How to put together a personal development plan (and change your life)

How to put together a personal development plan (and change your life)

Jem Collins is the Director and Editor of Journo Resources, a social enterprise that helps people progress within journalism. She is also a former winner of a Rising Stars Award, so knows well the value of investing in your development. Here she speaks about the importance of creating a personal development plan, and how you can do one too. 

For the majority of my career so far, I’ve viewed personal development as something I could ignore. It wasn’t just a case of putting it to the bottom of my to-do list, it very rarely even made it onto the list and I doubt I’m alone.

That all changed however after I won some free tickets to a Personal Development workshop. Mainly enticed by the free wine and a venue that was only two tube stops away from my house, for the first time I was forced to set aside time to think about me, and where I wanted to go.

It was enlightening, and I practically danced home from the session. For the first time, I felt like I was in control of where I wanted to go and could see how to get there. Even in the depths of the pandemic, my plan gave me something to focus on, and helped me to feel less lost.

A personal development plan helps you to assess the root causes of what you are and aren’t happy about, and see more clearly where you want to go. In short, it isn’t just a nice to have, it’s an essential – and here’s how you can make one yourself.

Block out the time for personal development

If you want to kickstart your personal development you need to make a firm commitment and hold yourself to it. Otherwise, it becomes just another to-do item that gets pushed down the list. 

Make sure you actually block the time out of your calendar and turn off any notifications or distractions such as texts, calls, and emails. The only way you’ll discover something meaningful is through focus.

Start by reviewing what you’ve already done

Perhaps one of the biggest misconceptions about personal development plans is that they’re just about looking forward. In reality, you’ll only work out what you want to happen next if you start by looking back.

My own plan (and you can see the template for it here) looks back over the last 12 months. It prompts me to write down a couple of things I’m proud of, a couple of opportunities I missed, and some of the biggest challenges I can see coming up. It also questions if I’ve taken any risks, because we’re all at risk of getting too comfortable.

The key is to have a mix of positive and negative questions. Hopefully you’ll end up with something that feels both affirming and constructive about what you can change for the better.

Break bigger goals down into sections

While my plan does involve a grand headline vision for where I’d like to be in 12 months, it gets really granular about how to make it happen. The grand plan is important to motivate you, but it won’t become a reality if you don’t break it down.

Try to come up with three main goals that tie into your vision. Put down on paper why they’re important and how you’ll measure your success. Then put together some individual tasks you can complete to work towards these goals, along with dates and people who you’ll call on to help. Ideally, you want to get a mixture of easy wins and longer term tasks, so you feel like you’re making progress at all times.

Hold regular check-ins with yourself 

Perhaps the worst way of doing personal development is the ‘do it and leave it alone for a year’ method. If you’re not checking in with yourself and your plan regularly, it’s difficult to make any meaningful progress.

Set up some regular calendar booking to go through your plan and update it – it won’t take nearly as long as when you first wrote it. I’m also a big fan of putting key goals on post-its in my office, so I can clearly see what I’m working towards.

You might even want to schedule some time with someone else to talk through your goals. Even if your manager doesn’t offer 1-2-1s currently there’s nothing to stop you asking them for a quick chat and shows that you’re taking your role seriously.

See Journo Resources for more content and tools to help you in your journalism career. 


Our Rising Star Awards can help those aged 18-30 fund training to further personal and professional development. Sign up to our newsletter to find out when the awards are opening in early 2022.

Free training resources to boost your career

Free training resources to boost your career

Technologies and processes are constantly evolving. To keep your career on track, extra training is a great way to upskill, build confidence and open new opportunities. 

Some training courses can be pricey, but we believe skills development should be accessible for all. That’s why we’ve compiled some of the best resources out there offering great training for a small cost or even for free. Don’t get left behind, find out where upskilling will take you. 

The skills toolkit is a great platform to look for courses that can help strengthen your digital, numeracy, and work-ready skills, whether at a basic level or a refreshment of fundamental things you might already know. 

Linkedin Learning is a great place to look for training. You can sign up for a free one-month trial and access their huge library of courses. There’s something for every interest and sector, ranging from leadership skills to Excel training. Why not use your free month to learn something new? 

Google Digital Garage has a host of online courses that range from campaign management to SEO. They also run a Fundamentals of Digital Marketing course which you can work through at your own pace and get a recognised certificate at the end. 

Alison has some great courses which are all CPD accredited, giving you an interactive learning experience in areas like customer service and health and safety in the workplace. You can choose between shorter certificate courses or more extensive diploma courses, depending on how much time you have.

Futurelearn has many free short courses which can be done in two or three weeks with short weekly study time, to help you learn new skills as well as advance those you may already have. 

If you’re between the ages of 18 to 30 and do think you could benefit from more formal training to enhance your personal and professional development, then consider applying for our Rising Star Awards, with grants of up to £1500 available to cover training costs beyond support from your employer.

Using LinkedIn to support your career

Using LinkedIn to support your career

Whether you are looking for a job, a fresh start or advice, LinkedIn can be a fantastic resource. However, it can also be a big time waster if you don’t know how to get the best from it. To help, we’ve compiled some of our top tips to make a LinkedIn profile that helps you reach your career goals, with much less effort. 


Content made easy

  • Post regularly – Once you have a LinkedIn profile, it’s important that you post content regularly. This way your content will be seen by more people, and there’ll be no questioning who you are and what you do.
  • Subscribe to industry newsletters – Subscribe to industry newsletters so up to date, relevant news for your sector comes straight to you – no more hunting for what to say. You can then repost these stories, adding your own comment if you like.
  • Use hashtags – Use #tags to search relevant news or sector opportunities you might want to share.
  • Share other people’s posts –  Like and share content that interests you, it’s easy content and makes other people feel happy.
  • It doesn’t have to be all about work – Sharing sector specific content shows your knowledge and enthusiasm, but doesn’t have to be all work. Posting about the things you do and the causes you care about outside of work will show your followers who you are, not just what you do professionally.
  • Give and take recommendations – Whenever you leave a job or finish a contract, ask your previous manager to write a recommendation for you. If you manage someone, help them by providing a recommendation, it’s all good LinkedIn karma.

Connect with others

  • Make it part of your routine – every time you receive or send an email to someone new, look them up on LinkedIn and ask them to connect with you. If you’re new to LinkedIn, try to think of the people you’ve ever met in real life and ask for a connection.
  • Don’t be shy – There’s no need to be shy about asking for connections. LinkedIn is all about making new contacts and seeing what opportunities they bring. If you don’t know them at all, include a note explaining why you thought they were interesting.
  • BUT don’t connect with just anyone – The LinkedIn algorithm favours content that’s getting engagement. If your contacts are relevant to you, they are more likely to like and share your posts. Strangers and spam accounts tend not to engage with content so don’t feel the need to accept all requests.
  • Keep up to date with sector news – Sector awards are a great way to learn the best people and organisations that you should be connected with. Find awards shortlists and add winners and runner ups as contacts and follow their journey to get inspiration.

Keep it up!

  • Set aside time – You don’t want your profile taking time away from your life. Set aside some time each week to create some content, and check on your feed. Phone notifications can help you respond fast if someone contacts you, just select the ones you want so you are not feeling bombarded.

Play the long game

  • It never happens straight away – Connections made both in real life and online rarely come to anything straight away. You might even find that connections you made years ago pop up at the most unexpected time.

For more career development advice and resources, head to our news feed

How do I ask for development opportunities at work?

How do I ask for development opportunities at work?

In your career, developing your skills and experience can help you stay up to date with the latest thinking, ensure you remain interested in your current job, and help you find new opportunities. So even if you’re in the dream job or organisation, it’s always a good idea to think about your personal development from time to time.

Applicants for our Rising Star Awards are encouraged to speak to their line manager or mentor about their aspirations, and to ask for help in developing a personal development plan. If you haven’t had these sorts of conversations before, sometimes it can be hard to know how to start. To help make things easier, we’ve listed some ideas here, so you’ll be on the right path in no time.

  • Ask your manager for a meeting to discuss your development. It doesn’t suggest you are going to quit, in fact, it shows that you are proactive and keen to learn. Increasing your skills keeps you employed there, and helps the company succeed.
  • Once you’ve got the meeting in the diary with your line manager, take time to prepare for it – what do you want to get out of it? Do you already know what training and development you can access through work? Have some ideas ready so you can get the conversation started.
  • Make a list of your accomplishments to date and some areas that you think you need help with. What skill gap are you trying to close, or what area do you want to build upon? Consider if these will not only benefit you in the position you are in now, but also your personal development for the future.
  • Draw up a personal development plan and establish milestones to assess and track your progress. Make sure there are no more than three actions to do at any one time, and use the SMART goal framework. This will help you meet your targets without feeling overwhelmed.
  • Try to check out if there’s a standard approach in your company – for example a Personal Development Plan template or an online learning portal – it’s a good idea to understand the norms in your organisation and work within them initially. Don’t be put off if this isn’t in place though – there are lots of useful templates online.
  • Don’t forget to review and evaluate your personal development plan. When you’ve achieved your first few goals, what’s next? Book the next meeting with your manager to review your plan and make sure you’re on track.
  • Doing it through work is not the only option. You can take matters into your own hands by signing up for online free courses, reading industry publications, attending events and conferences to build your network. A good place to start is Udemy, which has lots of courses that can inspire you.

Our Rising Star awards open again in 2022 for 18-30 year olds working in print, paper, packaging, publishing and graphics. Sign up to our newsletter to receive information when the awards open.

Tools for success – how software training can shape your career

Tools for success – how software training can shape your career

Taking a certified training course can help you gain valuable knowledge in different software applications while opening the door to new career opportunities. 

Software and equipment can be a vital tool in many career paths, helping you to complete your everyday tasks efficiently and to a good standard. Some job roles will require you to have specific training on certain software, for example Adobe Creative Cloud, which you may not be familiar with, or you may just have an interest to learn more about how the software works. 

Before you set out trying to become an expert on every piece of software possible, it’s important to identify what specific tools you need to learn about in your chosen field. Ask colleagues or a mentor about what they use most, or research the tools used in your dream job role. It’s also a good idea to take a look at the software if possible, or follow an online tutorial to double check it is what you were expecting before finding a training course.

Once you have completed technical training, you may find many new career opportunities are available to you. Sophie Chuter, Rising Star Award winner in 2019, used her grant to fund an Adobe certified Photoshop course. “Part of the work we do in our team is manipulating and colour correcting images for our print campaigns. However, I lacked knowledge and confidence in Photoshop to be able to do this. Completing the course will give me an Adobe Mid-level certification which is a recognised qualification in the industry and one that will help me to progress into more senior roles.”

Amy Elrington used her award to do an Adobe Creative Cloud print workshop as well as a course in SEO. For her, the award was invaluable; “The award gave me the opportunity to develop my practical skills in design and online digital marketing. Not only that, I had the opportunity to meet with the talented judges, who challenged me to answer questions about where I want to go with my career.”

Software training is a brilliant way to invest in your career. If you know what programmes you need to use to progress, apply to the Rising Star Awards before the 7th March.

What skills would help you in your career? 

What skills would help you in your career? 

The Printing Charity’s CEO, Neil Lovell, shares his thoughts for prospective Rising Star applicants 

Each year we run an awards programme for young people in our sector.  It’s familiar territory for sectors to champion the brightest and the best and we do it by offering funding to gain skills that otherwise may not be part of on-the-job training. The awards are now the largest single initiative for young people in our sector and this year we have changed the name to the ‘Rising Star Awards’ to better reflect what they are about.  

It seems simple to say if you’re between 18 and 30 and working in our sector, here’s up to £1500, now think of how you’ll use it to enrich your skills and help you develop in your career.  It’s actually harder than you think, especially if you’re so focussed on learning specific skills necessary to do your job.  The challenge is asking applicants to think beyond this.   

The most in demand ‘soft skills’ today

I joined an online seminar recently where future skills and skills gaps were discussed. What struck me was that the skills they were describing were ‘soft skills’, those sometimes intangible competencies that are often overlooked. They included: fluency of ideas, monitoring, systems evaluation, complex problem solving.  Personally, I think these are new descriptions to say the same things I’d have been expected to pick up when I first started work (about 100 years ago); being creative and open to ideas, understanding how to check progress and validate what you’re doing and finding answers to problems you face.  I know why, as an employer, I would want my team to have these skills; they are a sign that someone isn’t just able to do the role they have but can do it in such a way that it’s more likely to be done well. 

The other part of the seminar talked about the skills needing most improvement from an employers perspective. These ranged from the ability to manage your own time and prioritise tasks, to knowledge of products and services, and customer handling. It’s a little frightening that there is thought to be a deficit in these areas by employers but here, too, there are plenty of courses on time management, how to manage customers, and depending on your area of responsibility, how to learn more about the products and services you’re responsible for.  

To help you find the skills you need, we’ve explained soft skills and why you need them and listed some of the online soft skills courses available.  

Are you a Rising Star?

For me, I believe what’s key is no matter which sector or business you are in, your skills, knowledge and experience are what differentiate you from everyone else. Finding ways to keep developing and growing through learning is vitally important once you leave formal education because it’s who you are and what you bring to a team and an organisation that matter. Take every opportunity you can to take on new responsibilities, put your hand up, say yes to the opportunity to do new things and you will go far.  The way we work and the jobs we do will keep changing so although, of course, specific qualifications and certified training are important to show competence, the power of soft skills is in adding to your personal tool kit.

And why not start by checking out our Rising Star Awards? If you meet the criteria (18-30 years of age, working in our sector) and can demonstrate why you want the funds and how they will help you become more rounded and capable, we’d love to hear from you.  

Ready to boost your skills, or know someone that is? Fill in this application form and return it to us before 7 March 2021.