Career Development

How To Write a Professional Development Plan (With Examples)

November 23, 2020

Developing both short- and long-term goals can help guide your decisions throughout your career, whether you want to complete a complex project or earn 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 to, 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 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. Drafting a professional development plan is especially helpful during a job search. By defining your goals in a PDP, 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. 

A PDP should be a continual reference or touchstone, and you should update it every time you reach important milestones. Regularly updating your PDP allows you to set new goals that help you grow as a professional and individual. 

How to create a professional development plan

Follow these five steps to create a simple, thorough professional development plan:

  1. Self-assessment
  2. Goals
  3. Strategies
  4. Resources
  5. Timelines

Self-assessment

A self-assessment is an evaluation of your professional interests, knowledge and skills. Creating a self-assessment allows you to examine your current position 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 seek in candidates, such as good communication, teamwork or leadership. List which software applications or computer programs you are proficient with. As workplaces become increasingly dependent on computer programs, having technological skills is valuable in any industry.

Goals

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.

Structure your goals in a way that makes it easy to achieve them by completing small steps. It’s helpful to list goals in order of priority with the highest first so you can quickly identify them. It can also help to categorize goals as short-, mid- or long-term so you can develop more detailed steps to achieve each one:

  • 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

Strategies

Your professional development plan strategies 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 a 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, or a professor or teacher. 

  • If you need to build your skillset, you might have some opportunities at your current job. You can ask your manager for more responsibilities that will help you gain the needed skills. 

Related: What Is a Mentor?

Resources

Resources are places where you can find professional growth. They might provide workshops or networking opportunities, and they have the potential to enhance your career path greatly.

Some professional resources include: 

Continuing education 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 knowledge of a field or can perform a process. For example, project managers can earn a Project Management Professional certification that shows they can successfully execute a plan using different methods. You may be able to attend online courses or go to a local college or school for classes. 

Professional associations

You can find both local and national 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 in which 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 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. 

Timelines

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:

Self-assessment

  • 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.

Goals

  • Increase my salary by 30%.
  • Earn a promotion to be a project manager.

Strategies

  • Find a management mentor.
  • Accept increased responsibilities in my current job.
  • Complete a project management seminar.
  • Complete at least two leadership courses.
  • Learn specific coaching techniques.

Resources

  • Project Management Institute
  • Videos on different project management methods
  • Local project manager association

Timeline

  • In one month: ask to lead the team for a small project.
  • In two months: secure a mentor.
  • In three months: enroll in project management courses.
  • In one year: ask for project management promotion.

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