How to Create Your Own Professional Development Plan

Whether you’re mid-career, just graduating from school, or nearing retirement, you absolutely should have your own professional development plan (PDP).

Many companies require their employees to create a PDP during the performance review process, and while these can be useful for short-term development, they often don’t get you to think about your long-term career goals. Creating a PDP at work can also be constraining as you are often directed to align your goals with the current vision of the company you are working for instead of the values and opportunities that are a priority to you. Your PDP is one of the most important career tools for achieving success, and shouldn’t be left up to anyone but yourself to create, manage and own.

Below are six steps to help you create your own professional development plan.

Create a compelling goal that you are driven to achieve. While it may be difficult to know exactly where you want your career to go, it’s important to pick an exciting end-point to direct your PDP towards. Creating an exciting or big goal doesn’t mean it needs to be concrete, but it gives you the drive and motivation to think big and plan strategically. Work back from your goal and create specific milestones to achieve. Know what success looks like to you and start heading in that direction.

Don’t leave your professional development up to your current boss. Many people mistakenly rely on their current boss to drive the outcomes of their PDP. It’s a oversight to tie your career goals and development to your current manager not only due to the risk of them leaving before your goals are realized but also because they likely do not have the time or resources needed to invest in the next steps you need to take. While you should consult with your current boss on future opportunities and areas for development, don’t rely on them to decide your future for you. Remember that you are responsible for your own career.

Do an audit of your current skill-set to identify gaps in your experience and where your strengths lie. Next, do an environmental scan to determine what skills are trending in your field, or a field you would like to move into. Begin to chart out which skills you are looking to improve upon or learn and the best next steps to do so. You might want to begin by listening to a podcast or signing up for a course, or practice your skills by creating content and material of your own. To successfully move to the next level it’s important to improve yourself beyond your current expertise.

Don’t forget to enhance your relationships and broaden your network. Developing clear connecting or networking goals is vital to create a solid strategy for your career. Dorie Clark, Marketing Strategist at Duke University, recommends drawing out a power map that outlines your current network and identifies areas for improvement. Outside of your network begin to identify influential people – both those who have power and indirect power. Think about the thought leaders and organizations that matter to your field or industry and begin to map out how you can make these connections. Make your connections matter.

Set specific dates and target timelines. When are you going to expand your network and attend a conference? Is the course you want to take offered in the fall, winter or spring? Who are you networking with next week? If you don’t have specific target dates set, you risk losing momentum and accountability to your plan. Your development is an invaluable investment and deserves the time and careful planning needed to maximize the returns.

Keep your PDP up-to-date. A PDP should be looked at as a living document that will change overtime. As you move through your career, your values and priorities may change, or you may gain an interest in a specific specialization. Different factors will influence your goals and changing access to resources and time can also impact your ability to achieve your goals. Make a review of your PDP a yearly routine. 

While creating a useful and thorough PDP takes time and careful planning, it’s important that you don’t leave success and your future salary up to chance. Creating your own PDP ensures that you aren’t wasting time or resources as you develop your skills and take the next step in your career. If you are looking for more direction on what opportunities are available in your field, contact us to learn how our recruiters can help you.

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