Woman professional writing on a white board and moving around sticky notes to create a professional development plan.

When you’re on a long road trip, it’s faster and easier to get to your destination if you have a map. The same is true in your career; you’ll have a much more straightforward path to success if you define where you want to go and create a road map to get there. That road map is a professional development plan.

We’ll explain why it’s important to plot out your professional development and give you a step by step process to create your own plan to achieve your career objectives. 

What is a professional development plan?

A professional development plan is a document that defines your career goals and outlines the steps you need to take to reach those goals. A professional development plan may include formal education, technical certifications, conferences, workshops, networking, promotions, mentorship, thought leadership and more. 

This document is a work in progress; it should be revisited and revised on a regular basis as you reach new milestones and acquire new skills. 

Why it’s important to have a professional development plan

A professional development plan helps you maintain continuous growth. 

When you’re in school, there’s always another milestone to reach: an exam to pass, a semester to complete, a degree to obtain. The professional world isn’t so linear. If you don’t have a strategy to stay on track and hold yourself accountable, no one else is going to do it for you. 

Having a professional development plan helps you continue moving in the direction of your goals and avoid growing complacent. 

A professional development plan also guides more informed decisions. 

While some people’s careers are defined by a few major decisions, more often they’re an aggregate of the thousands of small decisions a person makes day after day. From the people you choose to spend time with to the books you read and the jobs you apply for, your professional development plan will help you make decisions that support your long-term goals. 

Steps to create a professional development plan

1. Define your goals

Your career goals are what will drive your entire plan. This should include your big, overarching career goals like becoming the CEO of a company, long-term goals like becoming fluent in a new language, and short-term goals like getting a raise. 

It can also be helpful to rank goals in order of importance to help you decide where to focus your time. 


Overarching Goals

  1. Open own pastry shop
  2. Write a cookbook

Long-Term Goals

  1. Become executive pastry chef
  2. Win culinary awards

Short-Term Goals

  1. Complete culinary school
  2. Get part-time bakery job

2. Assess your current position

This part of the document is an analysis of where you are in relation to where you want to be. 

What are your current strengths? What about weaknesses? What skills do you still need to acquire? What useful experience can you obtain? 

Answering these questions will help you determine how close or far you are from your various goals and what needs to happen in order to move closer to achieving them. 


Current Position

  • Great with following recipes
  • Extensive experience making cakes, pies, and other baked goods
  • Lack experience creating original recipes
  • Need a better understanding of the business side of running a bakery

3. Map goals to actions

Now, armed with the details from your self-assessment, determine what actions will help you achieve or get closer to achieving the items on your list of goals. 

For short-term goals, there may be just one thing you need to do, like taking a course to obtain a certification. For long-term goals, there will usually be many smaller steps required. For these bigger achievements, it can help to break them into quarterly or yearly action items. 

Map out a timeline to-do list. The increments of time you use are up to you, but make sure each action item has a deadline. 


By End of Month

  • Apply for part-time jobs at 2 bakeries
  • Research Culinary Institute application process

By End of Quarter

  • Complete Culinary Institute application
  • Decide on backup schools
  • Begin bakery job 

By End of Year

  • Get accepted to pastry arts degree program
  • Create 3 original recipes

4. Add helpful resources & secondary goals

Not every action you take in your professional life will have a direct payoff. There are many, many things you’ll do that seem pointless or tedious in the moment. 

However, a lot of actions contribute to your career goals in indirect ways. A person you meet at a networking event might tip you off to a great job opening six months from now. A book you read on leadership might help you give an awesome answer in an interview years down the road. It’s a cumulative result. 

So, it’s useful to include these things in your professional development plan, too. 


  • Read ‘The 80/20 Principle’
  • Join local young professionals’ group
  • Eat at 1 new restaurant per quarter

5. Assess progress & adjust goals

Revisit your professional development plan on a regular basis to update your current position and adjust your action items accordingly. Every six months is a good time frame to do this. 

If your goals change along the way, great! Not only is it natural for your career ambitions to evolve and shift over time, it’s a signal of your own personal growth. 

Things to include in your professional development plan

Sometimes, it’s hard to know exactly what you should be doing to move toward your goals. Here are some of the most common professional accomplishments and milestones that can facilitate forward progress:

  • Changing jobs
  • Getting a raise
  • Obtaining a promotion
  • Taking on a leadership role
  • Gaining experience managing people
  • Obtaining a new technical skill
  • Improving soft skills
  • Completing a course
  • Getting a certification
  • Joining a professional network
  • Participating in an industry group
  • Getting a degree
  • Finding a mentor
  • Growing your professional network
  • Establishing a presence on social media
  • Completing volunteer work
  • Reading books and consuming other content (podcasts, webinars, etc.)
  • Mastering new technology

The beauty of a professional development plan is that what you decide to include in it is up to you. If you have a strong relationship with your boss or a trusted mentor, consider sharing your plan with them for feedback and additional guidance. 

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Pete Newsome is the founder of zengig, which he created after more than two decades in staffing and recruiting. He’s also President of 4 Corner Resources, the Forbes America's Best Staffing and Recruiting Firm he founded in 2005, and is a member of the American Staffing Association and TechServe Alliance. In addition to his passion for staffing, Pete is now committed to zengig becoming the most comprehensive source of expert advice, tools, and resources for career growth and happiness. When he’s not in the office or spending time with his family of six, you can find Pete sharing his career knowledge and expertise through public speaking, writing, and as the host of the Finding Career Zen & Hire Calling podcasts. Connect with Pete on LinkedIn