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How to Create a Professional Development Plan

Feb 14, 2023

A professional development plan (PDP) is an easy-to-update document containing the skills, strategy, and education needed to achieve professional goals. Whether you’re just beginning your career or are reassessing mid-career professional development goals, this valuable document helps professionals adapt to the dynamic change that occurs in most workplaces. Studies suggest that employees in the U.S. change careers between 3 to 7 times in their lifetime. Career-minded professionals can look to a PDP to help streamline their professional goals and gain a clearer picture of the direction they are moving in. While not difficult to prepare, a PDP does require careful thought, self-awareness, and analysis of your own skill set, knowledge, goals, and the possible next steps to becoming more of an expert in your current or future position. 

What Is a Professional Development Plan?

A PDP includes a description of phases or steps needed in order to gain new skills and knowledge to reach a career objective. A plan will include a timeframe intended to help an individual organize and measure their progress as they work through the actionable steps of the PDP. To develop a PDP, it’s important to start with self-reflection, and asking a series of simple questions such as: What are my current areas of expertise? What are my professional interests? What areas of my profession do I enjoy? What can I see myself doing in the long-term?  

A person may choose to create a PDP in order to achieve their professional goals and map their career progression, but creating a plan also helps produce business results. Employers might offer PDP guidance to their employees as a way to provide access to learning and development, which can lead to increased job satisfaction, improved performance, and enhanced employee experience.  

Professionals who develop a plan use it for a variety of reasons, including earning a new certification, finding mentors to advise them on their professional pursuits, to expand their job search, and more. Formats used to create a PDP range from a simple list to more in-depth and comprehensive spreadsheets or templates with deadlines and action items. While formatting may differ, the overall goal of any PDP is to hold an individual accountable for completing the steps needed to attain their professional goals. The planner must be willing to update and/or modify the PDP to set new milestones for the purpose of helping the individual grow and improve professionally.

Steps to Creating a Professional Development Plan

Regardless of its objective, a PDP includes steps designed to serve as action items for meeting career goals and include the following:

1. Assessing Yourself 

The foundation of a PDP is self-assessment. It provides an evaluation of professional interests, knowledge, and skills and allows a person to examine their current role as it relates to their career goals. 

Determining the skills and interests an individual currently possesses helps identify areas to improve in order to get closer to their goals. Self-assessment also helps look at transferable skills, or marketable personal assets many employers seek in their candidates. This can include soft skills such as strong communication, teamwork, or leadership abilities. 

2. Setting Goals 

The goals set in a PDP should be structured to make it easy to achieve them by completing small steps at a time. Listing goals by order of priority, with the highest ranked first and categorizing objectives into a single long-term goal, and several mid- and short-term goals can work to develop more detailed steps to achieve each one. 

Planners will generally use the SMART approach when setting goals and considering whether the objectives they lay out are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. Creating objectives based on this strategy helps ensure goals are both realistic and attainable. 

3. Developing Strategies 

To develop strategies, an individual should list a variety of approaches such as how to advance competencies, ways to learn new skills, getting the desired promotion, and implementing experiential (learning through doing) opportunities. Listing action items in the plan and organizing them in a simple way ensures the strategies of the PDP are easy to follow and carry out. 

As a person develops their strategies, things to consider include evaluating if their goal(s) involves a career change, the education or certifications needed, and how long each will take to obtain, professional contacts to establish mentor/mentee relationships, and what is required to build on a person’s existing skill set or gain greater knowledge while at their current job.  

4. Gathering Resources 

Once an action plan is developed, evaluating the strategies for professional growth is fundamental to success. Whether it’s through workshops or network opportunities, identify the kinds of resources with the potential to enhance a career path. Additional professional resources may include continuing education institutions that offer programs, conferences, and courses designed to help participants learn more about specific topics, professional associations that offer memberships to help connect individuals with like-minded people, and webinars hosted by businesses or organizations and spotlights topics or specific industries. 

5. Tracking Progress 

With an organized list of action items, tracking progress becomes easy. As a reminder, the PDP should be a work in progress that grows and changes over time as a reflection of where a person is within their professional life. Updates to a PDP can be done when reaching milestones, updating strategies, or as goals change. Tracking the progress on a PDP offers a clear picture for how a person is working toward reaching their targets and to assess how far they’ve come. 

Achieve Your Goals

Having a well thought-out and clear PDP helps a person identify career goals that will ultimately lead them toward their sought-after job or profession. If one of the goals for career advancement is securing a particular degree, then an education from WGU can help you get closer to meeting that objective. 

Whether you’re looking to advance in your career or are interested in entering a new profession, we offer a learning experience that is competency-based, affordable, and online. At WGU, we make high-quality, career-focused education possible for everyone. Discover degree programs that let you learn at your own pace, work around your schedule, and allow you to embark on a learning journey tailored to your knowledge, interests, and career goals.  

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