Professional development planning: thoughts for LIS newbies

The New Year is both a time for reflection as well as for planning. At the moment, I’m going through a process of putting together a ‘Performance and Development Plan’ for my work role. I’m sure that on some level, others are doing the same. For a newbie to the information profession, and with all the possibilities available to our career in this profession, professional development and even career planning can be a difficult task.

Last month I had a meeting with the big, big boss at my workplace. Originally, this meeting was intended to discuss a program of work I’ve been working on with a manager. But, this meeting turned into a very important one. The discussion moved from the agenda to the ‘pink elephant in the room’ – a recent decision I have made about my current (new-ish) role. A stickler for keeping to agendas, I wasn’t prepared to discuss my professional development and career aspirations at this time. Not only was this meeting more than slightly nerve-wrecking, but the meeting was also my first face-to-face meeting with the big, big boss. I was fortunate to have a manager, who is in my corner, with me to support what I needed to say. In case I’ve lost you for a bit here, I’ll come out and say it – basically I was asked ‘What are your plans? What do you want to do?’

I’m not sure about others, but this was an incredibly tough question for me to answer. On reflection, I really appreciate the interest the big, big boss had shown in my professional development and my career. If she didn’t give a damn, she wouldn’t have asked. I’ll share with you how I handled this by letting you in on what helped me.

As part of my ePortfolio for my LIS Masters course, I had to produce a personal professional development plan. In my opinion, this was probably the most valuable task of the entire ePortfolio. This was largely given by my agonising over the task throughout the course, attempting to ensure that the plan was ‘just so’, had taken into account pretty much everything. I consulted relevant texts, blogs, templates, you name it to develop the ‘perfect’ professional development plan. As the deadline approached, quick decisions needed to be made and so I went with my gut. The decisions I have made and the things I included in the plan turned out to be the right ones for me. I’m surprisingly happy with the result. The epiphany came when I took the pressure off myself and decided that it was okay to be an early career information professional. I’m allowed to explore. I also think of my professional self as a jigsaw puzzle, looking for learning experiences and skills in order to become my own professional with an unique contribution.

Now to draw on both of these experiences – my meeting with the big, big boss and my personal professional development plan, I can advise other early career information professionals with the following:

Planning and discussing professional development as an early career information professional can be difficult. This is especially so when there are various pathways one could take. But there needs to be a clear enough path to work with. 

My approach to the discussion about career direction with the big, big boss was with honesty. I believe this was all I could do. I’m a fairly direct person, so honesty in these situations is really my strength. I mentally referred to my personal professional development plan in my response and let her know that I’m exploring career directions and that there are three I am currently contemplating. It is my goal within three to five years that I will know the path which I will specialise. I emphasised that I am an early career information professional and am open to different learning experiences. My personal professional development plan I had completed as part of my LIS Masters definitely assisted with my rationale and the composure of my thoughts on this topic. I may not have everything bedded down right now, but I have a clear enough path with which to explore the possibilities available to my career.

The result? The big, big boss appreciated my honesty. There is understanding. Together with my managers, we can now move forward to devise ways I can develop in the sector.

My personal professional development plan will now guide me through the similar, formal process for my work role. I know what I need from my current employer and understand their limitations. I may not know to the letter what would bring me the greatest satisfaction in my career, but I can identify the jigsaw puzzle pieces I will need to put it all together. For now, I’m an early career information professional. And I will permit myself to be one.

Over to you now.

To the newbie information professionals, how do you prepare to discuss your career aspirations and professional development with your employer or supervisor?

And to the managers, what initiative do you like to see in a new LIS graduate regarding their professional development? What do you expect they bring to the discussion table?

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  1. I’ve just been discussing this on my own blog and I’m yet to figure out how to contribute meaningfully to the profession in a way that suits me. I don’t have academic aspirations; I want to help people navigate technology and promote the joys of reading. I don’t know how to convey this in my portfolio either both in the form of work I’ve done or as professional goals. I’ve found the study to be tough and have found that my enthusiasm for the profession has been challenged as a result – I haven’t even worked in a library yet! How do you manage professional expectations/ study and your professional goals?
    — Kahli (https://twitter.com/kmh88)

  2. Hi A, I like this so much (as always!) that I’ve posted a link to it on the ILN Facebook page, we have been discussing resolutions this month as our topic and I thought this fitted in nicely. Well said you 🙂

    1. Awesome! Thanks so much. I hope it helps. Discussing career direction can be really hard or even intimidating for some. I’ve had some follow up thoughts on PD/ career planning since writing this post. I should probably get onto that……Cheers.

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  5. Hi Alisa, great blog – so glad I discovered this! I am a new MLIS student about to embark upon just this process – creating a professional development plan. Not sure where I will start but I’m looking forward to it, it’s great to know how useful you’ve found this and that you don’t have to have all the answers early on. Thanks!

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