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Building a self-assessment plan for IT pros

Take a step back to reflect on where you’ve been and where your career is going. Annual self-assessment can boost your professional profile and help prepare you for an uncertain future.

The rise and rule of ever-changing technology has forced most professionals -- especially those in IT -- to reinvent themselves on a regular basis. And with the seemingly relentless march of change -- as well as the introduction of new tools, techniques and technologies -- annual self-assessment makes sense for all IT pros.

An annual self-assessment can help you adapt to changes in the IT market landscape. It’s also important when considering career and income goals, as well as personal aspirations. Reviewing your current skill set and knowledge will help you focus on your strengths and weaknesses. You'll be able to effectively determine which skills should be pruned, which should be maintained or upgraded, and what new elements should make their way into your career portfolio.

Establish clear professional goals
To start, formulate specific objectives. They will define the basis for all self-assessments and will help you track professional growth. Keep the following guidelines in mind when determining your own goals:

  • Make your objectives clear, concise and measurable.
  • Document goals in writing, so you can refer to them later as needed. Remember, there is definite value in committing goals to paper (or a Word doc).
  • Incorporate incentives into your list of objectives. They vary by individual. For certain people, it’s about money. For others, professional recognition, certificates, awards and honors are important. Strong career goals should reflect what motivates you.
  • Include both short-term and long-term elements in your goals. Some goals may be met in a short period of time, such as earning a CompTIA Network+ or Cloud Essentials certification. Others may require years of planning and effort, like a Ph.D. in engineering or computer science.
  • Make sure your goals have timelines. Consider them deadlines for career progress. Just as real work assignments come with internal milestones and delivery dates, so too should your career objectives include definite dates and tangible accomplishments to strive for.

Assess your status and needs, then build a plan
When crafting your objectives, decide how to turn each one into a real accomplishment. This means determining what skills and knowledge you’ll need to reach your goal, as well as the time, effort and expense required.

Be realistic. Most people can’t afford to devote themselves to professional improvement full-time, so make your budgets and schedules reasonable.

Ask yourself the following questions as you make your way through the planning exercise for each objective:

  • Do I need more formal education? This could be anything from a college diploma to an advanced graduate degree, depending on your current level of academic training.
  • Can I benefit from additional IT certifications? Remember that some take longer to earn than others. For example, a friend of mine has been planning to earn his CCIE for five years now. He has already earned CCNA, CCNP and CCNP security certifications along the way. Build yourself a ladder to climb to pinnacle certs like the CCIE, even if the vendor doesn’t require intermediate credentials.
  • Are my current credentials fresh enough? Most IT certifications come with expiration dates, forcing pros to continue their education in order to keep them current and relevant. Keep an eye on your current credentials, decide which you want to maintain, and plan for the education, training or retesting you’ll need.
  • What type of experiences will I benefit from? If you want to be a project manager or team lead, you should be a team member and perhaps a senior programmer, analyst or administrator beforehand. You’ll gain valuable experience along the way.
  • How can I improve my "soft" skills? Work on your written communications as well as your project management and organizational skills. Determine which are most important to your aspirations, then build yourself up in those areas.
  • What about cross-training in multiple fields? Very few things in life or at work are completely pure. It helps to combine multiple technical areas, rather than focus on one or another.
  • Should I join a professional association? You bet! Whatever your IT interests are, chances are high that you can find a professional association, society or interest group to stoke them. These organizations offer mentoring, networking, training and other professional development opportunities. They also often serve as great referral sources for job leads.

Your plans will develop organically as you answer the questions above. Make sure to add reminders and deadlines to your personal calendaring or scheduling software to keep tabs on your progress. Also, watch industry trends and developments so you can factor new tools, technologies and best practices into the mix to keep your skill set fresh and valuable.

Final words of self-assessment encouragement
It's not easy to set goals and plan short-term and long-term schedules and activities. But don’t worry, this exercise gets easier over time. Repeat it at least once a year to see how you’re doing. Understand where you’ve been, and figure out where you’re going. Working in IT demands a commitment to lifelong learning. With this kind of planning and review regimen, you’ll stay well-prepared to honor that commitment throughout your career.

Ed Tittel is a full-time freelance writer who specializes in IT certification, Windows operating systems, information security and markup languages. He also occasionally works as a consultant and expert witness. Tittel's TechTarget blogs include Windows Enterprise Desktop and IT Career JumpStart, and he blogs weekly for at IT Certification Success as well.

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This is a useful and comprehensive list of ideas for self-assessment and professional development. A bit corporate-stylish though.
It's not only about setting goals and bulldozing towards them. It's also about versatility and taking of opportunities. Reflecting and learning from everything that happens.