How to Develop a Career Plan
Thinking about taking that next step in your career? A career plan will help you understand what that next step should be and when it is time to take it. Most of us have experienced that feeling of confusion, maybe even felt a bit lost at times, when you are unsure about what your next career move should be or even what you want to do. A career plan will help you to avoid this in the future because it will help you to clearly set out your short-term and long-term objectives to form a strategy for future career progression.
What is a career plan?
A career plan is a strategic tool that is used to guide you toward your career goals. It contains clearly defined, well thought out objectives with actions to achieve them. This career development tool will help steer you in the right direction and help to keep you on track during uncertain or challenging times. Your long-term plan is also a useful reference before making any big decisions regarding your career.
A career plan is not something you should put together once and never think about again. It should be something that you are continuously reviewing and updating before or after any significant career milestone.
How to create a career plan
Identify Your Goals
Before anything else, sit down and think about what it is you ultimately want to achieve in your career. Then come up with one (or more) career goals. If you need help, ask yourself the classic interview question ‘where do I want to be in 5 years’ time’? Then extend this to 10 years. You don’t need to know exactly how to get there at this point, but having an idea of the bigger picture will help you to put the small steppingstones in place later.
For example, you may be newly qualified and dreaming of becoming a Finance Director in the future. Progression to Finance Director is your ultimate career goal, and you have identified that to get there you would like to have progressed to a Finance Manager or Financial Controller position over the next 5 years.
Assess Your Skills, Qualifications and Experience
Once you have identified your key career goals you can start to bridge the gap between where you are now and where you want to be. In order to start putting the steppingstones in place, you will need to do a self-assessment of your current skills, qualifications and experience.
Start by examining where you are right now: assess how you are currently performing, including what you are excelling at and what you are struggling with. From here you can then evaluate particular skills or strengths you have and identify the areas that need further development. It might also be useful at this point to reflect on your past roles or experiences. Next, look at the qualifications and experience you have. This will help you to think more realistically about where your career can go.
Key questions to ask yourself:
- What have I enjoyed doing in the past?
- What skills have I learned?
- What experiences have I had?
- What qualifications do I have?
- What do I had wish done differently or explored further?
- Ultimately, can I see myself doing this for the rest of my career?
Research Career Paths
Use your previous assessment of your strengths, skills, likes and dislikes to explore those roles that match your qualities and preferences. Hopefully, this will match the intention you set in step one, but if not then try not to worry. After all, this is why you are making a career plan in the first place; to identify the skills you need to achieve your goals and then put together a strategic plan to develop them.
The research phase of the career plan is most important to those who found that, after reflecting on their skills, qualifications and experience in stage two, they are either not on track to achieving their goal or are having a change of heart. In this case, research different career pathways. The past year has taught us that things can change quickly, and that adaptability is key. So, giving yourself a sound understanding of alternative career paths and factoring these into your career plan, even if you are on track right now, could stand you in good stead in the future.
Through researching different roles and career pathways you will be able to match your skills to the role you want, to understand whether you are on track to attain it or whether you need more experience in another position first.
Create Your Goals
You are now ready to start putting your career plan together. The key to setting your career goals is to be specific, as the more focussed the goal is and the more information you include, the easier it will be to understand how to achieve it. In addition, make sure you are setting yourself a timeframe or deadline to keep yourself on track and providing yourself with specific instructions on the actions you need to take. Check out our career plan template below to help you create long- and short-term career plans.
We advise you to put together two types of career plan; short-term (6 months – 1 year) and long-term (5 - 10 years).
The long-term career plan is a useful tool to remind you of the bigger picture and what you are ultimately working towards. This will be very similar to what you have already identified in step one - your key career milestones over the next 5 to 10 years. Use our template below to work out your key milestones, the skills and experience required and the actions you will take to reach your goals.
The short-term plan will be your main reference point to keep you on track as you progress through your career. This short-term career plan will comprise of goals you are hoping to achieve in the near future, therefore should be achievable over the period of 6 months - 1 year. For example, gaining particular experience or starting a new qualification. Use the research from stage 3 to think about what you need to achieve to meet your long-term objectives and put together a strategy for how to do this using our template below.
Career Plan Template
Each stage of your career plan should consist of the four sections below.
Remember, this needs to be ‘measurable’ so try to be as detailed as possible here: what is the ultimate role, position or job title? Think about the industry you want to work in, whether you want to be in industry or in practice, and whether you would like to relocate.
To be completed by…
Use this section to set yourself a deadline or timeframe by which the goal should be achieved. If this is a short-term career goal, try to be more specific by setting yourself a date to complete this goal. If this is a long-term goal, a vaguer and more flexible timeline is acceptable.
Actions to achieve this goal…
Use this section to list a few bullet points. Remember, these need to be realistic within the given timeframe. We advise listing between 3-5 smaller actions, such as signing up for an online course if your goal is to develop a particular skill necessary for promotion, or becoming a mentor if you are hoping to acquire managerial or leadership experience.
Tools or resources required…
Use this section to list any resources that might be required for this career development goal.
Visit the GAAPweb blog for further career guides and advice, or if you are ready to apply for the next role on your career plan, browse the latest finance jobs and accountancy jobs today. If your career plan involves going part-time, why not check out the latest part-time accountancy jobs?