Creating a career plan: Easy steps to success

A career plan is a useful tool to help you get from where you are now, to where you want to be in your professional life. Setting goals - and timelines for those goals - can enable you to spot when a job has become stagnant, or when waiting for that next promotion is no longer worth it.

Once you know what you want, you can set out to get it. Without that clear pathway defined, you may find it difficult to choose your next direction, or to make the difficult decisions required to get you there.

First steps to create a career plan

Before you write your career plan, remember this: it's not a legally binding contract, and nothing is set in stone. Your career plan is an outline of your current aspirations and a route map for yourself. It's not supposed to be a burden and you can change it at any time if it's not working for you.

With that said, here are some of the key questions to ask when writing your career plan:

1. Where am I now?

If you know where you are, it can be easier to decide where you're going. Think about your current situation at work, your technical skills and qualifications, and also your transferable skills like your personality - both as an individual and in a team - your preferences and your values.

Some things to ask yourself in this area include:

  • What do I enjoy doing at work?
  • What motivates me?
  • What are my strengths and weaknesses?
  • What are my lifestyle priorities?
  • What am I looking for in a job?

All of these questions are about your current job, your current interests and your current ambitions. The rest of your career plan is about your destination, and the time it will take you to get there.

2. Where do I want to be?

Now you know your strengths and weaknesses, start to think about the types of roles you'd like to work in - even if that means switching to a completely different industry. Brainstorm all of your ideas, no matter how unusual, ambitious or outlandish.

You can start to narrow down the possibilities by a process of elimination. Be realistic about what you would find rewarding and what you would be good at. Consider returning to training if you're only lacking in one area from qualifying for the job of your dreams.

3. How will I get there?

This is the big question. You know where you are and you know where you want to be. Now, what are the steps required to join those dots?

You may find it beneficial to ask yourself some more questions to break down your career plan into more manageable mini-milestones:

  • Where do I want to be in 6, 12 and 18 months?
  • How will I find time and money for training?
  • How else can I gain skills and experience?
  • Can I build my professional network?
  • Do I have any make-or-break milestones?

While all of these questions look to the future, the last two are easy to miss. First, look for ways to build your network (whether in person or via professional networks like LinkedIn) and find the people who can get you on to the next rung on your career ladder.

Second, decide what you will do if you fail to make a critical milestone on time. Don't wait around forever for an opportunity that isn't coming. Those make-or-break moments can be the perfect time to redefine your goals and consider a lateral move instead.

What happens next?

With a start and end point and several intermediate steps identified, you should have a clear roadmap laid out for your career plan. Now it's time to put it into effect and start working towards that first milestone.

To do this, you might need to talk to your manager at work, to identify opportunities for on-the-job training to help you progress. Make sure those 'opportunities' are relevant to your career plan: don't be taken advantage of, or steered off course.

Revisiting your career plan

Your career plan should be a constant companion, not something to be feared or locked in a drawer. Revisit it frequently and consider any necessary changes in direction, especially if your personal circumstances change, or if the economy moves in an unexpected direction.

Find more tips on managing your career in our career advice articles, or register with MyPage today to start submitting your CV to job vacancies that will help you to get to your long-term career dream destination.

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