Advancing Your Career With an Individual Development Plan

Everyone has some idea about how they would like their job to improve. It’s almost impossible not to have some thoughts after spending the majority of your waking day there five times a week, even if you like what you do and where you work. For many people, that improvement comes in the form of career advancement.

But advancing a career isn’t easy. There are many things to consider, and it’s easy to lose track of each of the steps that need to be taken to climb the ladder. To learn how to chart a clear path toward career advancement, GovLoop spoke with Steve Springer, Deputy Director, Training and Development, General Services Administration, and Michelle Rosa, Cybersecurity Risk Analyst for OPNAV N2N6, US Navy, in a recent online training.

The topic of focus was creating an Individual Development Plan (IDP), a tool that can help to guide your goals and map out the steps to where you want your career to go. An IDP allows for thoughtful planning before making your next move.

“You want your goals to be Specific, Measurable Attainable, Realistic and Timely,” Springer said, explaining the SMART acronym and its importance to career planning with an IDP. “You’re much more likely to accomplish your goal if you plan where you want to go. If you don’t, either you’ll get left behind or bumped into something you may not want to do.”

Rosa agreed, adding some things to consider when developing an IDP and echoing the SMART process.

“A lot of value comes from taking the time to do IDPs,” she said. “Be realistic with timelines. Be wise when scheduling trainings, conferences or events to make sure you’re not putting yourself in a tough situation. Make sure you can commit to it and achieve it.”

In addition to understanding and managing your time, it’s also important to understand yourself and your current role. Ask yourself questions that help you understand what you bring to the table, what you’re excited about and interested in, your learning style and more. Springer noted that you can also find tools online that will make this process easier, such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. He also encouraged taking ownership of your IDP to effectively set and reach goals.

Although it’s important to take responsibility for your growth, it’s equally important to involve managers, supervisors or mentors that can guide you and provide feedback. Rosa noted that in addition to the feedback and support you can receive, communicating your IDP with a supervisor can allow you to make a case for yourself when seeking professional development opportunities.

“Creating an IDP helps to justify trainings, conferences and events you want to attend,” Rosa said. “If your supervisor sees that they’ll get a return on investment because it will help advance the organization, you’ll be more likely to get those opportunities.”

When asked about the importance of an IDP if you’re already comfortable where you are and aren’t seeking out career growth, both speakers warned that it’s not always that simple.

“Pace of change is accelerating, especially as automation seeps into more things that we do,” Springer said. “Sit down with a supervisor to see if things will remain the same.”

“No matter where you are, what you do or how long you’ve done it, there’s always room for improvement,” Rosa said. “If you’re not concerned about your progress and development, nobody is going to do it for you.”


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