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3 Steps to Reach Your Professional Potential

Creating a career development plan is among the expert tips

Duke Leadership Academy class of 2016.
Duke Leadership Academy class of 2016.

Whether you’re searching for new challenges or want to take stock of skills, creating a career development plan is an easy way to achieve goals.

Keisha Williams, assistant vice president of Duke’s Learning & Organization Development, believes a plan is an ideal way to set accountability and focus on reaching next steps in a job or career path.

“It’s about not waiting for someone to give you something,” Williams said. “Set goals and set deadlines based on what you envision for yourself.”

With tips from Duke experts, here’s how to get started on a plan.

Determine where you want to go

“Begin with the end in mind because you won’t know where you’re going if you don’t have an end point,” Williams said. “Think about where the journey should take you and what experiences you need to set it up.”

Williams said an end point could be a year away or five, but create goals to motivate along the way. Don’t set a target to learn a new skill or obtain a new job for the sake of it. Realize what each step offers for personal and professional development, Williams said.

Analyze gaps and skills to be learned

Meredith McCook, an assistant director at Duke’s Career Center, said it’s important to think about necessary skills for a particular career path, but more so what can play to individual strengths. For example, if you’re a creative person, enhance talents around writing or design but don’t forget about technical skills, too. Duke offers online learning at and classes through Learning & Organization Development.

McCook also suggested creating a “board of directors” among respected colleagues and friends to learn from their professional paths and solicit feedback when making career decisions. “That way you’re able to not just make an assumption of what you
should be skilled at, but have a well-informed background to know what skills you want to go after,” she said.

Create a development plan

“It’s good to set big goals, but it’s also good to use smart goals,” said Dave McDonald, an assistant director at Duke’s Career Center. “Include in your plan goals you can maximize the chance to achieve.”

While you may want to be a manager in five years, McDonald suggested setting steps such as using a few hours each week to hone a skill like public speaking or to meet with a mentor.

Williams, of Duke’s Learning & Organization Development, recommended creating a document or spreadsheet with goals and revisiting it regularly.

“The growth process will push you out of your comfort zone, but that’s a good thing,” she said. “Change can be hard, but it can make us better personally and professionally.”

Get a template to build your career development plan here.