A career plan can help you set and achieve professional goals, like earning promotions or developing new skills. Career plans are useful whether you're just starting or thinking about switching jobs. Learning how to create a career plan can help you define clear and manageable goals. In this article, we discuss what a career plan is, why it is important and how to create one.
What is a career plan?
A career plan is a formal strategy that enables you to create, choose and set your professional goals. You establish short- and long-term goals in a career plan in order to formulate actionable steps. Developing a career plan gives you a competitive edge as a professional. It enables you to manage a career more competitively than others in the same field.
Why is having a career plan important?
A career plan gives you a roadmap to your future. It outlines how you are going to get from where you are now to your ultimate career goal. With an end goal in mind, you can determine which actions to take to get there. These actions might include things such as exploring different industries and companies to see if they are the right fit, attending networking events to build new connections and reviewing job descriptions to determine what you need to do to qualify for them.
Related: How to Choose the Right Career Path
How to create a successful career plan
Here are the steps you can take when planning your career path:
1. Perform self-assessment
Understand your interests, talents, skills, personality, strengths and needs to make informed career and academic decisions. To determine these factors, you can a variety of career tests, including:
- Aptitude test: This assesses your strengths and abilities. It can help you determine if you need more training or education and can also help you decide if you want to spend the effort, resources and time needed to embark on a new career path.
- Personality test: One of the most common personality tests is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. It categorises individuals into 16 personality types based on the following characteristics: judging or perceiving, thinking or feeling, sensing or intuition or introversion and extroversion. Individuals with some personality types do better in certain careers than others. For instance, extroverts usually enjoy working with other people every day.
- Interest test: This test collects data about your likes and dislikes regarding a wide range of objects, people and activities. One of the commonly used interest assessment tools is the Strong Interest Inventory, which explores your interests in six broad areas: conventional, enterprising, social, artistic, investigative and realistic. The tool then divides these areas into 30 specific areas of interest that can be directly related to leisure activities, careers and fields of study.
- Value test: This test includes factors such as the level of salary you want, whether you prefer solitude or frequent interactions with other people in the office, how important prestige is to your job and the rest of your life and how much you want to work to help the society as a whole.
You may also consider talking to a career counsellor. A career counsellor can help you understand the elements that can affect your career decisions and determine possibilities you may not have considered. They might use communication and learning styles, interest inventories, skill identification exercises and other methods to help you understand yourself better.
2. Explore career options
After you identify your aptitudes and qualities, conduct research to determine the types of careers you're interested in. Begin with a list of industries and roles provided by your assessments, or create a list of characteristics, advancement opportunities and responsibilities you want in your career. Then, use those characteristics to determine more industries and careers you may want to consider.
Further your research by collecting basic information about each of the careers on your list. Review the general description of each career, along with other important information such as common benefits, average salary, training and educational requirements and the chances of being hired after satisfying all the requirements.
To narrow down your list of possible careers, learn what working in different roles or industries is really like. Consider contacting professionals on employment-oriented social media platforms, or use your network to find professionals already working in those industries or roles. You may also check company reviews for specific roles to know as much as you can about the pros and cons of the field. Reading first-person opinions could be useful when it's time to make a choice.
Related: Guide: How to Choose a Career
3. Explore careers and experiment
Once you have narrowed down your list of possible careers, look for ways to experience each career in person. Here are a few ways you can get a firsthand look at what a job entails:
- Take a course: If you want to pursue higher education, choose courses related to possible career choices. These courses can provide you with foundational training or information through essays and projects, which can help you understand the basics of a career.
- Look for an expert in the industry: Watching an industry expert and listening to them talk about the realities of a career can be very helpful. You can apply their career path choices to your own career planning to determine actions that may also work for you.
- Apply for a part-time job: Part-time versions of many careers may be available with little to no entry-level requirements. You can find part-time jobs in specific companies that you might consider working for and in assistant-type positions that directly report to or interact with your desired role.
- Take an internship: An internship provides you with a more direct field experience. Internship programmes are likely to give you tasks or duties more relevant to your intended career.
- Participate in volunteer work: Some companies or organisations may allow you to volunteer for tasks that your ideal position would handle to get more hands-on experience. This helps you determine whether you enjoy working in that industry, role or kind of workplace.
- Pursue work shadowing opportunities: Work shadowing involves spending a week, a day or another short period observing an expert or professional on the job. You may go with them to conferences or watch them perform their day-to-day duties and responsibilities. You can also ask them questions to better understand their career.
- Conduct an informational interview: Consider inviting professionals in your desired field for an informational interview. Having an informational interview allows you to get firsthand, relevant information about the realities of working within a particular position, industry or field. It also allows you to get tips and insider knowledge about how to prepare and get your first career position.
4. Consider your options
Weight the benefits and drawbacks of all of your options. Consider several factors, including the work-life balance, possible balances between enjoyment and salary and the pros and cons of relocation. Review your previous researches and any relevant experiences carefully, and categorise them by preferences from highest to lowest. This method helps you rank certain roles and factors over others to determine your top choice. Also, consider determining alternative yet related options should your preferences change as you progress or your job search doesn't lead to your desired career.
5. Create an action plan
Gather all the information you've learned, and develop an action plan. Include background information, such as your level of training, education, employment history, volunteer work and other unpaid experience. It should also include your professional certifications or licences, career counsellor advice you've received and the results of self-assessments.
Make detailed lists of short- and long-term career goals you'll need to attain before you achieve your ultimate career goal. These lists should include all the training and educational and occupational goals required to pursue your chosen career path. Also, think about the challenges to achieving those goals and how you plan to overcome them. These challenges could be personal, vocational, education and financial, such as family obligations, the cost of a certification or the needs for supplies and tools for your chosen career.
You can write out each step for your desired career path, including the steps you have already taken to track your progress. You can also apply this strategy to your alternative options to make sure you're prepared to follow them in case your ideal option doesn't work out.
6. Begin your job search
Use your career plan to start your job search. Determine specific companies and roles you're interested in applying to, and compare those requirements and preferences to your career plan. Check if you're qualified to apply or if there are steps you still need to take.
You can also use your career plan and goal-setting strategy to write an effective cover letter that shows your passion for the company, field and role. You can use your career plan to determine the steps you have taken on your career path so far and demonstrate your dedication and goal-setting skills. You can apply these items during your job interview to prove your qualification and interest to the hiring manager.
If you receive a job offer, check whether the responsibilities, work-life balance, location, benefits and salary match your action plan and self-assessment.