Create a Professional Development Strategy (Part 1 of 2)

My philosophy on career growth is that if you are not actively learning, you are obsolete. To succeed in your career you need to take an active role in your learning and professional development. No one else will do it for you. This post is more instructional than most, but it is a topic I feel strongly about and one that is close to my heart as a life coach and manager in Training & Development. My role is to help people grow and take ownership over their lives and career, and to make sure I'm setting a good example by doing the same.

So how do you set a professional development strategy? Just like companies and teams set quarterly growth targets and business development goals, set aside some time to take a holistic look at where you are now versus where you want to be 6-months to 1-year from now.

Working through the areas below will give you focus, help you be more proactive about setting your own career direction (instead of waiting for a manager or company to do it for you) and will make you an incredible asset to any team. Grab a piece of paper or open a Google Doc and let's get started!

Step One: The Vision Before getting into specific tactics and details, spend time with the big picture. Whether you are are self-employed or work for someone else, think about what really excites you (see previous post: Career Exploration - Taking a Fantasy Job). What 2-3 key improvements would truly put you ahead of the pack? What key development areas, if you were to make significant progress in, would make you most excited and engaged with your work and add value to your team or company?


Step Two: The "What" There are four key categories that your professional development strategy should focus on: knowledge, skills, talent and experience. Only the first two are within your direct control, but all four are worth exploration.

Knowledge - Knowledge is directly within your control. Learning more about a subject takes time, but it is generally a very straightforward process. Blogs, books, podcasts, videos, interviews, classes - the resources available to you are vast and largely free. Commit to learning and being a sponge for knowledge; it will set you apart and make you an invaluable resource to any team.

Key Questions: What will it take to become an expert in your field, or in one specific area of your field? What 2-3 topics of focus would be most beneficial to you? What knowledge or expertise do you want to have one year from now?


Skills - Skills are defined as "the learned capacity to carry out pre-determined results often with the minimum outlay of time, energy, or both." In English: skills are things that you are good at; things you have picked up over time that transfer to job-related success. Some examples of general skills include time management, project management, and prioritization. You may also have specific skills related to your job or industry, such as marketing, sales or web development. While some skills may come more naturally to you than others (see talents), you can generally improve your skills through repetition, attention, self-awareness and feedback.

Key Questions: What skills do you already have? Make a list of ten. What new skills would take you from average (or above-average) to absolute rock-star?


Talents - Talents, or gifts, are skills that come naturally to you. Talents light you up, give you energy, make you feel like you are "in the zone" when you are fully utilizing them. You may be talented at organizing information. Someone else might be talented at singing. I am talented at motivating people and simplifying complex problems. Tapping into your talents and your natural strengths will make you infinitely more successful in your role, happier and more engaged. There are several online assessments that will help you uncover your natural strengths; two free ones I like are Myers Briggs and Via Signature Strengths.

Key Questions: What skills or tasks come naturally to you? When do you feel most "in the zone"? What talents are you under-utilizing today? How can you better use your talents in the job you have now?


Experience - Experience is tried and true on-the-job learning, and unfortunately you can't manufacture it. Particularly for young employees, "lack of experience" can be an exasperating reason for not landing a job or position you want. Even without years of experience under your belt, you can work to understand what types of experiences you will need to be successful in the future. If you want to be a manager, look for opportunities to drive a strategic project with multiple stakeholders. Schedule lunches (see my previous post on informal interviews) with people who have the experience you need or want. Ask what they have learned in their role, what surprised them, and what you can do to build prepare yourself for opportunities in the future.

Key Questions: What job-related experience are you lacking and how can you develop those skills another way? What aspects of that experience can you learn from others?


Stay tuned for part 2 of this post, where I will show you how to take actionable steps to move this plan forward, provide the template I use for my personal development strategy and give a special coaching offer to those of you wanting a boost with your career development plan.