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5 Steps to Professional DevelopmentĀ Planning

Step 1: Analyze employment ads to identify the transferable skills you will need for the type of position you will seek.

The best method for learning what employers want in your discipline is to analyze job ads. Search for job titles of interest to you - ones you might apply for in the future. Now identify repeated words like team work, problem solving and communication. Those are transferable skills. Make a note of the key transferable skills appearing in job ads (you will find trends.) While you're looking, also identify the discipline-specific skills are in high demand by employers in your field. Make a note of those, too.

As an aside, analyzing job ads helps you in another way: You will gain a deep appreciation for the job market - knowledge about the number of available jobs, which job sectors to explore, and job titles you may want to pursue. 

Step 2: Assess the scope of your transferable skills and leadership strengths.

Across all disciplines, employers highly value transferable skills (sometimes called "soft" skills.) For example, the National Association Colleges and Employers Job Outlook 2015 shows that 78 percent of employers surveyed chose both "leadership" and "the ability to work in a team structure" as key skills they seek in new hires. Other skills in high demand by employers included oral and written communication, problem-solving and analytical/quantitative skills. source

The challenge: graduate students and postdocs are not cognizant of the many, many transferable skills they acquire during advanced studies. Our best advice is to complete at least two transferable skills checklists so that you know what you have to offer future employers and what new skills you need to master.

It is also a good idea to identify your leadership strengths and capitalize on them. StrengthsQuest™ is a quick (and fun) way to get started. Developed by Gallup, the assessment tool is confidential. At Mizzou, the $15 fee includes a comprehensive report of your strengths and proven strategies for academic and career success. No need for an appointment, just go to the MU Career Center (across from Ellis Library) during regular business hours. Learn more at the Strengthsquest™.

Step 3. Talk with your mentor(s) about professional development.

Set a 15-20 minute appointment with your mentor. Share a copy of your checklist of transferable skills.

Say: "This is a list of my transferal skills (aka 'soft skills') and the new ones that I believe I should acquire." 

Ask: "Do you think that I've targeted the right skills for professional development, or are there other skills that I should address?"

It is always helpful to get another perspective. Based on the feedback you receive, you will be able to prioritize your PD goals.

Step 4: Set professional development goals in an Individual Professional Development Plan

As best practice, every graduate student and postdoc should complete an Individual Professional Development Plan (IPDP) and update it annually. Plans vary (you can create your own!) but all must include a section for setting goals. Prioritizing professional development goals is easy: compare what you have to offer (Step 2) with what you found by analyzing job ads (Step 1). Here's more information on setting goals.

Step 5: Evaluate your progress toward professional development goals and update your IPDP. 

As part of your Individual Professional Development Plan (examples), you have set goals for expanding your repertoire of transferable skills! Now it's time to chart your progress. 

Examine each of your goals. Ask yourself, Did I pursue learning opportunities* related to my professional development priority goals? What new skills am I able to demonstrate? Have I mastered the skill or do I need additional practice? To help with objectivity, you might meet with your mentor again and ask her/him to help you assess the mastery of a new skill. 

Once you have mastered a high-priority transferable skill, set a new goal. It's a wise investment of your time. As you get ready for the job market, your transferable skills will serve to strengthen your resume, Linked In profile and cover letters.

Bottom line, you must be able to "sell" prospective employers on your disciplinary knowledge and skills as well as your transferable skills.

*Possible learning opportunities may include books, You-Tube videos, PD seminars; graduate-level courses; free "open access" on line courses from reputable schools; case studies; public presentations; externships; job shadowing; information interviews; helping faculty members write a grant or journal article; volunteer work; and leadership in campus or civic groups. Mizzou students can also take advantage of free diversity seminars; self-study learning modules in my HR; and software training through MU IT.