Writing a professional development plan (PDP) takes time. It starts with asking two questions: Where are you now? And where do you want to be?
A PDP can keep you on track to greater success as you achieve both short-term and long-term goals you’ve set for yourself.
What is a professional development plan?
Think of a professional development plan like a roadmap: It’s meant to guide you from where you are now in your career or education to where you want to be, a list of actions to take in order to acquire skills you determine to be important to your future.
“Developing a professional development plan is key to setting yourself up for success,” career coach Melanie Denny tells us. “It can be as detailed and long as you’d like or short and concise. Regardless, its purpose is for you to gain career clarity, identify your career goals, and devise a strategy to reach those goals.”
A personal PDP is different from the one your employer gives you during the annual performance review process. This is because the employer’s ultimate goal is for the company to be more successful, while your personal professional development goals are about you and may even include a plan to switch careers completely.
Step one: assess where you are, identify where you want to be
The first step to creating a professional development plan is to assess your current situation. Are you where you need to be in order to achieve your goals? If you’re at school getting the education required for your planned career, then the answer is yes, you are where you need to be. But if you’re not in school or you are but you’re just skating by and getting low grades, then your current situation can be improved.
If you’ve already started your career, look at what you’ve accomplished over the past few years in terms of professional development. If you have started, what has your career progression looked like? Does it reflect the skills you’ve acquired? If you haven’t started, now’s the time.
The next stage of this part of PDP creation is to identify your career goals. By defining success and what motivates you, you’ll be able to get a clear idea as to what you want in the long term. If your current job will not lead you to this long-term outcome, a short-term goal may be to find one that will.
To give your plan shape, prioritize your goals and set deadlines, as this sample PPD demonstrates. So, a college graduate who has a short-term goal of landing their first professional job can give themselves a certain amount of after graduation to do that, while a mid-career manager with a promotion as their short-term goal can likewise set an approximate deadline.
“It’s important to set mini-objectives or milestones and put a definite date on each target. Keep yourself accountable and revisit it often (every quarter) to make sure you’re on the right track, or even adjust as your priorities shift,” Denny explains.
Any plan needs to allow for change, reassessment and set-backs, so if the short-term goal isn’t met by the deadline, take time to reflect on why and take action if required.
Read more: How to Grow When You Have Nowhere to Go
How to develop new skills and get credentials that take you from point A to point B
From on-the-job training and participating in job-related workshops and skill-based training, there are usually many opportunities you can take advantage of through your workplace to increase your skills. You can also seek out projects and increased responsibilities at work. And you can always look outside of your company to further your education by taking classes.
Some employers even make learning and training a priority. Check out our list of the top companies for learning opportunities and training.
And when it comes to acquiring new skills—don’t discriminate. Sometimes it might not be immediately evident as to how you’ll use a new skill.
For example, if you can improve your communication and public speaking skills, these can obviously serve you if you need to speak to groups. If you don’t typically speak in front of people, though, should you bother to take a course? Yes. That skill also builds confidence, which is a necessary quality in any leader. So, if your long-term goal is to be in a position of leadership at an organization, the ability to communicate effectively and speak to large groups of people can be extremely helpful.
Read more: Ask a Recruiter: How Do I Change Careers?