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Planning for Career Success – Skill Development for International Students 

Personal Development Planning (PDP): 

PDP is the idea that rather than leaving our development to random chance we can take charge of it through conscious analysis and planning.  It is a system that you can use to address your educational and professional needs.  You can use it when you are at university to develop in a way that is focused on helping you meet your career aspirations.  It can also be used during your working life to help you manage your professional and career development.  The great news is that the process is really simple!  It is asking and answering the following three questions: 

Where am I now? 

What are your strengths and weaknesses? Are there things that you want to be able to do but can’t at the moment?  Are there experiences you would like to have (i.e. through employment)?  Are there things you would like to learn about yourself (i.e. What motivates you?  What are your personal values? How you react in certain situations?). 

See “Skills Audit” section in this article.   

Where do I want to be? 

You can think about your short-term goals, long term goals or both.  What are your goals? What are the outcomes you are looking for in regards to your personal development?  If it is a skill you would like to develop, how good do you need or want to get at it?  Is there a specific skill set you need to develop for a career or profession? 

How do I get there? 

Are you aware of all the opportunities available to you to develop in the way you want to?  What are these opportunities and how do they contribute? 

See “Opportunities for skill development” and “Action Planning” in this article. 

Skills Audit: 

Have you ever spent time thinking about what skills you have and how you would prove this if you were asked for evidence – perhaps on an application form or in a job interview?  If not, a skills audit can help you to identify the skills you already have and those that you need to develop.  

A good place to start a skills audit is to understand which skills are required for the type of career you’re interested in: 

  • There are some skills required for virtually any job, as explained in this article ‘what skills do employers want’ on the Prospects website.   
  • You can also browse the A to Z of job profiles on the Prospects website to find out what skills are required for many graduate jobs, from Academic Librarian to Zoologist! 
  • Carrying out your own research into your chosen profession or industry by speaking to employers at careers fairs, attending employer presentations, reading job adverts and networking online or in person, can help you to identify the required skills. 

Once you have identified the skills you will need, one way to approach the audit is to make a table with 3 columns. 

  • The first column should include a list of all the skills you’ve identified as being important for your career. 
  • The second column can be used to provide examples of when you have used each skill.  Examples can come from your academic work, extra-curricular activities and work experience, as well as your personal life and interests.  Think of as many examples as you can for each skill. 
  • The third column can then be used to rate your current level of ability in each skill for example: good, average and poor.  This requires some honest self-reflection. If you have managed to list lots of examples for a particular skill, you might be able to honestly say that you’re good at it as you have lots of evidence to support this.  However, if you are struggling to think of examples, a lack of experience may mean that you rate your ability for a skill as poor, however this means you have identified a gap in your skills which can form the basis of your personal development plan. 

If you are struggling with the skills audit, speak to a member of your university careers team who will be able to help you.  You can also ask for feedback from people who know you well and who you trust to be honest with you.  It’s also important to remember that you’re learning new skills all the time so a skills audit and personal development planning isn’t a one-off activity, you need to make it a regular feature of your development. 

Opportunities for skill development: 

All universities offer a wide range of opportunities for you to develop your skills, here are just a few examples: 

Aston Business School MSc students can work in a small team on a live business project as part of the Aston Business Clinic. This involves completing a piece of business research for a local SME to support the company’s business development. Students are guided by academic mentors and required to present their findings in a report and presentation evening. The skills developed include innovation, problem-solving, teamworking, planning and developing commercial awareness. 

At BCU students can work towards their Graduate+ awards and in doing so, will develop useful employability skills as well as the ability to reflect on these and understand how they will benefit them in the future.  All BCU students are eligible and they can work their way through Bronze, Silver and Gold, to Platinum level. Further information is available on the Graduate+ website. 

DMU runs the Frontrunners scheme which offers professional work experience through paid internships working part time with DMU staff on real projects.  The wide variety of roles offers the chance to develop transferable skills such as communication, teamwork, presentation skills and project management as well as more specialist skills related to your subject. 

NTU offers an Acceler8 award, which is a flexible award achieved by collecting points through taking part in various employability activities.  These activities include skill-building sessions such as self-awareness and presentation skills, and the students can choose for themselves which sessions are the most beneficial for them. 

The best way of developing employability skills is through work experience. At UCB our Unitemps help students to find a wide range of job opportunities (e.g., student ambassadors, admin roles, mentoring, hospitality, blogging) where they can develop invaluable transferable skills such as communication, teamwork, dependability, resilience, leadership and adaptability. 

The Personal Skills Award is the University of Birmingham’s employability programme for undergraduate students. It enables you to develop, recognise and articulate your skills in preparation for real-world recruitment processes. There’s a choice of getting involved in skills sessions, online courses, taught modules, work experience or on campus activities such as sports opportunities and student groups.  

University of Northampton.  Once or twice a term we hold “Network & Chill” events for our students. Held in the early evening, with food and drink provided, we invite along local employers and students to network together. This provides the students with an opportunity to develop their networking skills with professionals and our employer contacts to meet and engage with our student base. 

Keele students have the opportunity to apply for Keele Internships.  There are opportunities to experience paid work experience over the summer vacation period but also flexible, part-time, options that fit around your studies.       

Action Planning: 

Once you have identified and assessed the skills you would like to improve or learn and opportunities for development, action planning helps you to organise your ideas and put them into action.  At its most basic it simply involves writing down your plans.  Good action planning involves the following: 

PrioritisingIt may not be realistic to expect to achieve all your goals for personal development at the same time.  Set a limited number of goals at a time. 

Flexibility: Your ideas may change so be ready to adapt and change your goals. 

Asking for help: Your university careers team are experts at helping individuals plan their goals.  If you need help with identifying your developmental needs, opportunities for development or action planning seek their help.  

Action plans should be SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound) 


Specific: avoid unclear or vague objectives. 

Measurable: good action planning involves knowing when you have achieved a goal.  Use numbers, dates and times as well as other measurements. 

Achievable: some skill development will take a considerable investment of time and energy.  You do not have to achieve everything in one go, keep it realistic.  You can take small steps towards your goals.  Also keep in mind all your other commitments on your time, such as academic work.  

Time-bound: set dates by which you are going to have completed your action.   

If you would like to download a template for an action plan, click here 

Authors: Sally Cleere, De Montfort University & Ben Simkins, Keele University 

With thanks to Iwan Griffiths (Aston Business School), Lindsay Southall (Birmingham City University), Kathryn Doerr (Nottingham Trent University), Luciana Iwasa (University College Birmingham), Ellen O’Brien (University of Birmingham) and Mark Blaber (University of Northampton) for their contributions to this blog. 

Updated by Sally Cleere.