Developing your career takes planning, and many people are hesitant in their approach.

Here are questions to ask yourself and advice for setting goals to help get you where you want to go.

Ah, professional development plans (PDPs) – you know, those documents with a bunch of aspirational goals and development activities, like attending a leadership conference or reading the latest management book. Over the years, I’ve spent many hours working with employees on their PDPs and have noticed that many people struggle with the same challenges: they often lack specific career goals; they sign up for too many activities, and they include irrelevant activities that don’t align with their overall long-term goals.

So I came up with the following approach to make PDPs part of a useful process.

Important Questions to Consider

First, ask yourself the following key question: Are you trying to master your current role or get ready for the next role? In other words, what is your ultimate goal?

Whether it’s to master the role you’re in or trying to get a new one, I recommend organizing your PDP using the Three E’s:  Education, Experience and Exposure. Your answer to the key question will dictate how you spend your time across the Three E’s.

EducationWhat do you need to know?   Do some research and look at people who have the job you want. Then, get information about their credentials, skills and educational achievements.  What are reasonable ways for you to acquire that knowledge?  Some ways might include reading an article, attending a seminar or earning a formal certification or degree.

ExperienceWhat do you need to have done? The skills you’ve acquired in your current role don’t necessarily help you get the job you want.  For example, being a seasoned, top performing Customer Service Representative doesn’t mean you’ll make a great Team Leader.  (Check out the Peter Principle and you’ll find out why.)  If you aspire to become a manager, ask to get involved in training, coaching, annual planning or even hiring activities.

Exposure: Who needs to see you in action?  This is the last E for a reason: You don’t want to draw attention to yourself until you are ready for it.  However, when the time is right you might get noticed by leading internal projects, participating in a committee or internal work team or anything else that will increase your exposure to decision-makers, allowing you to show off your skills and capabilities.

If you’re new to your role, your development activities should be focused on acquiring knowledge and experience but not necessarily in high-exposure situations.  Conversely, as you near mastery, actively look for exposure-rich opportunities.

Other Ways to Manage Your Career


  • Limit the number of development activities to just three at any given time – you have a day job. Impact is the key, not quantity.
  • Collaborate with your manager to help you validate your plan. They have a critical role to play, especially with regard to creating exposure opportunities.
  • Re-visit your development plan frequently, checking off completed activities. This is the best way to demonstrate how serious you are about achieving your career goals.
  • When you find yourself in a role that isn’t challenging enough, the fastest way to get out of it is to absolutely, unequivocally crush it. If you think you are overqualified for the role that you’re in, then prove it – don’t whine about it.
  • Seek out strategic, lateral moves, so that you can accumulate more experience and skills.  The proverbial “career ladder” implies only one direction: straight up.  In the real world, expect your career to “zig-zag” on its way to your ultimate job.
  • When evaluating a job opportunity, whether internal or external, ask yourself the following questions:
    1. Does it help me LEARN something new?
    2. Does it give me a chance to DO something new?
    3. Does it give me more EXPOSURE to key decision makers?

Remember that no one, and I mean absolutely no one, cares more about your career than you.   It’s up to you to create a meaningful professional development plan that actually helps you achieve your career goals. It’s easy: Just remember the Three E’s.

This article was originally published on LinkedIn.