How (and Why) to Create a Career Development Plan

by HR Team on August 2, 2012

Create a career development planWhether you’re changing careers or weighing options for advancement at your current job, consider easing your transition with a career development plan. Simply put, a career development plan breaks down long-term professional goals into manageable, individual steps that can help keep you on the right track without making you feel utterly overwhelmed.

After all, your career is a journey. And although it’s impossible to predict the future, creating and following a career development plan can help you keep your larger end goals in mind and stay on track as you accomplish career-related milestones. Your school, company or others may help encourage you and provide resources as you create and develop your career plan, but keep this in mind: You own your career.  It’s up to you to create a plan that works for you and your future.

The hard part? Writing the plan, of course! But don’t worry — we’ve got some tips on what to include so you can get started.

What to Include in a Career Development Plan

Determine what you want

Aspirations and dreams change and evolve over time. What sounds great when you start your career may not remain consistent with your goals and expertise as time passes. While change can affect your future, the most important thing is to figure out what you want now. Want to work outdoors? Change industries? Move up the ladder at your current company? Determining what you want — and, as a result, how you’ll invest your time — creates the foundation for a personal career development plan.

Evaluate what you already have

This step identifies gaps between where you are and where you want to be based on the conclusions of step one. As part of advancing your career, you may need to learn and acquire additional skills, experience or education before you move forward. Take some time to determine whether you’re at the point to fully commit to working toward another degree, or explore other educational opportunities like seminars, certifications and other resources that are applicable to your field and industry. You may also want enlist the help of a mentor. Not only can this person provide you with invaluable advice and perspective, but he or she can guide you to learning and other professional development opportunities. Plus, when your career development plan is finished, your mentor will be a great source of feedback and input.

Create goals

Now that you’ve outlined where you want to go and the skills and education you’ll need to get there, outline a set of goals. A word to the wise? Make your goals real and attainable. Sure, you’re creating a plan that will (hopefully) help you land your dream job. But if your goals aren’t condensed into smaller, more easily attainable tasks, you’re more likely to become overwhelmed and get off track. And another tip? Write down your goals as opposed to mentally filing them away. That way, you’ll be better able to see and track your progress, not to mention stay motivated.

Establish an action plan

The timeframe of an action plan fluctuates from one situation to another. Whenever possible, it helps to identify the amount of time in which you’d like to accomplish various tasks. Keep in mind that a career development plan is likely to span years — even decades — so you’re not necessarily compiling a list of tasks that you’ll completely finish within the next week. That being said, it may help to divide your tasks and goals into various time segments — things you want to accomplish in a week, a month, a year or five years. Then, as you periodically revisit your plan, you can note what you’ve finished and better gauge where you are in your overall timeline.

It may seem initially daunting to create a career development plan, but don’t be intimidated. This is a chance to think about what you want to do, where you want to go and what you want to accomplish — and that’s exhilarating, isn’t it? Think of your career development plan as a guide that will help you get where you want to go, so make the most of this planning process.

Have you created a career development plan to help guide your professional journey? If so, we’d love to hear your tips.

Image by Jonathan Rubio via Creative Commons

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