New! Fishbowl by Glassdoor. Dive into authentic, anonymous conversations with a community of professionals like you. Learn More.

Career Development Tips

How to Create a Personal Development Plan

Posted by Glassdoor Team

Career Advice Experts

Last Updated August 6, 2021

Guide Overview

A Guide to Mapping Your Future Career PathWhat is a Personal Development Plan?Why Create a Personal Development Plan?What are the 5 Areas of Personal Development?What to Include in a Personal Development PlanWhat are Good Personal Development Goals to Set?Personal Development Plan TemplateMake the Commitment Today

Guide Overview

A Guide to Mapping Your Future Career Path

A Personal Development Plan (PDP) is an essential tool to help you target future personal growth, often with the aim to progress in the workplace, but also to meet your own goals in other aspects of your personal life.

By setting milestones for your career path, personal finances and other parts of your life, you make it more manageable to reach those landmarks, as well as to understand what it will take to get you there.

In this guide we'll look at how to create a Personal Development Plan, including the kinds of goals you might want to set across five different elements of your personal development, and how to structure your PDP so that you can use it in the future to chart your progress.

A Guide to Mapping Your Future Career Path

If you have goals or aspirations for the future, it’s important that you prioritise Personal Development Planning. Perhaps you want to take on more responsibility at work or move into a new career path. Whatever your goal, a plan can help you get where you want to go faster and more effectively.  As Jim Rohn, personal development expert, said: “If you don’t design your own life plan, chances are you’ll fall into someone else’s plan. And guess what they have planned for you? Not much.” Personal Development Planning is one way to start looking at your life plan. Learn more below about what to include in your plan and why this shouldn’t be overlooked. By the end of this article, you should already have the beginnings of your own PDP, which can use our Personal Development Plan Template to help you to get organised and get started.

What is a Personal Development Plan?

A Personal Development Plan, also known as a PDP, is a documented plan that outlines your goals, what strengths you already have in those areas, what you need to change to achieve those goals, and what skills you need to improve in your areas of weakness. Think of it as a detailed roadmap that guides you throughout your journey to successfully reaching your goal. A PDP can be used in various aspects of your life. Most commonly, Personal Development Plans are used in the workplace or higher education. 

Managers, for example, will often work with their employees to pinpoint strengths and weaknesses and develop PDPs to help everyone reach their career goals. But you don’t have to wait for your next annual review or progress meeting with your manager to start making changes in your life and working for the better. Make a commitment to yourself by drawing up a PDP of your own. You can include career goals – including any that your manager has suggested you work towards – but you’re not limited only to professional objectives.

You can also include personal and spiritual milestones you would like to achieve. They might be 12-month targets in the style of New Year’s Resolutions, or they might be long-term goals that could take many years to achieve. A PDP should break them down into manageable milestones with realistic deadlines, but there are no upper limits to how ambitious you can be.

Why Create a Personal Development Plan?

allows you to set clear, detailed and achievable goals. You can prioritise the objectives that matter most to you, or that will deliver the biggest benefits to your life and career. You can set milestones and final deadlines, and take appropriate actions to meet and even beat those dates. Personal Development Planning helps bring your vision into a reality and makes it easier to hold yourself accountable for your successes and your failures. You might not always achieve the goals you set for yourself, especially if they are ambitious. But with a plan to keep track of your progress and motivate you when the work gets tough, you’re more likely to be successful.  In fact, according to a study by psychologist Gail Matthews, people who wrote down their goals were 33 percent more successful in reaching those ambitions compared to people who didn’t write down their objectives.

What are the 5 Areas of Personal Development?

Nobody has a one-dimensional personality, yet it is easy to become blinkered in your ambitions for your own development. This can lead to an imbalance between your qualifications and your soft skills, or your career history and free-time activities. Employers prefer well-rounded candidates, so if you think you are particularly strong in one area yet you keep getting rejected at the interview stage, it might be worth bringing the other elements of your personality up to that same high standard. The five areas of personal development help you to improve in broad terms, so that you can take a balanced approach to your progression. Generally speaking, the five areas of personal development are:

    • Emotional: This can be quite abstract and difficult to pin down, but covers areas like coping with stress, positive outlook and anger management.
    • Mental: Also called Cognitive or Cerebral, this is about exercising your mind to stay open to new learning opportunities whenever they may arise.
    • Physical: Physical health can underpin good mental health, and it’s often easy to set achievable goals such as time spent exercising, healthy weight loss or a target BMI.
    • Social: This can include communication skills such as learning a new language or improving the way you interact with managers and subordinates.
    • Spiritual: Spirituality does not necessarily mean religion. Instead, it is about how you perceive the world around you – your world – and the impact this can have on yourself and your personality.

You might find some elements of personal development more appealing than others. For example, you might find it easier to work towards concrete goals, like physical fitness or career progression, than more abstract spiritual and social destinations. A Personal Development Plan is your opportunity to challenge yourself by setting multiple goals, including some you might not normally feel comfortable working towards. You can prioritise the goals you feel are most achievable – or alternatively, prioritise those you find most difficult to achieve, so that you do not neglect them in the long run.

What to Include in a Personal Development Plan

Personal Development Plans will differ from person to person because they’re dependent upon an individual’s goal. Most PDPs, however, contain a list of strengths, weaknesses, areas of development and goals.  After you evaluate your strengths and weaknesses and list your goals, make a list of the skills you need to reach your goals. Don’t forget to include ways you can develop those skills, like signing up for a continuing education course or learning a new software platform. When setting your goals, remember to make them SMART. The SMART goal method is an effective goal setting strategy that brings structure to your objectives, making them easier to achieve. If you’ve never used this method before, note that S.M.A.R.T. stands for:

  • Specific: Be specific with what you want to achieve. Instead of a vague goal like, “I want to make more money this year,” turn it into something more specific like, “I want to make 30 percent more money in the next 12 months.” 
  • Measurable: Make your goal measurable so that you can track your progress and stay motivated. Include a specific number or date, so that you have something concrete to work towards. 
  • Attainable: Don’t set yourself up for failure. Set goals that are realistic and that you have full control over. For instance, “Getting a promotion” is heavily dependent on your manager.  
  • Relevant: Is your goal relevant to you? Will it help improve your career or quality of life? Look at the overall picture and be sure that your objective is relevant to you your long-term career objectives.
  • Timely: Every goal needs a date or deadline. Having a time-bound goal will help keep your priorities in check and tasks on track. When setting a deadline for your goal, be realistic. Can you really complete your task in 6 months, or is one year more attainable? 

Keep SMART in mind when writing a new PDP or updating your existing goals. And each time you complete an objective, replace it with something new that will keep driving you on to greater and greater success.

What are Good Personal Development Goals to Set?

It really depends on which areas of your personality you would like to improve. It’s sometimes difficult to step outside of yourself and see what others see, so don’t be embarrassed to ask friends, family and colleagues for their honest opinions. Managers are useful when planning your PDP, because they will often give you a very honest opinion, even if it is quite blunt. It’s in their best interests to identify the areas where you have the biggest need for personal development, and a good manager knows it’s in your best interests too. Set your ego to one side and be prepared to hear what would ordinarily sound like criticism. And if you don’t decide to ask other people for their opinions, try to be honest with yourself about your failings. You’re probably already some of the way towards achieving your personal goals, so start by listing the skills you already have, and this should help you to recognise the changes you need to make, in order to become the person you would like to be.

Personal Development Plan Template

A Personal Development Plan Template is an excellent starting point to fill in your goals and how you will achieve them. If you’ve learned the STAR method for how to answer job interview questions, you might see some similarities between it and the template we’ve provided below. Your PDP might look something like this:

Objective Criteria Actions Results/Outcomes
1. Promotion at work 1. Reach interview stage 2. Get promoted 1. Join management training scheme 2. Shadow current line manager 1. Complete training 2. Understand what is needed in the role
2. Clear personal debts 1. Pay off £250 per month 2. Fully repay loan/mortgage 1. Find out how to overpay 2. Set up standing orders 1. Check remaining balance monthly 2. Make final payments


Like the STAR technique, a Personal Development Plan starts by identifying a Situation – in this case, the Objective you would like to achieve – and then instead of a Task, it breaks this general outcome down into specific Criteria that together signal you have completed the goal. You can then list specific Actions you can take to work towards each Objective, and these should be concrete, real-world actions that you can clearly see when you begin and complete them. Finally, define some Results or Outcomes for each Objective, again so that you have a measurable finish line for when you can say you have completed this aspect of your development. Make sure your Outcomes are within your control. So for example, although you cannot guarantee your own promotion in a round of competitive interviews, you can ensure that you have learned everything you can about the role and completed any relevant qualifications or on-the-job training to make you a strong candidate. There are a few admin-type columns you might want to add to your PDP too, to make it easier to manage your progression along the way to each Objective:

Current Position Skills Gap Deadline Priority
How near or far are you to already completing this goal? What specific skills, qualifications or experience do you need to gain? When do you want (or need) to complete this Objective by? How does this Objective compare to others on your PDP?


A Personal Development Plan can be tailored to your own needs: if you prefer to set intermediate milestone deadlines for each Criteria or Action, or you want to list more Criteria to guide you step by step, that’s fine. You can add or remove columns if you think it makes your PDP more relevant to your unique needs. Some people prefer to keep their PDP to career goals, while others like to list objectives with relevance to their personal life too.

Make the Commitment Today

Making a commitment to personal development isn’t easy, but a PDP can help you find your focus and set realistic deadlines and outcomes. Set yourself up for success by creating a detailed Personal Development Plan to guide you through your journey of achieving goals and building a career you love.

Related Career Guides