Networking and Career Advice

How to Develop a Career Plan

Natasha Serafimovska

Career Coach, Professional Resume Writer, Freelance Writer

Building a career that matches your values, interests and financial expectations can be a challenging task. Yet, it’s one of the most important things you can do. Considering we spend at least a third of our lives working, finding a suitable career can have a great impact on our physical and mental wellbeing, as well as our financial security. 

If you’re just starting out on your professional journey or are looking to switch careers, now is a great time to explore your options and consider how to develop a career plan. Over 78% of employees in the U.S. under 40 say that the pandemic has made them reexamine their career. A majority of those currently employed have already researched new employment opportunities. Compared to the period before the pandemic, a quarter of all employees have already switched jobs.

Regardless of whether you’re just starting out or looking for a change, having a professional career development plan can help you overcome obstacles and achieve your goals. In this article, we look at how to develop a career plan that will help you build a professional life aligned with your personality, interests and lifestyle expectations.

How to Develop a Career Plan in 5 Simple Steps

Assess What You Value In a Career

One of the first steps when considering how to develop a career plan is to understand what drives you to do your work. The extent to which your new career matches your personal drivers will have a direct impact on how satisfied you are with your work and how motivated you feel on a daily basis.

For different people this means different things. Out of those looking to change jobs, 59% say that they’re looking for a company that would be a better fit with their values. On the other hand, 71% seek an opportunity that has a higher social impact and greater purpose. 

If you are unsure of what some of your drivers are, you can think of past projects and identify aspects of them you really liked. For example, if you really enjoyed working for your college newspaper, think about what you liked about it the most. Was it the research? The collaboration with others? Going out into the community and talking to people? All of these little things can help you identify the type of work you’d enjoy doing longterm.

Imagine Your Ideal Workday

Different careers require different schedules and work settings. It’s essential that before you make any major career commitments, you take into consideration the day-to-day dynamics of your job. Say, for instance, you’d love to be a doctor because you love helping people. However, you are searching for something with flexible hours. These two rarely go together and pursuing one means that you might need to relinquish the other. 

Remote work. Working in a team. More vacation days. All of these are career aspects you should consider when making decisions on how to develop a career plan. For instance, as a result of the pandemic, close to 23% of all U.S. employees say they want to continue working from home. Yet, certain careers make working from home impossible. So you should really consider your priorities and choose a career path that meets these expectations.

That said, if your ideal profession tries to marry two or more aspects not commonly found together, this doesn’t mean that you should abandon your pursuit altogether. Instead, you can make certain adjustments to your career development and planning process. For example, if you want to go into medicine and still work flexible hours, you might choose an adjacent career where you can work as a consultant or a medical journalist rather than a doctor. 

Develop Short, Mid and Long-Term Objectives

Starting your career planning process can be exciting and overwhelming. Rather than stating one major generic career goal that is difficult to measure, you’re better off breaking this goal into short, mid, and long-term objectives. This will give you a framework of stepping stones to follow.

Say you love coding, and you also love working with people. You know you’d do great as the head of product development at a software company. So, how do you get there?

The SMART way to set goals

Well, your longterm goal would be something like “I want to become the head of product development in five years’ time”. Your mid-term goal would be to get all the necessary credentials and experience you need for the job like a relevant degree and work experience. Finally, your short-term goal can be to reach out to other product managers or to research available internships in your city.

Remember that your objectives need to be realistic, time-bound and their outcomes need to be measurable. You can also add clear milestones to each objective so you can assess your progress along the way. While there are different ways to set up your objectives, you can use the SMART model to check if they hit the mark.

Analyze Your Skillset

Once you have decided on the career you want, it’s time to look at what skills you need. Most careers require a combination of hard and soft skills. So, being aware of what these are can help you be more intentional with your career development process. Hard skills are usually practical and job-related. Examples would be using certain types of equipment or being proficient in specific programming languages.

Soft skills, on the other hand, are more universal and can be related to:

  • how you problem-solve
  • communicate within a team and with individuals
  • how flexible you are
  • how you lead others

In fact, soft skills have become so important that many employers nowadays use them to gauge how successful an employee would be within the company. 

If you are unsure of the skills you might need, there are two steps to take. First, take a look at existing job descriptions. Then, talk to people in your field. You can easily find Facebook groups dedicated to graphic designers, copywriters, coders etc. Likewise, use LinkedIn to find people in your field and see the type of experience and education they have. Once there, why don’t you send them a message and ask for some advice? You’d be surprised how many people would love to help.

Network, Network, Network

Did you know that 80% of jobs are found through networking rather than job applications? And that there’s a whole pool of jobs that aren’t publicly advertised, also known as the “hidden job market”

Looking at these facts, it’s easy to see why networking is perhaps the single most important step you can take in your career development process. Regardless of how far or early you’re into your career, your network can be indispensable for finding quality job leads, conferences and growth opportunities that might otherwise not be readily available to you.

Networking works best when it’s done without any hidden agenda. Keep an open mind. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Be happy to be of service to others in your network. Doing these things and being genuine will help your network grow organically over time. Who knows? It may serve you well when you least expect it. 

If you’re unsure how to go about networking or are uncomfortable talking to strangers, you can set networking-specifc objectives. For instance, one short-term objective can be to join one new professional group each month. Another goal can be to respond to three social media posts related to your desired career each week. You can’t be sure what the outcome of these activities would be, but it definitely wouldn’t hurt when it comes to your professional development.

It’s Time to Act

Choosing a career path that’s right for you is not a decision you can make overnight. It’s a longterm process that requires ongoing re-evaluation of your values, skills and expectations.  

Whether you are looking into career planning for college students or you want to secure your first job or even make a career change, a personalized career plan can contribute greatly towards your professional career development, help keep you on track and empower you to think strategically about your ideal profession

Sometimes a career change is part of creating a career plan. If you think it may be time to change careers, then take our quiz to see if you are really ready.

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