By Alex Harrington, Executive Director

Many Americans who joined the workforce may have chosen their first job by the very first offer. Or perhaps by way of a happenstance moment where the job came to them. Others may have decided on their first job by joining family business or accepted a hasty recommendation from a friend. And still, others might have painstakingly looked at various job offers and then decided on the one that commanded the highest salary. Regardless of how they selected their first job, the shared struggle for countless job seekers is they must bear future career choices, including setbacks and unexpected challenges, throughout their working life.

If only we could be like Tiger Woods (not for his fame nor riches) for his vocational calling at 6-months-old, as he watched his father hit golf balls into a net and imitating his swing, and later appeared on The Mike Douglas Show at age 2, putting with Bob Hope. And at 3-years-old, Woods shot 48 for nine holes and was even featured in Golf Digest at age 5. If only we could be like Woods and know our vocational calling at an early age, reducing all the career decisions that we must take during our working lives.

Of course, some would gladly take Tiger Woods’ fame and riches and sit on a beach with a Mai Tai for the rest of their lives!

The question must be asked: “How do I plan and manage my career to navigate the many choices that I must face throughout my work and personal life?”

Answer: The Individual Development Plan (IDP)

I would recommend creating an IDP because it is one of the best career development tools to assist you in achieving your personal and professional development goals. It will also help you and your supervisor set expectations for specific learning objectives and those competencies tied to your position. Moreover, an IDP is a written partnership between you and your supervisor.

Benefits of an IDP

The primary benefit of an IDP is that it helps you meet your career goals: short- and long-term. It can also support your decision-making. For example, if one of your long-term career goals is to become a Senior Executive in federal service, you would identify and take training courses focused on leadership development. An IDP can also help you use accurate, current, and unbiased career information. Finally, an IDP can help you master academic, occupational, and universal employability skills.

Components of an IDP

When creating your IDP, be sure to include the following components:

  • Employee profile – your name, position title, office, grade/pay band.
  • Career goals – this is where you would outline short-term and long-term goals with estimated and actual completion dates.
  • Development objectives – identify performance objectives that link to your work unit mission/goals/objectives and your development needs and objectives.
  • Training and development opportunities – indicate activities in which you will pursue. These activities may include formal classroom training, web-based training, rotational assignments, shadowing assignments, on-the-job training, self-study programs, and professional conferences/seminars.
  • Signatures – to help hold you and your supervisor accountable to the completion dates.

Integration of short-term and long-term performance/career goals

Integrate both your short-term (1 year) performance/development goals that improve job performance with your long-term career goals to your next advancement (e.g., promotion, responsibility, etc.). For example, a social media specialist’s short-term goal could be: Exceed my supervisor’s minimum expectations by the first three months of my start date. And one of their long-term goals could be: Advance to a leadership position within the organization by three years.

Responsibilities of the IDP development process

Regardless of an agency’s policy on IDPs, you are RESPONSIBLE for your IDP. When drafting your IDP, base it on, at least in part, on learning and performance objectives established or recommended by your supervisor.

Also, keep in mind to update your IDP annually. At the beginning of each performance year, your supervisor should be sitting down with you to create a performance plan. This is the best time to share your IDP and discuss not only how you will support performance requirements, but also share your long-term career aspirations.

If you’re a supervisor: help your employees identify training needs and suitable learning and development opportunities to be included in their IDPs.

To learn more about how to create an IDP, check out the following resources:

Government resources

Office of Personnel Management

National Park Service

Other IDP resources

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Author: Alex Harrington is currently a Federal civil servant and a Certified Career Services Provider and Global Career Development Facilitator. He served in the U.S. Marine Corps and is a Persian Gulf War veteran.

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Federal Career Connection

A free resource for Americans who want to serve in the federal government, while helping the government recruit individuals who possess high standards of integrity, conduct, and concern for the public interest.

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