How to create a personal development plan for your career path

Do you have big professional dreams? Of course you do – who doesn’t? But how can you realize those dreams? A personal development plan is the answer.

What’s a personal development plan? Put simply, it’s a plan to guide you along the path to your goals. Without a plan to help you break your aspirations down into actionable steps, your goals are likely to remain mere dreams. But, by defining your goals, identifying challenges and priorities, creating a deadline, and taking action, you can begin making progress toward the career you want today.

Set your goals

Personal development plans can be used to realise all kinds of goals, from losing weight to getting your finances in order to finally finishing your novel, but for the purposes of this article, we’re going to focus on career goals. Many companies use personal development plans to help their employees build new marketable skills and grow professionally, but you don’t need to wait for your boss to make the first move. You can create your own professional development plan now – and the first step is to define the goal, or goals, you want to realise.

In order to increase your chances of realising your goals, you should make them specific and achievable. Instead of “succeed in business,” for example, consider “earn $75,000 a year from owning my own business.” Instead of “further my education,” try, “go back to school to earn my MBA.”

A clearly defined goal is important because it helps you understand exactly what steps you need to take to achieve that goal. If your goal is to go back to school, then knowing what degree you want is essential to researching programmes and considering your options.

Identify challenges and priorities

Let’s say your goal is to return to school and earn your MBA. To begin working toward that goal, you’ll need to take an honest look at the obstacles that stand in your way. Some challenges you might face on the way to earning an MBA include the cost of tuition and fees, the prospect of moving to a new city to take advantage of a specific programme, the cost of living in that city, the cost of books, and the lost wages and other challenges associated with leaving your job. Perhaps you’ve been out of school for a long time, and you’re worried that your GMAT scores could reflect that.

In order to decide how you’re going to overcome those challenges, you’ll need to make priorities. What’s most important to you? Perhaps you decide that staying in your job, remaining in your current residence, and continuing to care for your family are priorities for you. That doesn’t mean you can’t go back to school. It just means you’re going to have to come up with a way to get around the obstacles between you and your goal. Going back to school online could be a way to meet the challenges involved; you could choose to apply to a GMAT waiver MBA programme that will place more weight on your professional and life experience and less on your transcripts and test scores.

Create a deadline and take action

Without a firm deadline by which to achieve your goals, they’re likely to remain in the realm of speculation. So, give yourself a deadline or, if appropriate, a series of deadlines. Make sure the timeline is realistic. If your goal is to go back to school, give yourself at least a year to research programmes, prepare your application materials, and submit applications. Then, of course, you’ll want to give yourself anywhere from one to six years to complete the degree, depending on the programme and whether you want to go back to school full or part-time.

To take action, brainstorm concrete steps you can take to begin working toward your goal. Breaking your goal down into smaller steps both gives you a plan of action to follow, and helps the larger goal seem less overwhelming. Some of these could include:

• Research no-GMAT online MBAs;
• Talk to faculty members, alumni, and current students at your preferred programmes;
• Find out what you need to apply;
• Request letters of recommendation from colleagues and supervisors;
• Write a draft of your admissions essay;
• Have the essay critiqued by friends, relatives, or colleagues;
• Talk to your boss about scheduling needs and tuition reimbursements;
• Submit your applications; and
• Apply for financial aid.

Set mini-deadlines for these steps to keep yourself on track.

A personal development plan can be an essential component of achieving your goals. When you feel like it’s time to make changes in your career, a personal development plan can help you see exactly what needs to be done, and formulate a step-by-step plan to get there, so you can turn your professional dreams into reality.

Tiffany Rowe is the Marketing Administrator at Seek Visibility.

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