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How to write a personal development plan

Where do you see yourself in five years?

A question often popped in job interviews, the thought of peering around the corner at a picture of your future-self can be unsettling. Times change, circumstances happen and it’s hard to say for sure exactly where you will be. However, for those with a clear career goal in mind, the answer is considerably more straightforward. Of course, there’s no telling what curveballs might stray them off track, but at least they have a destination in mind.

Without a clear plan in mind, it’s easy to drift from left to right without ever moving up the career ladder. With no fixed direction, you’ll find yourself floating through life without a sense of achievement.

If the path ahead is shrouded in mystery and you feel as though you aren’t progressing, it’s time to take a step back and plot a course for the next few years. Here lies the power of a personal development plan: by determining exactly what you want and how to get it, you trace a roadmap for the future and create a goal to work towards.

But where to begin?

1. What do you want? Development! When do you want it? Now!

Stumbling around in the dark is no way to progress in your professional career. If you are to be successful, you must know at least what discipline you’d like to be successful in. Perhaps this may prompt a career change, perhaps it will simply mean upskilling in your current field.

It may sound daunting, but often the best way to begin is to determine what you don’t want from your career. If you’re unhappy in your current role, for example, decide what it is that makes you unhappy, and where you would like to be instead.

Don’t be afraid to go outside of your comfort zone: you won’t achieve success overnight, but it’s important to set the right starting point. At this stage, it’s useful to research exactly what it takes to get to where you want to be: perhaps you will need to embark on a training course or a university programme, or maybe you simply need to sharpen your skills through practice in your spare time.

2. Taking stock of your strengths and shortcomings

Every personal development plan begins with self-assessment. In order to get where you want to be, you need to take stock of where you are. That way, you can determine how far you have to go in order to achieve success. Remember, this plan is for you, no one else – it’s a chance to understand which skills you already have and take note of the areas that need to be improved. Being honest with yourself at this stage is critical in determining the next steps in your journey.

3. Setting short-term goals and long-term objectives

The most important element of a personal development plan is to set clear goals you can work towards. However, if you only measure your progress against long-term objectives, you’re unlikely to feel like you’re moving forward in your personal development. Life goals are enormous and overwhelming, and Rome wasn’t built in a day.

Instead, try separating your goals into short-term accomplishments such as completing a course, landing a junior role in a particular field or getting a promotion from your long-term ambitions. Breaking them down into baby steps will make your so-called crazy dreams seem a lot more manageable and realistic: before you know it, you’ll be making headway towards your ultimate objective.

4. What’s that coming over the hill?

It goes without saying that the best laid plans can go awry at a moment’s notice, and while it’s near-impossible to predict the curveballs that your personal or professional life may throw at you, anticipating change is the best way to prepare for it. What’s more, there are certain threats that you can identify early on: if you have a tendency to procrastinate, list this as a risk to your success.

By acknowledging this behaviour as a hurdle to your success, you can put in place methods of motivating yourself and combatting this potential threat. On the plus side, there may be exciting opportunities on the horizon to take advantage of such as networking events, conferences or workshops in your local area.

5. Track your progress

A personal development plan is not a one-and-done exercise. Rather, it’s an anchor that keeps you grounded to your goals and a framework by which you can measure your progress over time. Making a point to refer back to your personal development plan will ensure you follow the breadcrumb trail you’ve laid out for yourself.

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Kate Allen

Kate Allen

Kate founded Allen Associates in 1998 out of a determination to build a recruitment business which delivered a bespoke service centred on the needs of clients and candidates.

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