Career Development

How to Create a Career Plan in 9 Steps

February 5, 2021

An effective career plan can act as a guide for your professional life, from finding your first job to enjoying a rewarding career. With careful career planning, you can take steps to evaluate your professional options and develop a strategic plan for achieving your goals. From identifying fields you want to pursue to developing long-term objectives, mapping out a career plan can help you devise a strategy for future success. In this article, we discuss how to approach career planning and how to plot a successful professional path.

How to create a career plan

In a career plan, you should include any goals you want to achieve in the short and long term. It's possible that your career goals will change over time, so you can always come back and adjust them if needed.

Consider these steps to create your career plan:

1. Learn about potential career options

Start gaining knowledge about your possible career options by asking friends, family members and colleagues about their jobs. Find out what skills they use and what qualifications they have. Ask them what they like and dislike about their jobs and what type of experience they earned before their current position.

Next, research top companies and seek out professionals in the field. Attend in-person or online networking events or set up informational interviews with experts. To gain hands-on experience in a potential profession, try pursuing volunteer opportunities, internships or job shadowing experiences. It may also help to seek out a mentor in an industry that you are interested in to help you plan your career.

Attend career fairs to gain a sense of the vast opportunities available. Many post-secondary programs offer these fairs near campuses, though they might also happen virtually.

2. Discover growing job markets

Growing job markets tend to offer the most professional potential. Try talking to experts in your field to learn about some of the most exciting opportunities they foresee. Read the top publications and online news sources for your field, and watch for emerging careers that interest you.

For a more comprehensive view of growing job markets, review data-based studies that list the fastest-growing occupations. With a quick glance, you can identify which jobs have the greatest potential and offer the highest median pay.

As you begin to recognize which job markets are growing, it might be beneficial to seek further education on these topics. You may be able to find free certifications or other continuing education programs that can put you ahead of the crowd.

3. Identify careers that match your skills

To choose a field that makes you feel confident and successful, consider the technical skills you learned in school or in previous positions. For example, you might know how to teach concepts to a class, operate heavy equipment or develop a media buying plan.

Next, think about your soft skills, which are behaviours and traits that you have acquired over time. For example, you might know how to analyze an issue critically, or you might excel at communicating clearly. Write out your list of technical and soft skills, and see how well they fit with the career paths you're considering.

Read more: Technical Skills: Definitions and Examples

4. Understand career qualifications

Begin by reviewing the degrees you need to work in your field of choice. Identify whether you need a bachelor's degree in a specific subject, and determine whether you need a graduate degree to pursue advanced positions.

Next, examine the professional certifications that could help you excel in your field and review the licensure requirements for your profession. Take note of the licensing process in your area to make sure that you are legally qualified for the job.

You may also want to take a look at workshops and courses that are not necessarily a requirement in the industry but could give you an advantage over other candidates when you apply for jobs.

5. Assess salaries and other benefits

To assess your field's earning potential, try exploring salaries on Indeed or browsing careers by industry. Here, you can find the average annual salary for common occupations and identify factors that can increase your earning potential, such as acquiring an advanced degree.

As you review job listings, make a note of the benefits each position offers, such as healthcare, vacation time and telecommuting opportunities. These benefits can reduce your expenses and improve your quality of life, so it's important to factor them into your total compensation.

6. Consider the location and commuting options

Different locations have differing opportunities. For example, some smaller towns or cities may not have the same quantity of jobs as a larger city. Therefore, when you're planning your career, it's important to think ahead about where you would like to live. What options are available to you for commuting in the city? Is the cost of living in the city worth the salary that companies in the area are providing? These are important questions to think about as you prepare to enter your career path.

Also, consider if you would like to work abroad during your career. While this doesn't have to be planned ahead of time, if this is something you would like to do, it's important to keep it in mind as you're developing your career path.

Related: How to Decide if Permanently Working From Home is Right For You

7. Compare possible career paths

After considering a few potential career paths, compare your options. One may require many more skills and an additional degree, which could be more time-consuming or expensive compared to the other options. Another may have substantially higher earning potential.

Next, compare how well each career path matches your core values. One may allow you to develop more of the personal qualities and relationships you aspire to have. Another may inspire you to produce your best professional work.

When comparing career paths, it's important to recognize what aspects of a career are most meaningful to you. For some, that may be the option to travel often. For others, they may want to stay home or work remotely. These motivations depend entirely on each individual's needs and desires. Review your list of pros and cons to assess which professional path is most likely to help you achieve your goals.

8. Establish SMART goals

Since pursuing a career path can take years, divide broader objectives into smaller goals that you can track. Once you have an understanding of what aspects of a career path are important to you, it's time to begin setting your goals. The SMART goal process is commonly used when organizing your goals into achievable tasks. Try setting SMART goals to guide you through the process:

  • Specific: Make your goal as precise as possible. If you aspire to be a teacher, set a specific goal, like securing a job teaching high school biology in your local school system.
  • Measurable: Quantify your progress. Set benchmarks like completing a bachelor's degree in education or applying to 10 jobs that meet your requirements.
  • Attainable: Set goals that you can achieve. To confirm that your goal is attainable, think about the individual steps and consider how realistic they are. This can be either a short-term or long-term goal, as long as you think clearly about how it can be achieved.
  • Relevant: Any career-related goal you set should genuinely matter to you and your overall career plan. Think about how important the goal is and whether it will help you reach your long-term objectives. The goal should be relevant to your professional career development, such as learning a new programming language or trying to improve your confidence.
  • Time-based: Give your goals deadlines. You will have an easier time achieving the end result and motivating yourself to action if you have committed to a specific time frame. Writing your deadlines down or sharing them with a friend can help keep you accountable for the goals you've set.

Read more: SMART Goals: Objectives for Your Career

9. Develop a career action plan

To create a map for your professional future, review action items from your SMART goals and chart the steps you will need to follow. Then, put them on a paper or digital calendar to establish your schedule. Keep your career action plan readily available so that you can review it on a regular basis. Check off each step as you complete it, and reward yourself for achievements both big and small.

Revisit and revise your career action plan as necessary. New opportunities, technological advances, personal priorities and trends in the economy can all cause essential career planning changes.

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