How to Create a Career Development Plan

Your career is yours, not your employer’s. If you want progression and better earnings, waiting and hoping is rarely a winning strategy. Accept ownership and take control of your career.

Personal career planning strongly increases both your immediate prospects and your longer-term potential, and our career plan template below will get you on track and keep you on track.

If an employer thinks you’re doing an excellent job, they may prefer that you stay in post. However, if you are doing an excellent job, that’s exactly the time you should be looking to move into a bigger role. Career planning will show you exactly when you’re ready for that next change.

Timing is everything. Emotional and impulsive decisions risk you leaping into a job just not right for you. Your next move must be a positive step, but you still can remain opportunistic. Correct career planning ensures you can measure the true value of opportunities, as they arise.

Some people love planning, others just want it done as soon as possible. Either way, a plan is useless, unless you execute it. As General George Patton famously noted: “A good plan executed right now is far better than a perfect plan executed next week.” Career planning must be simple and enjoyable, as well as effective.

What is career planning

A career plan is a statement of: where you are now; where you want to be at a defined point in the future and the key steps along that career path. It should be rooted in realism to make it believable. If you doubt your own plan, you’re doomed not to achieve it.

Career planning is then the live process through which you manage your progress during the journey to your goal role. There are three distinct stages: personal assessment; documenting your career path intentions and actively monitoring and managing your progress.

Why have a career development plan?

‘Fail to plan, plan to fail’ is a well-worn mantra, so career planning appears to be a must-have. However, stopping there denies you access to serious levels of higher personal motivation.

Insurance. New policies arrive, reorganisations occur and bosses change. Building and using a career plan will protect your current value. If your role still exists, you’ll keep your job, ahead of your peers.

Investment. A career plan increases your medium and long-term earnings potential. Changes are your opportunities. Alternatively, if it’s time to make your own opportunity by looking elsewhere, career planning ensures advertised jobs lie along your road, and not up a blind alley.

Security. We live in uncertain times, redundancy is an ever-present threat. Following a development path will enable you to demonstrate that you’re a rising star, not someone who crash-landed on a plateau a while ago.

How to develop a career plan

There’s no time like the present. If you’ve got time to read this article, you’ve got time to spend a few minutes working out a career plan. By following these three steps right now, you’ll immediately feel that you’re in control and moving forward.

Step 1 – Assessment. Identify where you are now, noting the scope of your current role, responsibilities and achievements. Take account of your qualifications, experience, strengths, interests and values. Be explicit about the job you would dearly love to be doing a few years hence. Five years is a solid period to plan over, but use what works best for you. Finally, note the stepping-stone jobs to your goal role.

Step 2 – Documentation. Now document your career plan by populating a copy of the template below. If you don’t take this step, you only have a dream, not a career plan. Your document should be an action plan, designed to accelerate your progress.

Step 3 – Management. Time to crack on. What’s your first action to take? Whether that’s putting together a new CV, looking at posted vacancies, bolstering your experience or finding a training course, start today, right now if you can.

Always keep weekly notes under three headings. What did you do, experience and achieve this week? What lessons have you learned? What do you plan to do next week? Making monthly and quarterly summaries will form an excellent tie-in to proactively managing your progress.

Career plan example template

Make up a copy of this template and populate it with your own details. Attach an up to date CV, freeing you to focus on the future, not the past. Your plan should be a maximum of two pages of easily scannable sections and bullet points.

Career Development Plan (Created – [insert date])

Review & Revision Dates – [date 1, date 2 ….]

Goal role = [This is the role you’d be thrilled to hold in five years. Be specific about: job title; scope of responsibility; size and type of organisation; what you’ll achieve in that position; what you’ll enjoy about it. Add a target date for starting.]

Stepping Stone Roles = [These are the roles that will enable you to build progressive experience and achievements en route to your goal role. Be specific about the detail, and starting dates.]

Current role = [Bullet-list responsibilities, experience and achievements which would support an application for your next target role. Bullet-list in bold your weaknesses. State the date you’ll be ready for a change.]

Action Steps = [Number the specific tasks you need to undertake to cover your weaknesses. Add dates to each.]

I’m Right For This Road Because … [Relative to your next target role, bullet-list your strengths, what you really enjoy doing and any USPs or advantages you have, relative to most people who might apply.]

Additional Training Required = [Identify specific courses or programs to undertake. Include books to read which will deepen your experience and broaden your horizons. Add dates.]

How should an employer should support career pathing?

Your plan forms the means to direct and manage your own progress. Your goals and stepping stones should remain private, but your section on additional training can be used to open up discussions with your employer. They should support and fund your future personal growth, if only in their own interests, but if not it’s better that you know now. You may end up in a more positive discussion about your ambitions and prospects.

Regardless, refer back to your career plan, check the extent to which you’re on track, and modify your plans accordingly. It should be apparent whether you’re going to have to look outside your own organisation for the career growth you want.

Own your journey

Career planning in this way builds both capability and confidence, enabling you to create, or seize and measure, future opportunities on your own terms. However, always keep things real. If you recently ended full time education with one dodgy A level in Aardvark Husbandry, it’s pointless to believe you can be a working brain surgeon this time next year.

Finally, get the balance right. Your plan is a tool, and it should be as effortless as possible to use, so that more of your time is free to focus on your job, because that’s the platform on which the future of your career will stand. We wish you the very best on your journey.