How to create a career development plan that actually works

A career development plan is a practical strategy that allows you to determine your skills and interests, set career goals, and put actions in place that will help you reach them. It’s a continuous process, and it includes an overview of:

  • Your current skills and experience
  • Your career goals
  • Your interests
  • Your priorities
  • Your intended actions

But it’s often something we either don’t do or we do and then forget about. So in this article, I wanted to share a simple outline of how to create a career development plan that actually works for you.

Benefits of a Career Development Plan

Career development plans are a great way to ensure your career is going in the right direction. Not only do they help you realise your passion, but they also facilitate your career goals with tangible actions and aims. At the very least, a career development plan will help you to answer career goal questions at your next interview. By assessing your situation, you’ll additionally be able to determine and fill any gaps in your knowledge or experience that might be holding you back from your dream job. Here are the five steps you need:

Career plan, review, action

Where am I now?

What is the scope of your current role? - skills, responsibilities, achievements etc. If you're not working right now, do it for your previous role. Include hobbies and volunteering roles. Consider also how your current role aligns with where you want to be. This is a good opportunity to think about the things that haven’t gone well and how you can learn from them. I would encourage you to be curious rather than critical of yourself.

Where do I want to be?

What would you do if you couldn't fail? Is anything holding you back and if so, how could you change this? What do you want to have realistically want to have achieved by the end of your life? What are your options and priorities for the future?

You might consider short-term plans e.g. for the next 12-18 months. Or longer ones e.g. Where would I like to be in 5 years' time? (This is a classic interview question, luckily here, there's no pressure to impress!) Be as imaginative as you like, there are no limits! At the moment it's just a fantasy, which means your brain is less likely to put barriers in.

How will I get there?

Think about the gaps in your skills or knowledge. Consider also your strengths and how they might help you; your network (who you know) and any opportunities that might be available. This is where I would recommend a SWOT analysis exercise (free to access)

Action Plan

Give yourself a clear, step-by-step guide to the actions needed to reach your goals. You might also assign timescales if that helps you. You can include as many actions as you want, but it might be most useful to limit yourself to a smaller number – so you can add new ones as you progress. Things to consider include what experiences/skills might help you get closer to your long-term goals and where you might get them; polishing up or creating a CV; looking at vacancies or training.

Regular reviews

For your career development plan, I would recommend that you review it every 6 months or so to make sure you’re heading in the direction you want. For smaller, day-to-day actions and tasks you might do a weekly review - but this would be much shorter, perhaps 5-10 minutes. You could have someone hold you accountable e.g. a coach, mentor or colleague. As part of the longer review, I would recommend looking at your chosen industry - what’s going on? What technology is emerging? Subscribe to updates or talk to your network about what’s happening.

Finding it hard to think about what you want?

If you are struggling to think about what you want and/or you’re thinking of getting a new job or changing your career then this would be my advice: Prioritise your choices based on your interests and strengths, and consider the importance of factors like salary, company culture, working hours, and commute time. Consider some of the following questions:

  • What motivates and inspires you
  • What do you need to feel fulfilled in life?
  • What energises you?
  • What are your priorities?
  • What kind of work would you like to do?
  • What is important to you in your work and life?
  • What is your preferred work environment?

Career Development Planning Tools

Some of you may be reading this and thinking ‘yes but HOW do I write this plan!?’ I have been deliberately vague because it’s unique to you. I have a career planning template for my clients but you could use a notebook that is just for your career development plan; an online worksheet or you might use the back of an envelope! As long as it works for you (and you can review it) it’s up to you. I personally would split it into the sections I have highlighted above and answer each question. I am quite visual so might use a colour code or a mind map but it’s your career development plan and it has to work for you.

step by step course

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Applying for a new job can feel hard at the best of times, but it's even harder when you feel like you have forgotten all of your skills and you have no idea or confidence about how to start.

The Get Career Confident course allows you to build confidence in your skills and abilities, especially if you’re feeling overwhelmed at the thought of moving roles, getting a new job and/or setting career goals.

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