-term ambitions.
Professional goals keep you focused
It’s hard to narrow a big dream down into small achievable milestones. But it’s necessary if you want to succeed in your career. Professional goals help break those big ideas into week-by-week tasks that make any dream feel achievable.
Writing down professional goals makes you more successful
What’s the best way to achieve your goals? Write them down. In a Michigan University Study, 76% of participants who wrote down their goals went on to successfully achieve them. That’s 33% higher than those who didn’t write their goals down: only 43% of this group managed to achieve their goals.
Swag Tip: You can write down and track goals in the Swag app. Simply head to the ‘Work’ tab, and click on ‘OKRs’ —this stands for Objectives and Key Results. Here you can record any goals (big or small) that you want to achieve, and your manager can even add to these goals and track your progress towards them. If you’re currently looking for work, you can still set professional goals and track your progress independently.
11 professional goal examples
1. Improve communication and collaboration skills:
What do all leaders have in common? They’re great communicators. If you want to grow your idea, you should be able to convey your ideas and perspectives clearly. Communication is key to effective collaboration, and the better you work with others, the easier you’ll be able to achieve your career goals. Remember: it’s not just you, but the people you meet along the way that will lead you on the path to success.
2. Develop Emotional Intelligence:
In the past, recruiters put a lot of emphasis on ‘hard’ skills like experience, education and technical ability. But those skills are only a portion of what you need to succeed at work. ‘Soft’ or ‘Essential’ skills like flexibility, empathy and collaboration are just as important to develop. Emotional intelligence is an example of an essential skill that will help you succeed in almost any professional setting.
So what does emotional intelligence look like? People that are highly emotionally intelligent can recognise and mediate conflict, pre-empt challenges and foster teamwork. These are all skills an effective leader needs.
Even if you’re not in a leadership role, having emotional intelligence will help you collaborate better with your team, become a better coworker, and make clear, decisive decisions at work. And when you work well with others, managers notice.
3. Master a New Technology
Take one look at the rise of AI in the last year, and you’ll know that new technologies are always disrupting the status quo. The most successful people embrace change rather than resisting it.
By learning a new technology relevant to your field, you make yourself attractive in the job market and ensure your skillset is always competitive and in-demand. Set achievable goals for yourself when learning new tech: experiment a few times a week with new tools, or incorporate a piece of tech into your regular workflow.
4. Develop Public Speaking Skills
Whether you love it or hate it, public speaking is necessary for most senior-level positions. But that doesn’t mean you have to give a TED talk or present to a conference of thousands. Start small and get used to leading meetings or representing your team during company-wide events.
Being a comfortable public speaker is useful for pitching ideas, leading meetings, and networking. Being an effective public speaker also significantly boosts your professional visibility and credibility.
5. Expand Professional Network
The old saying is still true: it’s not about what you know, but who you know. This year, your goals should be to build professional connections with people in fields and companies you want to work in.
Don’t be afraid to reach out on LinkedIn or at networking events and make the first move. Here’s a handy script you can follow:
The benefit of doing these personal intros? 80% of jobs are filled by a person the hiring manager already knows (it’s called the hidden jobs market —more on that here). So when it’s time to hire, you’ll be the first to know.
You can grow your network by attending industry events, joining professional groups, and actively engaging on professional social media platforms. Networking opens doors to new opportunities, collaborations, and knowledge exchange.
Swag Tip: Don’t have the time to network or attend industry events? Swag SmartMatch gives you a personal introduction to employers hiring in your industry. You get your profile infront of the right people, and you’re matched with great opportunities before they’re even posted online.
6. Achieve Work-Life Balance
Something that often gets de-prioritised in career goal setting is your personal life. While it’s great to map out how you’re going work hard and win, you also need to make space for your personal life. Burnout won’t get you anywhere.
Aim for a healthy balance between work commitments and personal life. This balance is crucial for long-term career sustainability, mental health, and overall life satisfaction. A goal could be “Log off at a reasonable hour each day to eat dinner with my partner” or “Prioritise catching up with friends and family and doing things I enjoy on the weekends”
Want to make your time at work more productive (so you have more time for play?) Read our deep dive: 5 methods for better productivity.
7. Pursue a Leadership Role:
Setting this goal could be the push you need to level-up your career. Try to target an achievable leadership position and put yourself forward for the challenge. If a promotion isn’t on the cards this year, try to take on more leadership responsibilities in your current role.
Getting solid leadership experience under your belt is crucial for career progression. It also gives you the chance to make a significant mark on your organisation, which looks great on a resume.
8. Improve your storytelling abilities
You could be the best in your field, but if you don’t know how to sell yourself or tell a good story, you won’t get buy-in from your peers or those higher up.
Being able to tell a good story will take you a long way. Great storytellers can bring people along on the journey and get them excited about anything: whether it’s a sales pitch, team presentation, or interview response. Storytelling engages your audience and convinces them to support your ideas.
While storytelling is a skill that comes naturally to some, it’s a bit harder to teach. The secret to great storytelling is connection: you need to connect with your audience and find some shared experience that resonates with them and makes them feel heard and seen.
The best way to improve your storytelling is through observation and practice. Watch TED talks by people you admire: see how they use anecdotes, speech and non-verbal communication like hand gestures and posture to captivate the audience.
Improving your storytelling is a goal you can work on each day by being more deliberate with your communication. You could intentionally prepare presentations and emails to be more engaging or practice being more present in your conversations with coworkers.
9. Develop your project management skills
Being able to see a project through from start to finish is an invaluable skillset for any worker, regardless of industry or seniority.
Staying on deadline, prioritising workloads, and properly communicating workflows are sought-after skills because they help you and your team stay on track. Consider doing project management courses to hone your project management skills. The best bit? These courses are often tax-deductible, and your employer may even offer to pay for you to complete them.
Even if you’re a skilled project manager, there’s always new work productivity tools to improve your workflows and deepen your technical expertise.
10. Prioritise Continuous Learning:
You may have heard that CEOs read 4-5 books a month, or a book a week. While the validity of that statistic is questionable (who really has time to finish a book a week when you’re running a company) the truth is the same: constant learning makes you more successful.
You can commit to ongoing learning through formal education, online courses, or self-study. Continuous learning keeps your skills sharp, ensures you stay relevant in your field, and fuels personal and professional growth.
11. Become a Mentee or Mentor:
Mentors allow you to learn from those that have come before you. These people have already walked the path you’re on and overcome the same challenges you’re facing. Mentors can unlock motivation and help you overcome challenges that you’d struggle to push through alone.
On the flip side, mentoring someone starting out in their career can be just as rewarding and enriching. Being able to communicate your secrets to success and troubleshoot problems with a mentee puts your own career goals in sharper focus. It’s also a great way to practise being an empathetic leader. Engaging in mentorship, either as a mentee or mentor, accelerates professional growth, learning, and leadership development.
How to set professional development goals
So you’ve just seen 11 examples of professional goals that you can implement in the new year. Where to now?
It’s time to set professional development goals and stick to them. Grab a piece of pen and paper —or fire up a word document —and start writing things down.
Reflect on your past year
Think back to your last year: where did you win? What things could you have done better? Sometimes, you need to look back to move forward. Identify the key lessons you learned and think about how you can apply them in the new year. Did you nail a project? Struggle with time management? These reflections are critical if you want to repeat your wins and avoid past pitfalls.
Be specific with what you want to achieve
When it comes to setting goals, vague is your enemy. Want to get better at your job? Great! But what does that actually look like in practice? Instead of saying something like, “I want to be a better communicator,” try “I want to become confident at presenting in meetings by the end of Q2.” See the difference? It’s about turning a broad wish into a clear target. Specific goals are like a GPS —they show you where you’re going and how to get there.
Have a timeframe
Without a clear deadline, goals can end up in the ‘someday’ pile. As humans, we’re naturally wired to seek instant gratification before tackling the hard tasks —it can be easy to put things off until tomorrow.
By attaching a timeframe to your goals, you set a timer in action. This creates a sense of urgency and keeps you accountable. Whether it’s three months or a year, mark your calendar. Time-sensitive goals keep you on track and moving forward.
Establish short-term and long-term goals
Make sure you set both short-term and long-term goals. Both are important to reach your professional goals. Think of short-term goals like stepping stones which lead to your big-picture dreams. Want to be a C-suite leader in five years? Start by aiming to lead a small project this year.
Think of your career as a marathon, not a sprint: setting up small wins keeps your momentum going and ensures you’re steadily moving towards that finish line.
Understand SMART goals
SMART goals provide a great framework for effective goal setting. They should be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound (SMART). This framework turns lofty ambitions into a clear-cut plan of action. SMART goals are personal checkpoints in your journey, ensuring that every step you take is purposeful and leading to your success.
For a deep dive into setting SMART goals, read our how-to guide here.
Reach your full potential with Swag
Feeling inspired by these professional goal examples? The Swag app has a bunch of goal setting and career progression tools to help you level-up your professional life.
You can set OKRs (objectives and key results) in the Work section of the Swag app. This lets you track your progress towards your goals and keeps you accountable day by day.
When it’s time to move on up, you can use the ‘Career’ tab of the Swag app to search for roles that suit you. You can filter by role type, like flexible, casual, remote, hybrid or full-time. Or, if you don’t feel like searching at all, you can select ‘SmartMatch’ and get automatically AI-matched to suitable roles based on your candidate profile, skills and interests.
Interested in getting a head start on your career and learning more? Create a Swag Candidate Profile today.
Like this? You'll love these
Let's talk frequently asked interview questions, plus tips on how to craft a winning response for every scenario.
Use these lessons learned from experienced professionals to kickstart your career.
Here are 10 real-world tips to make your job application stand out to recruiters and hiring managers.