Taking Ownership of Your Career: Developing an Individual Development Plan (IDP)

February 6, 2014

Silhouetee of a person looking at arrows pointing in different directionsHave you drafted a career plan? Do you know if you have the required skills for your dream job? Figuring out the next step in your career and how to prepare for it can be stressful. But developing a plan, early on in your career, will help guide you through this process of identifying and achieving your career goals.

This year, the OITE will be dedicating its blog to help you develop a Career Success Plan, focusing on a variety of core competencies that are critical for your career development, the first being career exploration and planning. This is where creating an individual development plan (IDP) comes into play. But, what is an IDP? And why it is so important?

An IDP is a personalized document developed to help you define your career goals and implement strategies to help you accomplish those goals. There are many ways to develop your IDP. In fact, some universities, organizations, and/or institutes may have their own IDP documents in place. No matter what stage your career is in (postbac, grad student, postdoc) or what career path you are pursuing, an IDP can help you focus on short and long term goals with an action plan to follow. Remember, that as your career progresses, your plans might change, so you can always come back and review your goals adjusting them to your current situation.

Developing an IDP requires time and effort. So it is important that you not only think thoroughly about your career by doing an honest self-assessment but also, by being committed to applying the strategies established in your plan to reach your goals. To help you build your IDP, we discuss briefly the some important elements of the IDP.

Conduct a Self-Assessment

Self-assessment helps you identify skills, interests and values that are key to finding a career that fits you. Understanding the strengths and weaknesses of your skills (such as communication and leadership), interests (such as mentoring and designing experiments) and values (such as fast-paced environment and flexibility) will all help you evaluate your needs and priorities in your career.

Explore Different Careers

Once you understand your needs and priorities, how do they relate to possible career paths? With so many career options, you want to make sure that the career path you choose matches your skillset and interests. You might also find a career path that you didn’t think about before but fits your needs. When exploring career options, networking and informational interviewing play a critical role to understand those careers that you are unfamiliar with and learn insights of the job.

Set Goals

Now that you have explored different careers, what is your plan to get there? This is where you should develop your short and long term goals that are SMART. By doing so, you will hopefully establish a timeline to stick to your goal.

Implement Plan

Finally and most importantly, is to put your IDP in ACTION! Remember, you are in control of your own career. If you don’t take it seriously, no one else will.

Even though you can complete an IDP by yourself, you should choose a mentoring team that can guide and advise you through this process. Mentors play a critical part of the career planning process not only because of their personal and professional experiences but also because they can: provide feedback about your skills; help you reflect on your interests and values; and keep you motivated and focused.

* Science Careers has a web-based career-planning tool called myIDP that can help graduate students and postdocs develop their IDP. SACNAS-IDP also provides advice on how to build a IDP for undergraduate students

** Disclaimer: This blog is informational and does not constitute an endorsement to Science nor SACNAS Website by NIH OITE

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Overcoming Goal Setting Challenges

January 15, 2014

Image of a chalk board with post-it notes ascedning a stair case reading: Set Goal, Make Plan, Get to Work, Stick to it, Reach GoalRecently, the staff here in the OITE had a dose of our own medicine.  Our boss asked us to complete a document about our professional goals and needs. This document reminded many of us about how we tell trainees to “fill out an IDP”.

For a group of professionals in the career development field, we were all surprised how hard this document was to complete.  Now, we have a whole new appreciation of what our trainees struggle with when we ask them to do the same thing.

A favorite quote from one personal document was: “These goals seem a bit random, because at the moment that is how I feel about preparing for the next step.  A bit out-of-focus and not sure where to go next; I am not sure what I am missing.” Sound familiar??

So why was it so hard for us?

  1. Telling our boss what we want to do next is tough.  No one wants their current boss to think they are unhappy with their current job.  Sometimes one can actually be really happy, but this document makes it feel like you are telling them all of the ways the current position stinks.  And if the boss thinks we are not happy, or are we are thinking of moving on… the boss may think less of us or perceive us as not giving 110%.  So, we struggled with how honest to be.
  2. Not having a clear understanding of where you want to go next, nor what you need to get there.  This is like the interview question, “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?”  We all honestly just want to say, “Happily employed”.  But this question really is at the heart of career development.  What trajectory do you want to go on?  For some of us we feel like we are in unchartered territory, there is no obvious next step.  Therefore it is hard to understand how to prepare for it.
  3. Assessing where you are personally and what you need to work on takes a high level of self-awareness and honesty.  This really means taking a hard look at your strengths and weaknesses and then charting how these will influence your career path.

How did we overcome the challenges?

Taking time to sit and think. This is the type of exercise that takes time, and time is always a limited commodity.  We are all busy.  But, like exercising, this is one of those things you need to do for your personal good.  We all finally had to set a deadline, and for many of us this is the reason we finished.

Find a way to structure your thinking.  For some of us, that was pulling out an IDP document.  Others of us did a personal SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats).  Some people made lists of items.  Whatever works for you, find a way to give yourself some starting points so you are not just looking at a blank piece of paper.

Asking career mentors.  Hopefully you have heard our mantra of multiple mentors.  Here in the office we chatted with each other (peer mentors) and other staff to put some ideas on the table to discuss the pros and cons.

Realizing that this is just a process, and not a commitment.  The goal here is to have a document to start a career journey, not to make a long term contract to a particular career choice.  By continuing the conversation with a career coach, thinking more, and exploring– this document will morph as we make choices for our futures.