Developing both short- and long-term goals can help guide your decisions throughout your career, whether you want to complete a complex project or apply for a certain type of job. A professional development plan can guide you toward reaching those goals by implementing structured steps. In this article, we’ll explain what a professional development plan is, review how to create one and provide an example.
What is a professional development plan?
A professional development plan is a list of actionable steps for achieving your career goals. A professional development plan (PDP) helps you gain specific insight into how you can reach your career aspirations, such as earning a new certification or finding a mentor who can advise you - and they can especially be helpful during a job search. By defining your goals, you can have a true understanding of how you want to navigate the search and interview process.
You can use many different formats to create a PDP. It can be a simple typed document, or you could create a structured table with rows and columns. Use a format that can help you methodically think about your professional future and the goals you need to reach that vision.
You should regularly reference and update your PDP, especially every time you reach important milestones. This will allow you to set new goals that help you to continue growing as a professional and individual.
How to create a professional development plan
Follow these five steps to create a simple and thorough professional development plan:
A self-assessment is an evaluation of your professional interests, knowledge and skills. Creating a self-assessment allows you to examine your current job as it relates to your career goals. When you determine the skills and interests you currently possess, you can identify areas in which you can improve to obtain your goals.
It can be helpful to identify your transferable skills. Transferable skills are marketable personal assets that many employers look for in candidates, such as good communication, teamwork or leadership. Since many roles are increasingly dependent on technology, it can also be a good idea to list the technological skills you are proficient in.
The goals you set in your professional development plan should be SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timely). Using SMART goals will make them trackable, which makes it easier to update your PDP when you complete important milestones.
To help you achieve your goals, break them down into smaller steps and list them in order of priority so you can identify which ones you need to tackle first. It can also be helpful to categorise your goals as short-, mid- or long-term so you can focus on the short-term ones first before moving onto the rest:
- Short-term is within the next year.
- Mid-term is within the next one to two years.
Long-term is within the next three to five years.
Read more: SMART Goals: Definition and Examples
The strategies you outline in your professional development plan define how you will achieve your goals. You should list a variety of approaches, including experiential learning (learning through doing), exposure (learning from others), education and reflection.
As a general rule, the majority of your strategies should be experiential. This gives you valuable hands-on experience when developing new skills. For example, a person who wants to be a veterinarian could volunteer at an animal shelter as an experiential strategy for learning more about working with animals.
Here are some things you should consider when developing your strategy:
If the goal involves a career change, think about what education or certifications you need and how long they would take to obtain. Research possible education and certification courses you can take to work toward this goal.
If you need advice, consider reaching out to a professional contact and establishing a mentor-mentee relationship. A mentor could be an experienced coworker, a previous employer, a professor or a networking contact.
If you need to build your skill set, look for opportunities at your current job. You can ask your manager for more responsibilities that will help you gain the skills you are looking for.
Resources are places where you can find professional growth. These might be workshops or networking opportunities that have the potential to enhance your career path.
Some professional resources include:
Educational institutions: These institutions offer programs, conferences and courses that help you learn more about specific topics. Many continuing education courses you can take lead to a certification or degree, which will show you have the knowledge needed to perform a certain task or job. For example, project managers can earn a certification in Project Management that shows they can successfully execute a plan using different methods. You can find relevant courses for the types of skills you are looking to learn online, at your local university or at TAFE.
Professional associations: You can find both local and national professional associations that offer memberships. Having a membership in an association helps you connect with like-minded individuals and build your professional network. When you grow your professional network, you can increase your opportunities to advance within your career.
Webinars: Some professionals and businesses host webinars where they give presentations on a specific topic, such as evaluating industry trends or teaching a particular skill. For example, a programmer might offer a webinar on front-end development foundations. Since webinars are internet-based, you can attend one from anywhere. You can find a variety of webinars online based on your PDP.
When you’re developing the resources section of your PDP, be specific. These resources might have tuition, fees or time requirements. It’s important to have a complete idea of what is available to you and what it will take to use those resources to develop your skills.
Your professional development plan should always be a work in progress. It should grow and change over time and reflect where you currently stand in your professional life. Some good times to update your professional development plan are when reaching milestones, updating strategies or changing goals.
Professional development plan example
Here is a sample professional development plan:
- Currently a specialist but would like to move into a project management role.
- Currently have good interpersonal and communication skills.
- Need to improve my leadership and time-management skills.
- Increase my salary by 30%
- Earn a promotion to be a project manager
- Find a mentor
- Look for more responsibilities in my current job
- Complete a project management seminar
- Complete at least two leadership courses
- Learn specific coaching techniques
- Project Management Institute
- Videos on different project management methods
- Join a local project management association
- In one month: ask to be the lead on a small project
- In two months: secure a mentor
- In three months: in a project management course
- In one year: ask for a promotion