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Ready to take your job to the next level? Create a career development plan

Example career development plan career goals, strengths, and areas of improvement.

How is it that drafting a career development plan became part of the "Wish I Didn't Have To Do" list? Is it because in many large organizations the task is lumped in with (often onerous) annual performance reviews? It's too bad they've become an unpleasant chore for so many workers, because they're actually a very useful tool for focusing in on and honing the skills you need to acquire to advance your career.

3 steps for creating a career development plan

Creating an actionable career development plan can be broken down into 3 distinct steps:
  • Step 1: Define your career goals
  • Step 2: Identify your strengths and areas for improvement
  • Step 3: Map development goals to specific, measurable activities

You don't need to wait for your annual performance review cycle to get started (although having your most recent review on hand can be helpful). You only need to have the motivation to start working on developing yourself and advancing your career.

Step 1: Define your career goals
"Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?"
"That depends a good deal on where you want to get to," said the Cat.
"I don’t much care where--" said Alice.
"Then it doesn’t matter which way you go," said the Cat.
"--so long as I get SOMEWHERE," Alice added as an explanation.
"Oh, you’re sure to do that," said the Cat, "if you only walk long enough."
            -- Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

Surely, you don't want to just wander along an undefined career path and see where that takes you? If you want to make sure you're not just repeating the same job over and over, you need to set short and long term goals for how you'd like to see your career evolve over time. Start by asking yourself what you would like to achieve in the next 2-3 years, and what you can do in the next 6-12 months to get you closer to that goal. 

If you are feeling unclear on where your current job can lead, or what intermediate steps you need to take to attain your goal, talk to a colleague who's ahead of you on your chosen career path. You can also search for your current job title in LinkedIn and check out some real life career paths. What skills or accomplishments do they have that you don't? If you've defined your targeted role, LinkedIn searches can help you identify what were others' intermediate positions leading up to attaining your target role.

Step 2: Identify your strengths and areas for improvement

Using your most recent performance review as a starting point, or your self-identification of your core competencies, make a list of the key strengths you use in your work, and the primary areas you need to improve to work towards your goal. Next, briefly add a statement to each area of improvement, showing how improving in that area will help you attain your end goal. Ex:  Improve data analysis skills so I can evaluate customer research, marketing trends, and data to implement marketing plan changes as needed. (See above illustration for more examples).

This step is a good point at which to enlist the perspective of a third party --such as a mentor, your boss, or a colleague-- to give you feedback on the areas of improvement you've identified, and if they're the best ones to lead you to your desired outcomes.

Step 3: Map development goals to specific, measurable activities

OK, now that you have your goal and your areas of career development focus defined, you get to do the fun part -- defining the activities to pursue to improve your skills and competencies. Your potential activities should look both inside and outside of the organization, and can and should include a wide range of sources:

  • Cross-departmental projects and committees
  • Taking on additional responsibility within your team
  • Company-sponsored training
  • Continuing education courses
  • Industry or profession-focused conferences , seminars, and webinars
  • Books and white papers on emerging profession and industry trends
  • Volunteer positions that will let you develop skills you are not using in your current role
  • Industry or professional networking opportunities

 Once you've identified an activity you want to include in your plan, note the support you will need from your boss/organization, a targeted start date (and completion date if applicable), and your expected results. Note: after completing the activity, update the results field with how you applied what you learned from the activity in your work.

Here's an example of organizing your development goals and activities:

Example career development plan goals and activities.

 Drafting a career development plan from scratch can seem like a daunting prospect. But following these three easy steps outlined above, you can quickly identify and map out the activities that will put you on your chosen career path.

Need some assistance to get started? You can save a copy of my career development plan template in google docs and customize it to meet your goals. For information on 1:1 coaching in person in San Francisco or online email erika[at]erikaheald.com

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