Developing yourself

Professional Development is the learning and development we undertake in order to carry out a current role or move into a new one. While the University and your manager will support you, ultimately your development is your responsibility, and each of us will need to be proactive in order to achieve greater satisfaction and effectiveness in current work, take a new role or career direction, and achieve our professional goals. Taking time to focus on our own development can make us more confident about existing capabilities, help us keep track of progress and identify the most relevant opportunities to achieve objectives. 

The five step model below is one approach to help you take charge of your professional development.

5 Steps

Step 1 Self-assessment


To create a professional development plan, you need to know your starting point. 

Try using SWIM - Strengths, Weaknesses, Interests and My Values:

  • Strengths: Where do I add value? What are my skills? What do others say I do well?
  • Weaknesses or areas for improvement: Where do I feel I could be more confident, skilled or knowledgeable?  What situations would I like to master? Which tasks are more challenging for me?
  • Interests: What draws me? Where do I gain inspiration?  What motivates and enthuses me?
  • My Values: What is important to me?  Where do I draw my lines?  How have my values shaped my career so far?

For some exercises to help with this, see the Oxford Careers Compass

Step 2 Establish goals

You need to 'know where you are going, so that ….the steps you take are always in the right direction' (Stephen Covey).

This includes:

  • What do you want to get better at / learn about related to your current job?
  • What would you like your job /career to give you now and in 1 year or 5 years’ time?  (Satisfaction, challenge, reputation, remuneration…)
  • Where do you want to be? What do you want to be different for you as a result of your development?
  • Is there a specific role you would like to aim for?
  • How will you know if you have succeeded in achieving your goals?

Step 3 Consider options and resources

There are many different opportunities to develop yourself.  Take some time to think about the resources around you.

It is worth bearing in mind the ‘70/20/10’ rule here.  Eichinger, R and Lombardo, M, (The Career Architect Development Planner, 1996) found that for managers:

  • 70% of impactful learning happens on the job (is experiential)
  • 20% of impactful learning happens in social interaction
  • 10% of impactful learning happens in structured learning

This finding has relevance for a range of professional roles.  So, here you will be thinking of people in your network, opportunities for trying things out, reflecting, observation, shadowing, coaching, mentoring, reading and research, as well as online and classroom learning.

  • How do you tend to learn best?
  • How could you leverage your strengths to develop in other areas?
  • What can you learn from the development journeys of others who have achieved similar goals to yours?
  • Who can help you?
    • Your manager should help you focus on and develop the skills, knowledge and behaviours needed for your current role, and upcoming work objectives, and should also be available to discuss your career aspirations with you.  One to one meetings and your PDR are key opportunities for these discussions.
    • Your colleagues – is there someone who performs a task or role very well that you would like to do?  Could you buddy up to share skills and ideas, and encourage each other?
    • Who could mentor you?  Informal contacts, or senior professionals in your field? 
    • Who in your wider network may be able to help you in reaching your goals, or could connect you to someone who can?

Which options will you select? Think about how likely you are to do this (your motivation, and practical considerations) and how much impact this will have (how likely it is to help you achieve, or progress towards your goal).

Step 4 Plan

'A goal without a plan is just a wish' (Antoine de Saint-Exupery), so your next step is to set out your action plan.

Now you are ready to put your ideas into writing, and create an achievable action plan.  When we write down our actions, we are actually more likely to achieve them.

Your plan could include:

  • Development goals
  • Milestones (key achievements along the way)
  • Actions
  • Timeframes
  • Resources
What is my development What is the development need to be addressed to achieve my goal? How can it best be met? What actions will I take? Who can help with this? When will I do this by? Review
Think: What will I be able to do? How well? What will be happening if I achieve this goal? Try to be SMART Where do I need to get better / more confident / skilled or knowledgeable? What needs to be different? (think behaviours and impact) Which options have I selected? Think: 70/20/20 Break it down into concrete steps you will take Think: network Challenge yourself, but keep it realistic How will I keep track of my progress?

If possible, find at least one person who can act as a ‘critical friend’. Consult them to get feedback on your ideas or ask advice. This could be a colleague, friend, professional coach, or line-manager.

Step 5 Monitor and review

Most people spend more time a year planning a holiday than they do planning their career.  Once you have taken control of planning your own development, assessing your starting point, clarifying your goals, analysing your options, and planning action, you don’t want to waste your efforts.  Build in some time to monitor how you are progressing against your goals and plans.  If it works better for you, book in a meeting with a friend or colleague, or a coach to reflect on progress made and next steps ahead.  Reassess your situation as you strengthen your skills, network and awareness. 

Some career development top tips

Network: Growing and maintaining a network is key to successful career development.  Who could you reach out to?  Get back in touch with?  Ask for help or advice? Offer help or advice? Share ideas with?  What would make you more confident about networking?  Where will you start?

Shining a light on your achievements:  Keep a log of good news stories, achievements, examples of successes and new learning.  What did you bring that made this a success?  Be open to opportunities to share these, and have them ready should you choose to apply for a new role.

'Planned happenstance' (John Krumboltz of Stanford University):  Keep an eye open (and an open mind) to new opportunities.  Being ready to take advantage of an opportunity may lead to your best next step. Planned Happenstance suggests that even if you don’t know exactly where your actions will lead, just by being active and doing the right kinds of things, great things can and will happen.

Find out more: 

Search on for the Taking charge of your career course. 

Careers Support Network (359kb) and further information