The Individual Development Plan (IDP): Chart Your Course

Creating an Individual Development Plan (IDP) will help you prepare for your future, regardless of the career you're planning on. In an IDP you outline a vision for your career and set goals to capitalize on your strengths and address your development needs. With an IDP you're taking a deliberate approach to increase the skills, knowledge, and experience you need to advance in your chosen career. The key benefits of developing an IDP are below.

  • Helps you inventory your strengths and identify any gaps in your knowledge, skill set, or experience.
  • —Helps you identify the short-term and long-term goals that can push you toward action.
  • Serves as an indispensable communication tool between your faculty advisor and you.
  • Provides a visual representation of how to allocate your time working on specific goals.
  • —Acknowledges milestones achieved along the way, providing a sense of accomplishment and increasing momentum.
  • Documents your development through assessment and reflection

Developing Your IDP

Step 1: Explicitly define your career goals.

Make a list of three or four jobs—in order of preference— that you might apply for after you complete your degree. Will your next job fulfill your career goals, or will you need intermediate positions? Keep in mind that many types of jobs are compatible within the same career path. Improving your fit for one job also makes you more qualified for many other jobs. At this stage of the process, begin identifying your transferable skills; doing so now will help make you much more employable.

Step 2: Identify necessary skills and knowledge.

List the skills, talents, and abilities necessary for the career path(s) you specified in Step 1. The IDP resources included here can help. If you're not exactly sure what a given job requires, conduct informational interviews with professionals in that field.

Step 3: Assess skills and knowledge.

Honestly reflect on your current skills, talents, and abilities and compare them to the requirements you identified in Step 2. List your strengths and your development needs. Get an outside opinion from a trusted mentor or colleague, too. This is a good opportunity to have a conversation with your faculty advisor about what goals you can set for yourself during your degree program.

Step 4: Write professional development goals.

Develop a detailed plan for your individual development; that is, what can you do or learn in your current position to become even more competitive in your job search? Write down goals for the short term (next year), mid-term (next 1–2 years), and long-term (3–5 years). Identify strategies or action steps you’ll need to take to achieve your goals. It’s also a good idea to create deadlines for starting and completing work on your stated goals.

Step 5: Track your development and set new goals.

Maintaining an academic portfolio is one method for collecting evidence of your achievements. Use personal statements, feedback from others, items on your curriculum vitae, and samples of your work to document your efforts to achieve your goals. Continuous self-assessment and improvement are central to a useful, effective IDP. As you learn and develop your abilities, set new goals to challenge yourself. View your development as a life-long task; there will always be areas in your professional life to expand and enhance. You might consider keeping a journal, finding a peer with whom to share your progress, or organizing a discussion/support group where you can get helpful feedback.

Benefits and resources

An IDP requires some time and energy, but the return on your investment can be significant. The process eases future planning and introspection, and helps chart your development to ensure you can achieve the next stage in your career.

Use the tools and templates below to start planning now.