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Picture two professionals, each at the same level and with the same amount of experience. Professional A has a written plan focused on their professional development - a checklist of skills to learn and goals to achieve, all mapped against a timeline - while Professional B has a vague vision of the promotion they want and where they ultimately want to be in their career. Which person do you think will have a more successful career long-term?
While it's easy to answer Professional A when framed in the abstract, most people who answered A would also have to admit that they don't have specific professional development goals written down, if they can even articulate them at all. Take getting promoted, a common goal shared by virtually all professionals. Ask most people how they plan to earn that promotion, and they'll give answers like, “I'll work hard" or “I'll drive value for the company." They likely don't have any specific checkpoints, and it's even rarer that those checkpoints are written down. And this differing approach has a quantifiable difference in outcome - one 2015 study by psychologist Gail Matthews, for example, found that people who simply wrote down their goals were 33% more likely to achieve them than people who merely kept their goals in their head.
Proper professional development is the difference between having specific, actionable goals and steps outlined, and having a general idea of where you're going. It's the difference between saying “I want a promotion" and “I want to become an SAP Certified Development Associate in the next year in order to broaden my skill set."
Reaching that level of specificity can be daunting or even downright paralyzing. That's why we at Modis have put together a step-by-step breakdown on how to write a professional development plan so that you can take control of your career trajectory. And if you need motivation, remember that taking this initiative will catapult you ahead of your peers who have taken a passive approach and expect their companies or managers to provide all the guidance they need.
The first step to taking ownership of your professional development is to outline the specific short-, medium- and long-term goals that you want to achieve in your career. Each goal should be written down (we love this template), which forces you to clearly articulate the north stars that you'll be marching towards.
Make sure to put specific timing against each goal (e.g. a one-year goal, a five-year goal, and a 10-year goal). Knowing how much time you will need to reach each goal will allow you to order and prioritize more specific tasks to accomplish. And remember that even the best-laid plans can change and evolve over time, so don't put yourself under undue pressure to make everything is perfect. The objective is to have a plan that points you in the right direction and causes you to take meaningful action, but also allow yourself to be flexible and evolve your goals as new opportunities or career interests arise.
Last year, we outlined 7 tips for IT workers and engineers to set career goals, where we also shared the template from step 1. You should revisit the entire article, but one specific area to pay attention to is the concept of SMART goals. SMART is a system that helps you super-charge your goals, taking them from general to actionable:
S - Specific
M - Measurable
A - Attainable
R - Relevant
T - Time-bound
With your broader career goals outlined, your next step is to map specific SMART tasks against each one. Treat each task as a building block to the larger goal, and assign each a realistic but purposeful deadline for completion. These deadlines will propel you forward and keep you from stagnating in your current role.
Not sure which tasks are even required to achieve your goals? You can search for jobs that match your goals using tools like Modis' Job Search Page, and use the job descriptions as a guide to identify skill gaps and qualification needs that your professional development plan must address.
In Training magazine's 2018 Training Industry Report, 85% of respondents said that their training budgets either increased (37%) or remained the same (48%) from the previous year. Companies are recognizing the importance of training and fostering their employees, and that means free professional development opportunities that you can tap into.
Besides typically being free, internal training programs have several powerful benefits - they're often tied directly to skills needed to advance in the company, they can offer you increased visibility and networking opportunities, and they usually take place inside regular business hours. On the flipside, internal training is often less flexible to your individual schedule, courses are made to fit broad needs instead of individual interests, and it can be difficult to carve out time during the workday for training when you have a demanding workload.
Pros and cons will vary from company to company, and often times employees aren't even aware of the breadth of internal training courses or workshops that they have available to them. Contact your HR department and ask them for a full list of opportunities that the company offers. You should also sit down with your manager to walk them through your professional development plan, and make them an active participant in your growth. They may be able to open doors to additional training sessions or resources, especially since you are actively seeking to build a skill set that makes you more valuable to the company.
If your company lacks internal training resources, or if you want to develop skills outside of your area of focus, the internet has exponentially democratized professional development with the explosion of online web developer learning resources. Online training can be as flexible or as rigid as your schedule permits, and can give you the additional knowledge and certifications you need to expand your job prospects and accelerate your growth.
With so many options, finding the right online training can be overwhelming. These are just a few places to get you started:
Modis Academy: Our own educational and employment advancement program. We've formed an alliance with General Assembly to offer two programs that help candidates take their careers to the next level - a Remote Flex course that allows software developers already on assignment with us to supplement their skills with training while they work, and a Full-time Immersive program designed to help college graduates hit the ground running.
Treehouse: A subscription-based program that gives developers access to over 300 video-based training programs, complete with interactive code challenges to test and reinforce what you've learned. Treehouse also connects you to a broader student community through an exclusive Slack group where you can share tips and build your network.
You've taken the initiative, mapped out your goals and tasks, and are gaining experience and credentials through available resources. But how do you take that professional development and add it to your resume so that you're ready to strike?
Two common resume mistakes we see are when candidates include “job description" style lists that rattle off your previous responsibilities and when they include their future goals and ambitions versus staying focused on past experience.
To avoid those mistakes, you should talk about your professional development through the lens of accomplishments that are attributable to your new skill set. Did your new certification open up a new incremental revenue opportunity with a client? Did you learn a new skill specifically to address a business challenge or deficiency on your team? These are the types of accomplishments that belong on paper, while your larger motivation and approach to professional development belong in your interview talk track.
With these five steps in hand, the onus is now on you to put them into action. And if you're ever feeling stuck, make sure to come back to Modis and tap into our collection of tools, tips, and resources. You alone control your professional future, so go take charge!