How to Develop a Career Plan

Smiling African American Woman writing on sticking notes in front of her

Whether you’re just starting out in your career or looking to make a transition to doing something new, a career plan can help you set clear goals and take action to achieve them. 

We’ll explain the steps to creating a career plan and offer some helpful tips to keep you on the path to making your professional aspirations a reality.

Why craft a career plan?

Develop clear goals

A dream without a plan is just that: a dream. It doesn’t matter how much time you spend thinking about your ideal career; without a solid action plan to bring it to life, your chances of achieving it are slim. 

A career plan helps you identify concrete, intentional goals that make it more likely you’ll secure your dream job and do it on a faster timeline. 

Make more strategic decisions

The path to achieving your career goals will be long and winding, filled with hundreds of small decisions that contribute to the bigger picture. What part-time job should you apply for? How should you spend your free time? Who should you get to know? Having a structured plan makes those decisions easier. 

A career plan also helps you make better choices when it comes to major life decisions like which job to pursue or what city to live in. It’ll help you carefully evaluate your options and weigh the pros and cons rather than just making a choice arbitrarily, which will make it more likely that you’ll be happy in the long run. 

Become a stronger job candidate

A bi-product of making and following a career plan is that you’ll inevitably end up with a resume that’s highly relevant to the position you want. This makes you a stronger candidate in the eyes of hiring managers and can help you land a job faster than if you had less relevant credentials. 

Utilize resume writing services, such as TopResume or MyPerfectResume to help position your experience and skills to help you stand out and land your dream job!

Steps to take when creating a career plan

1. Assess yourself

If your career plan were a recipe, the first ingredient would be you. What do you enjoy doing? What are your strongest skills? Your career goals lie at the intersection of these answers. 

Here’s an exercise that’s beneficial in finding the crossover between your skills and interests. Make a list with two columns. On the left, list things you like, including hobbies and topics you enjoy learning about just for fun. On the right, list your strengths–things you’re good at, from math to making brownies. 

Next, come up with as many hypothetical jobs as you can by pairing one item from the left column with one item from the right column. 

If you love the beach and you’re great at working with people, one possible job could be running an oceanside recreation company. If you have a passion for studying the universe and you’re a star in the science department, becoming an astrochemist could be a potential option. 

Don’t worry too much about how “realistic” the jobs seem. Just come up with as many as you can. The idea is to get your wheels spinning about the paths available to you, many of which you might not have considered before. We bet you’ll be surprised by some of the interesting options that come to mind. 

The wonderful news is that there are thousands upon thousands of careers out there to choose from. Instead of being overwhelmed by all of them, working through these steps will help you identify the options that are best suited to your strengths and interests. 

2. Gather information

From the long list of hypothetical jobs you created, select the top handful that are most appealing to you. Then, conduct research to learn more about them. 

Start by typing the job title into Google or browsing our library of career guides. Here are some pieces of information to look for:

  • Companies that hire for this type of job
  • Level of competition and demand
  • Average salary
  • Work environment
  • Typical hours
  • Education required
  • Related experience, certifications or prerequisites
  • Projected career growth
  • Advancement opportunities

In addition to doing your own research, you might find it helpful to set up some informational interviews to learn more from someone who’s actually held the job you want. If you’re in school, you can also speak with a guidance counselor or visit the career resource center. 

Based on what you find out, narrow down your list to your top choice. This is the job to zero in on with your career plan. 

3. Plot action items

Thanks to the research you’ve already completed, you should have a general idea of what it takes to get your chosen job, like the degree or years of experience required. Use this information to map out the individual steps to fulfilling those requirements. 

For example, let’s say your dream is to become an executive chef. This job typically requires a bachelor’s degree in culinary arts and a minimum of five years experience in a commercial kitchen. 

Some action items you can come up with based on this criteria are:

  • Research and apply to culinary arts programs
  • Obtain bachelor’s degree
  • Get a job as a line cook
  • Become a sous chef
  • Research and apply to executive chef jobs

4. Set a timeline

Outlining specific action items is a great strategy to achieve your goals, but there’s another component that’s required to bring it all together: a timeline. Some of your action items probably need to happen in a particular order, while others can be done concurrently. 

Based on your ideal timing and how long you expect each action item to take, lay out a series of deadlines for your list. Here’s an example:

January – February 2022: Research culinary arts programs

March – April 2022: Apply to schools

May 2022: Coordinate admission/registration details, get line cook job

August 2022: Begin classes, work nights/weekends

May 2024: Get promoted to sous chef

May 2026: Expected graduation, research and apply for execute chef jobs

And there you have it: your career plan. 

As you can see, this is a very basic outline with lots of wiggle room between now and the end goal. There’s more definition around short-term goals, which will help you take action immediately while leaving plenty of room for adjustment and refinement as you make progress toward the long-term goals. 

5. Revisit at regular intervals

Creating a career plan isn’t a one-time occurrence. As you cross things off the list, you’ll need to add additional action items and deadlines to keep things moving along. 

For this reason, it’s important to check in on your career plan and update it regularly. Every six months is a good benchmark. If you’re in college, the start of a new semester presents the perfect opportunity to revisit your plan and adjust it as needed. Consider not only your career goals but changes in your life as well as external factors like technological trends and shifts in the economy. 

Setting actionable, timelined goals that are specific to your desired career will help keep your dream job in your sights and make the strategic moves necessary to obtain it.