Why a career plan works

By Dale Simpson, Bravo Consulting

A career plan can work for anyone, regardless of how many years you’ve been working in your field or how near or far you are to achieving your professional goals. Having a career plan helps you outline how far you are from where you want to be and gives you the opportunity to think through what you need to do to land either the opportunity of your dreams or strengthen the path you are currently on. We know that planning works and therefore the efficacy of having a sound career plan becomes compelling and so have put together this blog to be used as a resource for those trying to figure out what steps to take to continue advancing in their careers.

What is a career plan?

A career plan is a great tool to help you understand what you want to achieve within your career and gain insight into how you can achieve these goals. Within your career plan, you can outline your short-term and long-term goals and create a list of actions that will help you attain your goals. In your plan, you can outline your specific goals, when you hope to reach them, and note any professional development you might need to do in the meantime. It can be a living document that you refer to or update to suit your needs. By living we mean as you progress you learn and as you learn you amend it accordingly.  There is that great adage that “if you live by a plan you will die by the plan” unless of course if it is a “living plan”.

What you should include in your career plan

You can customise your career plan to suit your needs, but you might find it beneficial to include some of the following:

  • You story up until now, which includes where you started, how you have felt about where you have been, wisdom gained and important themes and patterns that have emerged along the way.
  • Where you see yourself in five, ten, and fifteen years, which is about values and life stage and changing commitments and responsibilities.  It should take into account external and internal factors.
  • Any gaps in your current skills that you’ll need to get training or professional development to strengthen which must attend to what you are motivated to do and understanding how motivation and competence align and impact each other.
  • Dates for checkpoints you’ll have with yourself to see how you’re going and plan your next steps, remembering that mistakes are opportunities for learning and that learning is preceded by forgiveness.

How to make your career plan work

Once you’ve created a career plan for yourself, you can’t just shut off the computer and forget about it. Just like you need to use a budget once you’ve created it, you need to use your career plan, too. So, how can you make your career plan work?

  • Be prepared for obstacles, like job shortages and family commitments, and be willing to adjust your career plan when things obstacles pop up. Job plans are often created looking multiple decades into the future, but none of us can predict what might happen. Use the checkpoints you set with yourself to make changes, adapt, and get yourself back on track while setting realistic expectations for yourself.
  • Make sure your goals are SMART (Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, and Time-based). There’s a big difference between stating you plan to be the CEO of a specific company in 15 years and outlining steps you’ll take to have the skills to be a CEO of a specific company in 15 years. When you define your goals using the SMART goal method and focus on what’s in your control, you’re much more likely to achieve your goal and to feel good about how much you’ve accomplished.
  • Consider what will make you happy, fulfilled, and meet your needs from now until retirement. A career plan isn’t meant to be aspirational or be a representation of your fantasy self. It’s meant to serve a role in helping you advance within a career path that you’re interested in and will make you happy. Keeping those things in mind while developing your career plan, you’ll be more likely to stick to it.
  • Meet with a career advisor if you need help or feel stuck about what to do next. Chatting with a career advisor or having a career coach might be a great action to include in your career plan. You might also want to consider chatting with a career advisor if you’re feeling stuck about what to do next.

Overall, a career plan works because they’re created in a way that’s made to work. When you have a clear focus and know what steps to take to achieve your goal, you’re going to be so much more likely to reach those milestones.

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