Design Your Future: A Professional Development Plan for Creatives

By Paul Flaharty is District President for Robert Half Talent Solutions, overseeing Technology and Marketing & Creative Contract and Permanent Placement operations in the Southwest United States including the Los Angeles Metro Market, Orange County, San Diego, Phoenix and more. Robert Half connects professionals with companies hiring in marketing, creative, digital, advertising and public relations. Paul was recently featured in a GDUSA podcast exploring 2023 hiring and career trends. 


As a creative, you take pride in crafting winning designs for your clients. But when did you last put the same love and care into designing your career path?

Creating a professional development plan can help. Consider assembling a document where you lay out what you want to achieve, how you will get there and what resources you will need along the way. Think of it as your roadmap to staying abreast of industry trends, mastering the latest digital tools and learning from peers and design leaders.

Why is this process so important? Let’s dive into the data. If you’re like 42% of professionals in a Robert Half survey, chances to learn and expand your skills may boost your job satisfaction. Lack of these opportunities can even cause people to quit: 42% of managers of marketing and creative teams said insufficient career advancement opportunities was a top reason they’d had employees leave the company. It’s not surprising then that a full 81% of these managers said that expanding or enhancing professional development programs had helped them retain talent in the last year.

In addition to asking your manager for chances to upskill, you can start creating a strategy on your own. Here’s a five-step plan to get you started.


Step One: Conduct a Self-Assessment

Kick off your plan with a thorough self-assessment. It’s crucial to perform this step at the outset and also whenever you update your document.

Take a step back and consider your current skills, knowledge and expertise and split them into career-specific and transferable categories. Career-specific details might include logo design principles, experience with art direction and proficiency in niche software and tools. Transferable (or soft) skills are things like time management, adaptability, problem-solving and communication. Don’t shy away from your weaknesses — owning them is the only way you’ll know what to work on to achieve your goals.


Step Two: Set Realistic Goals

Now that you’ve got a clear picture of your strengths and weaknesses, it’s time to set some goals. While it’s tempting to scribble down something like “Get a promotion by the end of Q4,” stick to the SMART method: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound. For instance, you might want to master Adobe After Effects to help you create dazzling motion graphics and animations. As well as being specific, this goal is measurable (aim for a certification), achievable (you’re able to spare 1-2 hours per week for learning and practice), relevant (you can offer more services to your clients), and time-bound (you can polish it off in six months).


Step Three: Develop Strategies and Gather Resources

Next up, brainstorm some ideas to level up your skills. Here are a few strategies to include in your plan, plus some ways to put them into action.

Attending Industry Conferences:  Conferences are great ways for learning about the latest design trends, connecting with fellow creatives and soaking up knowledge from industry leaders. Do some research, find events in your field and make a wish list of conferences you want to attend.

Taking A Third-Party Course:  Check out online platforms like Skillshare, Udemy or Coursera, or look for in-person workshops and classes. Choose courses that align with the goals you set in step two.

Joining an Industry Association:  Being part of an industry organization like AIGA can hook you up with valuable resources, networking opportunities and exclusive events.

Pitching Opportunities To Your Company:  If the Robert Half research mentioned above is anything to go by, you’ll be pushing at an open door if you ask your manager to support your professional development. Research the costs and benefits of the development opportunities and explain how they’ll help both you and the company. For example, you might pick up some game-changing insights at a conference that could level up your team’s projects. Show your boss that investing in you is a win-win for everyone.


Step Four: Map Out Your Timeline

Setting up a timeline with deadlines for your goals is essential for staying on track. It’s the “T” (time-bound) in your SMART goals.

Remember the “R” as well — your deadlines must be realistic. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and you can’t revamp your personal website in a week. Aim for the sweet spot between giving yourself enough time to nail your goals and pushing yourself to grow professionally.