Professional development goals vary depending on the field a person works in, but usually fall into three broad areas. Job-specific goals have to do with tasks that are part of an employee's job responsibilities. Skill-set goals are broader than job-specific goals, but are still related to what a person does. Educational goals are about gaining advanced knowledge in a subject.
Job-specific goals are directly applicable to the job a person is currently doing. A goal such as to call five potential new clients in a week might be a job-specific goal for someone in sales. A web designer might have a goal to write a contact info page for website.
Skill-set professional development goals are generally about improving a complex set of skills rather than one particular task. A goal to improve proficiency in a broad area such as project management, which includes skills in time management, planning, and sometimes personnel coordination, would be a skill-set goal. Such goals are often easier to achieve if they are broken down into smaller steps.
An educational goal might be something specific to a job, such as taking a class in a particular software application or business method. It might be working toward a professional certification or other professional credential, or it could even be earning a college degree. Some employers offer in-house or outside training or tuition reimbursement to help their employees pursue these goals.
In some fields, professional development is required and has specific parameters that must be met. Teachers in many districts are required to have professional development plans, for example, and continuing professional development (CPD) or continuing professional education (CPE) is usually required to maintain a professional license in fields such as medicine, nursing, and law.
Even when professional development isn't mandatory, many people set their own goals. Some want to keep up with advancing technology, in general or in their field, while others want to increase their employability and get a better job or a promotion. There are also employees who just want to be better at their jobs, or improve the "soft skills," like team-building and time management, that can help them in any job.
One frequently recommended method of setting professional development goals is the SMART method. SMART is a mnemonic device for remembering five characteristics of a desirable goal. The exact word that corresponds with each letter varies, but a common variant is Specific, Measurable, Achievable (or attainable), Relevant, and Timely. A goal to "get better at networking" does not meet the SMART criteria, because it is vague and has no deadline or a way to tell when it has been achieved. "Go to the conference next Wednesday and talk to three new people" meets all the SMART criteria: it is a specific action that will be completed by a particular time, it is relevant, and all elements of it are within the goal-setter's control.