If you’re working for the federal government, you’ve likely been asked at some point to create an Individual Development Plan (IDP) that outlines your short- and long-term career goals and how to reach them. Maybe you’re even working on one now. Instead of setting it aside, or writing out a few ideas without giving it too much thought, read the tips below. Hopefully, they’ll help you recognize how helpful the IDP can be in helping you move up the career ladder.
What Is It?
An IDP is a tool meant to help you think about and take control of your career in the federal government. Your agency might have a different name for it, but they all have the same purpose: To help you reach your career goals.
Typically, the IDP contains your short-term career goals (those you want to achieve within the next one to three years), your long-term career goal(s) (those that may take five to 10 years to accomplish), and the steps necessary for you to achieve these goals.
Why Do You Need It?
Because it’s good for you is the easy answer. A formal IDP is a map to help you reach your goals. Instead of abstract ideas and “someday I’ll…” the action items in your IDP can actually get you where you want to go. And that’s a good thing on a number of levels.
Consider this: In 1979, a study was conducted on students in the Harvard MBA program. Only 3 percent of students had specific written goals and plans on how to reach them; 84 percent had no goals at all, in writing or otherwise. After a decade had passed, the students were contacted again to share information on their earnings. Those 3 percent that had clear goals were making 10 times as much as the other 97 percent of the class. Even the 13 percent that had unwritten goals were making twice as much as those who had no goals.
Of course, that example focuses on pure earnings, but the concept is the same no matter what you want out of your career—you cannot sit back and wait for someone to come to you and help out. Sure, that happens to some people, and you might just get lucky and end up with the job of your dreams, but it’s more likely that you’ll actually have to work toward what you want. And it’s easier to complete a task if you have all of the steps laid out in front of you.
How Do You Get Started?
Brainstorming is the logical first step. Take an uninterrupted hour and think about your career goals, both the short term and the long term. Ask yourself some questions:
- What am I good at in my current position? In what areas could I improve? What do I need to succeed where I am today?
- What, specifically, are my short-term goals? What will I need to get there?
- What is available to me (training, mentoring, volunteering, networking, etc.) in my current position that can help me reach my goals?
- What, specifically, is my long-term goal(s)? How will it benefit my current organization and myself? What do I need to do to get there? Who can help me along the way?
After you make notes to answer the above, look specifically at your goals. Make sure they are SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound). Also ensure that they complement your current position and the mission of your organization. The IDP is an excellent tool for leadership development, but your supervisor won’t take you seriously and help you get a leg up if your goals have no relation to your agency.
For each goal you have identified, write down a deadline for achieving that goal, the resources you’ll need and associated cost, and developmental activities that can help you reach those goals/competencies you want to work on. The latter should be linked to any skills or knowledge required in a position you desire that you do not yet have. Also jot down some thoughts on how you plan to measure your success or effort toward achieving your goals.
As you write out those steps that will help you achieve each goal, think about whether you might need to make lateral career moves within your agency, or if there are assignments and roles that you can take on that will help you gain the skills you need to advance. If you can identify a project, write down whom you need to speak with to get the assignment, and figure out what the agency believes will mark a successful conclusion of the project.
Once your notes are finished, write them into a more complete plan. Some agencies have a template available, so be sure to ask your supervisor or HR representative. If not, a Word document with your goals clearly listed with the steps and tools necessary to achieve them will suffice. Once it’s finished, set up a meeting with your supervisor to review your plan—don’t wait for someone to come to you. This shows your initiative and investment in your personal growth. Hopefully, your supervisor will have some tips or strategies you hadn’t yet thought of.
How Can You Make Yours Outstanding?
Think outside the box. Sure, budgets are improving (at least a bit) but that doesn’t mean you’re going to be approved for every online training you want or every conference you want to attend. So as you’re writing out those steps that will be necessary on the path to reaching your goals, thinking about personal development activities that won’t cost your employer. Consider joining professional organizations, networking opportunities, volunteering, reading, attending free webinars, or job shadowing. A few sources for free and low-cost training include the Learning Management System (you’re probably already familiar with your agency’s version and have likely completed mandatory online training there—but explore it and find opportunities that aren’t required); Skillshare; and DigitalGovUniversity (the GSA’s training site on digital media and citizen engagement).
Follow up and reflect. Revisit your IDP regularly to review the steps you should be completing and also reflect on what you have completed so far, how you might want to update your goals, or any other changes you want to make. As you grow personally and professionally, you will likely have new goals to add or new ways to work toward them.