See also, Part 1: Four Steps to Planning Your Career

An Individual Development Plan (IDP) can help you stay on course toward achieving your career development goals. But where and how do you begin? With these tips, you will learn to identify and describe your goals, choose activities that will help you meet them, set key milestones, and create a timeline for the completion of your goals.

Brainstorming and Preparation
To start the IDP process, first spend some time thinking about your career. As you do, ask yourself these questions:

  • How am I doing in my current job? In what areas do I excel? In what areas do I fall short, and what can I do to improve? Do I have all of the skills necessary to succeed?
  • What are my short-term career goals and developmental needs?
  • What developmental activities in my current job could help me develop the skills and knowledge I need for my target job?
  • Are there projects or experiences at work that could be helpful in my development?
  • Are there formal learning opportunities (e.g., conferences, virtual trainings, classes) that I would like to participate in?

As you consider these questions, write down your thoughts and note the areas with which you might need help. Be open and honest about your developmental needs. Finally, write down any career goals that emerge as a part of this brainstorm.

IDPs: Getting Started
Once you finish brainstorming, you should have some initial ideas for goals and relevant developmental opportunities. Now, begin to organize these ideas. Depending on where you work, you may have access to an IDP form. Your supervisor or HR specialist should be able to provide you with a form or another option if your organization does not participate in a formalized IDP process.

Generally, your IDP should include the following:

  • A clear statement of short-term career goals (within 1-2 years)
  • A clear statement of long-term career goals (within 3-5 years)
  • A specific action plan for the next year designed to help you move closer to achieving these goals

Creating Strong Goals
Don’t be afraid to set tough, but realistic, goals for yourself. Good career goals will help you to identify and focus your developmental efforts, bringing you closer to where you want to be in your career. By capturing both long-term (3-5 years) and short-term (1-2 years) goals, you can make sure your current efforts are supporting your future ambitions. Try to capture at least one long-term career goal and three to six short-term career goals in your IDP.

As you develop your IDP, make sure all of your goals:

  • Are SMART—Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound
  • Complement your organization’s mission, vision, and goals
  • Include any competencies you wish to develop
  • Contain the strategies you will use to accomplish your goals
  • Include the resources you will need
  • Explain how you will measure your progress
  • Include a deadline for achieving your goals
  • Finally, for each goal you set, identify one to three developmental activities that will help you achieve that goal.

Roles and Responsibilities for the IDP Process
To make your IDP experience as productive and efficient as possible, it helps to understand your role and your supervisor’s role in the process.

Your role is to:

  • Understand how well your skills and knowledge match what you need to complete your goals
  • Identify career goals, development needs, and training or developmental opportunities geared toward the achievement of your goals
  • Assess your progress toward reaching your goals

Your supervisor’s role is to:

  • Help you assess your strengths and development needs
  • Provide opportunities to discuss and plan your development
  • Help you identify training and developmental opportunities
  • Make sure that training and developmental opportunities align with your goals
  • Make sure that your goals and developmental needs align with the agency’s goals and objectives
  • Evaluate the outcome of your training and development

Planning for Your IDP Conversation
Once you’ve developed your IDP, you’ll want to set a time for reviewing your plan with your supervisor. Your supervisor is a valuable resource for your career planning and can help you explore possibilities you may not have considered.

The purpose of an IDP meeting with your supervisor is to come away with a comprehensive plan for your development. This includes goals as well as action items that will help you pursue your goals. You will have the opportunity to share what you have brainstormed and your supervisor will help you explore possibilities you may not have considered.

Be sure to schedule a follow-up meeting to review and adjust your plan as needed and check on your progress toward your goals.

Making Your IDP Conversation a Success
To make the most out of your conversation with your supervisor about your IDP:

  • Bring your development needs, goals, and potential resources to the discussion
  • Be open to your supervisor’s feedback and suggestions
  • Choose a time when both of you can stay focused on the development conversation without distractions or interruptions
  • Place timelines on your goals and objectives and set specific guidelines for follow-up
  • Schedule a follow-up meeting to review your progress

*Hat tip to the Department of Veterans Affairs for their excellent advice on career development.

Nancy Segal is a federal human resources training and job search expert. Following her own 30-year federal HR career (much of it at the senior level), she founded Solutions for the Workplace LLC in 2003 to provide an HR management perspective to both federal managers and astute applicants to U.S. government positions. Nancy has unmatched federal career management insight, high standards, and respect for people’s time, and her clients use this to their advantage.