How To Develop a Career Plan (With Six Steps to Follow)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated January 12, 2023

Published September 7, 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Continuous career development is important to ensure you remain valued in your workplace. You need realistic and clear goals that allow you to develop in your profession. Understanding how to develop a career plan ensures you can continually educate yourself and improve your career. In this article, we explore career development, discuss how to develop a career plan, and provide tips to help you.

What is career development?

Career development involves identifying your skills and passion and continually expanding your career to achieve your professional objectives. Career development sometimes involves progressing in an organization for various years or changing companies within the same career. In other cases, it could involve switching careers based on changes in skills and interests. You're responsible for your career development, although your employer can contribute to it. For instance, some companies devote resources and time to employee development through training, certifications, and educational programs.

Also, career development is a lifetime process that begins very early. For instance, you could have been a finance manager due to the occupation and interest of your siblings. In some other cases, it can also be due to personal interests. For example, you could have chosen a career as a pet sitter because of your love for animals when you were a child. Usually, various external factors influence career development.

Related: Setting Goals To Improve Your Career

How to develop a career plan

You can follow these steps to develop a career plan:

1. Determine your career interests

Career interests involve the general idea of the occupation or field where you want to work. You need to identify this area of interest to create your career plan. For instance, if you're a marketing associate in an advertising agency, your career interests lie in advertising and marketing. Usually, you can identify these interests through a thorough self-assessment.

2. Identify your long-term objectives

Long-term goals are career objectives that span several years and sometimes your whole career. These goals help you identify a specific area of focus within your general career interests. For example, within the advertising agency, you might have an interest in using social media or the internet to market products or services for clients. After considerable research, you can identify your long-term objective as becoming a digital marketer for the company.

3. Create milestones to achieve your long-term goals

Milestones are short-term goals that are an integral part of your long-term objectives. For instance, to realize the long-term goal of becoming a lawyer, a short-term goal would be to complete a bachelor's degree. To create a career plan, divide your general goal into steps resulting in the overall goal. Doing this ensures that achieving your goal seems reasonable and possible. Also, achieving these milestones can keep you motivated as you move toward your long-term objectives.

4. Create "SMART" goals

When creating your milestones, ensure that you create only SMART goals. SMART goals involve the following:

  • Specific: Identify the goal you want to achieve specifically and clearly. This makes it easier to understand the goal and what you need to achieve the goal.

  • Measurable: Ensure that your goals have specific criteria that allow you to measure your accomplishments and progress. This helps determine if you're close to achieving your goals and understand the steps you can take to realize these goals.

  • Attainable: When setting your goals, identify only goals that you can achieve or attain based on your skills and capability. Your goals need to have at least a 50% success rate to ensure you divert your resources to realistic goals.

  • Relevant: Ensure that your short-term goals apply to your long-term goals. For instance, if your long-term goal is to become a digital marketer, only set milestones that move you towards becoming one.

  • Time-bound: When setting your goals, identify a specific time frame when you expect to have completed or achieved the goal. This is also a key part of measuring performance to know when and how to improve your efficiency.

Read more: SMART Goals: Objectives for Your Career

5. Draft an action plan

An action plan refers to the schedule of activities and programs to perform to help you achieve your goal. For instance, it can include taking specific training, attending a particular program, or developing a specific skill. You can draft an action plan alone or approach a mentor to offer guidance and advice to ensure that it's effective and relevant to reaching both your short-term and long-term goals.

You can also change your action plan where necessary. This involves cases where it's ineffective in helping you achieve both your long-term and short-term goals. You might also need to change it where your priorities or goals shift.

6. Understand your current tasks

Your current tasks also play an important role in your career plan. Understand these tasks and duties and use them as a means of self-assessment. This allows you to identify specific areas to improve on yourself. For instance, you can discover that you need to improve your organizational skills if you have trouble meeting deadlines and managing multiple tasks.

Tips to ensure career development

Follow these tips to help progress your career development:

Identify your preferred career

The basis of career development is identifying a professional job or industry where you aim to specialize. You can then centre your career plan on this job or industry. To choose a preferred industry or job, you can consider the following:

  • Identify your strengths: Identify your strengths by recognizing areas of natural aptitudes or interests and then see if they relate to any specific career path. For instance, if you're apt at conflict resolution and managing people, you can consider a career in human resource management.

  • Determine your values: When choosing a preferred career, your core values are important as only a job that aligns with these values would make you fulfilled. Choose a career path that allows you to maintain and demonstrate these values as you advance.

  • Identify your professional goals: Have clear goals for career development, as it's essential to measure your success. When developing your goals, ensure you consider the job environment, financial remuneration, and work-life balance, among other factors.

Join your organization's career development plan

Employers usually want their employees to improve the skill set needed to help them record improved performance. They sometimes create career development programs to provide specialized education and training to employees. If the company has one, it's a great step to join it as you're likely to access courses that help you acquire new skills related to your job. You can also join some of these programs when you're a student to help you access specialized training as you pursue your degree.

Gain new skills

An increased skill set is evidence of career development, so it's a great idea to acquire new skills relevant to your career path. Some of the soft skills that you can learn regardless of your industry or job are:

  • Teamwork skills: This allows you to collaborate with others to achieve general business goals. It involves communicating ideas with other team members, delegating tasks to capable individuals when necessary, and incorporating team opinions during project execution.

  • Communication skills: This skill allows you to receive information and pass information within the workplace. It involves active listening skills, good reading skills, excellent speaking skills, and impressive writing skills.

  • Emotional intelligence: This skill allows you to maintain an improved interpersonal relationship with your colleagues, superiors, and subordinates. It involves understanding both verbal and nonverbal actions during communication and reacting appropriately to such cues.

  • Critical thinking skills: This allows you to identify problems before they arise and provide solutions using facts and data. It is an essential skill in the workplace because it improves the chances of achieving organizational goals.

Read more: A Guide To Soft Skills

Grow your network

Having a wide network is vital to professional development as it can provide the resources to help you achieve your professional goals. For instance, you can get a job that aligns with your values and career path through this network. To grow your network, attend conferences within your field. For example, if you're a teacher, you can attend the teacher's association annual conference to meet fellow teachers and connect with them.

Read more: Top 5 Networking Skills and How To Develop Them

Get a mentor

A mentor is an adviser who offers young and eager professionals career guidance and advice. They provide useful information based on their experience to help you make better career choices. Usually, they can be a past or current manager, a more experienced coworker, or a part of your growing network. Ask a committed mentor to meet regularly, weekly, biweekly, or monthly. During this meeting, you can then share your accomplishment, and establish new career milestones while maintaining your motivation.

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