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Career Development

5 Steps to Create a Career Development Plan for Yourself

December 12, 2019

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Setting specific, measurable career development goals can help you get to the next level in your career. While developing a career plan can entail a significant amount of work, it will pay off in helping you to understand where you want to go with your career next and what you need to do to get there.

Creating and implementing an employee career development plan allows you to feel motivated at work, even if you haven’t found your dream job just yet, because it helps you to make concrete plans to get there.

Here, we define a career development plan template and outline five steps to easily and efficiently make an individual development plan for yourself.

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What is a career development plan?

A career development plan is a personal action plan that you can use to create a roadmap for your career. The typical career development plan example outlines:

  • The starting point: Where you are now in your career
  • The destination: Where you want to go in your career
  • The gap: The obstacles you must overcome to reach the destination
  • The route: How to close the gap to reach your intended destination

Your personalized development plan will help you to identify specific, achievable career goals and then design and implement strategies to reach your goals.

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How to create a career development plan

Follow these steps to create a career development plan for yourself:

  1. Identify your current position
  2. Identify your destination
  3. Do a gap analysis
  4. Create your career development plan
  5. Measure your progress and be ready to re-evaluate

1. Identify your current position

The first step in any career development plan is to identify where you are now in your career. This step also allows you to reflect on your current skillset and strengths.

At this stage, you should consider questions like:

  • What are my past experiences?
  • What do I enjoy doing?
  • What kinds of natural skills and talents do I have?
  • What am I doing when I feel most excited or motivated at work?
  • Do I prefer leading a group, working with peers or working alone?
  • What energizes me? What drains my energy?
  • Do I have a specific calling in life?
  • What about my career motivates me to get up and go to work in the morning?

Take some time to write down the answers to these questions. Note your current position in your field, including whether you have finished your education or would like to pursue additional graduate education and where you fall on the career ladder.

2. Identify your destination

Next, identify where you want to go with your career. Set aside any obstacles or inhibitions that might be holding you back. What is your dream career? Where would you love to be in five to 10 years if nothing was holding you back? Include your ultimate career goal. If your dream is to be the CEO of a midsize company, incorporate that into your plan.

Develop more specific goals in the form of concise statements. It can be helpful to establish where you would like to be in smaller increments. Given where you are and the skills you have, where would you like your career to be in two years? This is an increment that is close enough to your current day-to-day, thus making it easier to visualize.

Next, think about where you want to be in five to 10 years. This is a more substantial step and will require you to envision opportunities that could arise two or three steps down the line. Do you want to still be at your current company but in a more senior role? Do you want to land a job at another company? Or perhaps you want to transition careers altogether. Make sure that your stated goals align with what motivates you the most.

Once you have completed these first two steps, you should have a better understanding of your skills and the career options that are available to you. You’re now ready to assess how to get to your target destination.

3. Do a gap analysis

At this stage, you are ready to do a gap analysis, which determines where you are now and where you aim to be. Taking the goals that you outlined as your two-year or five-year career focus, find job listings for the type of job you want. Be sure the descriptions match your skills and experience, and the requirements align with your ultimate ambition.

Additionally, take time to consult with your supervisor, mentor and colleagues at work to understand whether there are key items that you should add to the list. While you may not want to tell your supervisor if your goal is to land a better-paying job at another company, you can still articulate to them the specific skills you would like to bring to your current role. 

Since this kind of professional development would benefit your team and the company as well as you as an individual, your boss will likely be pleased to help connect you to resources or assign you relevant responsibilities.

Once you’ve assembled this list of skills and experiences, go through line by line and rate your current skills, education and experience against the requirements. Create a simple rating system of 1-5, with 1 representing no match between you and the requirement, and 5 meaning that you perfectly meet the requirement. With this system, the lower the rating, the more time and energy you will need to invest in improvement.

Once you have completed this exercise, identify all of the areas where you have a development gap. Look for common skills and experiences and put them together in a group. You will likely begin to notice patterns in which skills or experiences you have a solid background in and which ones require further development. See if there are items that need to happen in a particular sequence. For example, before you take on extra responsibilities at work related to a specific piece of software, you will need to learn how to use it. This is the list of skills, education and experience you need to focus on.

4. Create your career development plan

Now that you have the details about the skills you need to develop to advance your career, you’re ready to make a plan to do so. This step involves taking the list of skills, education and experiences you want to gain over the next few years and creating a concrete plan to get to your career goals. 

Create a set of tasks related to each item on the list that will help you to achieve them. For example, if one of the skills you want to learn is how to use a particular piece of software, your plan could include signing up for a course to learn about it, practicing with a colleague and asking your supervisor to allow you to work with the software as part of your role.

Order the plan like a timeline according to the logical trajectory for your goals. Start with short-term items that you can achieve relatively quickly, such as reading a book, and then move on to longer-term goals like getting a master’s degree.

Using the SMART goal template can help you to set achievable goals. SMART stands for Smart, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound. For example, the goal of improving your understanding of your company’s payroll system by working one-on-one with your supervisor constitutes a SMART goal. Designing your goals following the SMART template helps ensure that your goals are tangible and achievable in pre-set increments of time.

The best way to keep yourself accountable to the plan is to assign yourself dates for each task. Give yourself a “start by” date by which you should be working on a task. Make sure to plan out any preliminary steps to each item too. For example, before you enroll in a professional development course, you may need to apply and purchase the required textbooks. At this stage, you have a career development plan.

5. Measure your progress and be ready to re-evaluate

Your career development plan doesn’t end once you’ve created it. The implementation stage now begins. To keep yourself accountable, keep track of how your actual implementation aligns with the dates you assigned yourself in step four. Check-in with the list at least two times per year to make sure that you continue to achieve the set timeline.

Once you’ve begun working through your list of skills, education and experiences, you will want to figure out how to measure progress in your career. A positive performance review, landing a new job, getting a promotion, establishing useful career contacts or winning an award could be metrics for career success.

Unexpected occurrences and events will arise. A job opportunity could take your career in a surprising direction, or you could move across the country. A wide variety of factors could knock your plan off course. Keep in mind that it’s okay to change direction, as long as you can remain flexible. The plan is not concrete, and it is useful to review it periodically to update your goals to match your life circumstances. In addition to regularly tracking your progress, plan to re-evaluate the plan itself every six months or so, and adjust it to meet your current goals.

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Why you should create a career development plan

Whether you just graduated from college or you have been in the workforce for years, a career development plan can be an important tool to advance your goals. Mapping out your future career will not only help you to reach your career goals, but will also help you to stay motivated and inspired at work, increase your productivity, and strengthen your relationship with mentors and supervisors.

Stay on top of your plan, and chances are you will be able to take your career to the next level.

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