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Your guide for creating a successful career development plan

Your guide for creating a successful career development plan

Artwork by: Nadiia Zhelieznova

  • What is a career development plan?
  • Before you start your career development plan
  • How do I write a career development plan for myself? 
  • How do you measure the effectiveness of the career development program? 
  • Important things to remember
  • Always update your targets
  • Stay positive
  • Mark your milestones
  • Don’t go it alone
  • Key takeaways

Before you can reach your career goals, you need to know how to get there. Creating a successful career development plan will give you the tools you need to succeed.

A great journey begins with a great plan. Having a map of where you want to go in your career will provide a detailed outline of what you need to do to get there. Creating a career development plan may seem like a lot of work, but in the long run, it will save you a lot of time and keep you from "spinning your wheels” on your road to success.

In this article, we’ll discuss how to create a successful career development plan, including

  • What is a career development plan?

  • How to develop a career development plan.

  • Important things to remember.

Expert Tip

Setting goals

Before you can know where you’re going, you need to decide what you want. Setting short and long-term goals will help you identify what it is you want from your career and support your success.

What is a career development plan?

A career development plan is exactly what it sounds like — a detailed outline of your career goals and the steps you will take to achieve them. It might be easy to dismiss this idea and think, "Oh, I know what I need to do. I have it all in my head," but writing down your goals provides a focal point and helps generate incentive and inspiration. Putting your plan in writing requires you to select precise, detailed goals that will help you in both the long and short term. Doing this will help you weed out things that do not sustain your career plan.

A typical career development plan contains several elements:

  • Where you are now

  • Where you want to end up

  • Hurdles you may face

  • A course of action to reach your destination

Along with identifying your goals, creating a career development plan will help you to identify your skills, your areas for improvement, and what makes you happy so that you can define a purpose for your career rather than just surviving in a position that doesn’t provide meaning or purpose.

Think of it as your professional GPS. A career development plan puts you in the driver's seat, rather than being a passenger in your career. When you have a plan, you are accountable for your actions and success, instead of passively blaming outside forces for your success or failures. A career development plan provides measurable, motivating steps to achieve and succeed in your ideal career. 

Before you start your career development plan

It's never too late to develop a career plan, and it's an ongoing process. With each step you take in your career, you'll need to go back and reassess your goals, and make the needed adjustments to get you to the next step. Before writing your career development plan template, you should do a little prep work. 

  • Evaluate where you are right now. What skills do you have? What is your current background and experience? What gets you up in the morning? What do you like about your current job?

  • Brainstorm. What is your “dream career?” If you had no obstacles, where would you like to be in ten, fifteen, or twenty years? Integrate your career goals into your development plan.

  • Decide where you want to be.  Do you want to stay in the same industry, or switch fields? What are your short and long-term goals, and what’s getting in your way? Think one to two years, then five to ten years. 

  • Develop clear, concise, and achievable goals and put them in the plan. Consider lateral moves as well, which can increase your opportunities and enhance your marketability.

  • Investigate jobs that interest you, taking note of the education, skills, and temperament required for those positions. 

  • Don’t forget networking. If you know of someone in the position you’re interested in, see if you can “bend his or her ear." Understanding how they got to where they are and the hurdles they faced can help you prepare for your journey.

  • Assess your strengths and weaknesses. This will help you determine where you need to improve and take the steps to fill those gaps when necessary.

How do I write a career development plan for myself? 

Once you have this information in place, you can go ahead and start crafting your career development plan. This is where you're going to take the list containing your background, education, skills, and networking information and incorporate that data into a step-by-step strategy to meet your career goals. Make sure you include the following:

  • Develop a timeline. Begin with easily accomplishable small goals, such as taking a certification course, and end with larger tasks, such as getting your MBA.

  • Be SMART. Utilize the SMART goal template to assist you in setting achievable goals. (SMART stands for Smart, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound.)

  • Set deadlines. Assign a "start by" and "end by" date for each task to ensure you stay on track.

  • Break each goal on your career development plan into a smaller set of tasks that will assist you in meeting that goal. This will help prevent a task from seeming insurmountable.

How do you measure the effectiveness of the career development program? 

Once you’ve created your career development plan, you shouldn’t consider it “written in stone.” You will want to continually appraise your progress and make adjustments to your plan accordingly. Check your plan two to three times a year to make sure you’re meeting your deadlines and moving forward with your progress.

While you want to adhere to your overall plan, be flexible. Sometimes opportunities present themselves unexpectedly, or you might have to make a location change. That's okay. You can still stick to your plan, or make the necessary adjustments. Stay open to new prospects, and make sure you're consistently reevaluating your plan and incorporating new goals and circumstances. 



Perform a personal self-assessment. It’s vital to gain a complete picture of where you are now and have a defined starting point.

Be afraid to ask for support. Family, friends, and colleagues are all invaluable resources for staying the course when your motivation wanes or you get frustrated.

Research potential careers to ensure they align with your interests, skills, and values.

Jump at your first job offer. Make sure it aligns with your career goals.

Network effectively. It helps you find potential opportunities and stay on top of industry trends.

Use a scattershot approach. Take only the steps that will get you closer to your goal, whether it is training, education, or new positions.

Important things to remember

Creating a detailed career development plan is important, but it’s only the first step. Once you’ve defined your goals and how you plan to get there, there are a few things you should keep in mind when you’re working on achieving each step in your plan.

Always update your targets

Set goals that are realistic and achievable within your determined deadline. These goals should build on one another — each completed task should naturally lead to the next one, and so on. Don’t jump around. This way you’re always on top of your goals and are continually making progress.

Stay positive

You're working on this career development plan for a reason. That plan may be very personal to you, so if you have a glitch here and there, or don’t quite meet a deadline, don’t get discouraged. Keep a good attitude, be consistent, and remain resolute. The road to success is rarely a straight line. You’ll get there.

Mark your milestones

While you're checking in with your plan to make sure you're making progress toward your goal, take time to celebrate any milestones or accomplishments you've made. Each step forward gets you closer to your goal than you were before. Don't be so focused on your end goal that you can't enjoy the journey.

Don’t go it alone

It’s great if your current employer practices employee development, but don’t rely on it. If they do, however, keep in mind that career development benefits the company as well as the employee. Resources to utilize include your current manager/supervisor, human resources, and potential in-house mentors.

Statistical Insight

LinkedIn’s 2019 Workforce Learning Report determined that 94% of employees would remain at a company for a longer period if it took the time to help them develop their careers.

A career development plan can act as a compass to help you meet your goals and achieve your desired career path. Once completed, it’s a “how to” manual, assisting you in making decisions, working efficiently, and keeping true to your overall career vision. If you take time to check in, reassess, and maintain mindfulness of your deadlines (without losing flexibility) a career development plan can help you get to where you want to be. As the cosmetics magnate, Estée Lauder once said,  “I never dreamed about success. I worked for it.” Spending a little time now to make a plan will result in greater rewards down the line.

Key takeaways

  1. A career development plan is a detailed outline of your career goals and the steps you will take to achieve them. 

  2. A career development plan is an ongoing process, with continual goal reassessment and adjustments. 

  3. Develop a timeline, set concise, measurable goals, and stay positive. 

  4. Don't lock yourself into a plan, and be open to opportunities. Just make sure they align with your career goals.

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