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Move forward in your career and know where to go with a 5-year plan!

Move forward in your career and know where to go with a 5-year plan!

  • What is a 5-year plan?
  • Why write a 5-year plan?
  • How to create a 5-year plan
  • 1. Deliberate, conceptualize, and dream big
  • 2. Identify your current skill set and get some feedback
  • 3. Write it down
  • Is it okay to not have a 5-year plan?
  • Template for a 5-year plan
  • Key takeaways

To reach your goals, you'll need a plan. We look at how a 5-year plan can help you progress your career and how you can create one to keep your career moving forward.

If you’re planning on taking a trip, you need directions on how to get there or you’re likely to get lost. It’s the same for your career. You’re more likely to get to where you want to go if you have a plan in place. If you're unsure where you're headed with your career, developing a five-year plan—a group of goals you’d like to meet in the next five years—will help you create a roadmap that will help you meet and accomplish those goals. While it might seem overwhelming at first, creating a five-year plan can eliminate a lot of uncertainty and give you an actionable plan for success.

In this article, we'll discuss why you should create a five-year plan, including:

  • What is a 5-year plan?

  • Why write a 5-year plan?

  • How to make a 5-year plan?

  • What should a 5-year plan include?

  • Is it OK to not have a 5-year plan?

  • Template for a 5-year plan

What is a 5-year plan?

As it applies to your career, a five-year plan is a set of goals that you would like to reach within, you guessed it, five years from now. Five years is enough time to set up main goals as well as smaller goals that will move you along the path and help you meet the main ones. You may think it's better to just "go with the flow" and see where your career takes you, but many people do better with a plan, which can help reduce the stress that often comes with career uncertainty, identify your strengths and weaknesses, and identify a sense of purpose in your career. After all, you're likely to be working for decades—it's more fulfilling if you're doing something meaningful to you and making progress with it.

Expert Tip

Be S.M.A.R.T

When creating your five-year plan, keep in mind that SMART goals can help you focus on what you need to succeed. When writing out your goals and the steps you need to reach them, make sure they’re:

  • Specific

  • Measurable

  • Achievable

  • Relevant

  • Time-bound

This will help you avoid goals that are too vague or hard to achieve and keep you on track for success.

Why write a 5-year plan?

Often, we think about our goals on a year-to-year basis, but that might not be the most effective way to do it. Like our well-intentioned New Year's resolutions, yearly goals often get pushed to the side in favor of our day-to-day responsibilities. Just as “Rome wasn’t built in a day,” your career takes years to develop, and career goals such as furthering your education may seem like too much to handle if you think you have to accomplish it this year. A five-year plan gives you the time you need to think deeply about your goals and figure out what steps you need to take to make them happen.

Other benefits of having a five-year plan include:

  • It can help you develop skills you’ll need in future positions.

  • It gives you the chance to consistently reassess your goals, and change what’s not working for you.

  • It can provide more meaning to your current work, as you understand what you’re doing now will apply to your future career aspirations. 

Statistical Insight

A March 2022 study performed by Gartner surveyed over 3,300 employees and found that less than 33 percent have an idea of how to move their career forward in the next five years. And they’re not likely to find help from their bosses. Only 50 percent said that they’re given tailored feedback to help them move up into their desired positions.

How to create a 5-year plan

The idea of creating a five-year plan can be a little intimidating, especially if you’re not even sure what you’re having for lunch tomorrow. But the key to creating a five-year plan is to, well, have a plan for your plan! If you break it down into smaller, more manageable steps, you’ll be able to put a workable framework into place.

1. Deliberate, conceptualize, and dream big

In the next five years, what do you want out of life? This isn't an easy question, and it will require quite a bit of thought. And that's okay. This is the time to think about what you want to accomplish. Don't worry about how you're going to get there—that will come a bit later. Right now, take some time to brainstorm about your main goal, what you're passionate about, the skills you need to develop, and where you are at this moment in your career. At this point, write down everything that comes to mind. You can narrow it down later, if necessary.

2. Identify your current skill set and get some feedback

At this point, you want to make a list of what you know and what you can do and figure out how that applies to where you want to go. You may find you have more knowledge and skills than you thought. And if you find yourself coming up short in any area, you can identify what you need to do to rectify that and keep yourself moving towards your goals. 

Sometimes, though, it’s hard to know what we’re good at. Consider asking your supervisors and colleagues for feedback. They may be able to point out strengths you might have overlooked as well as areas in which you could improve and give you ideas for other career paths you might never have thought of. See if your feedback aligns with your self-reflection, and make adjustments if necessary.

3. Write it down

Have you ever forgotten what you wanted to buy when you went to the grocery store? It’s because you didn’t write it down. Whether you write it down on paper or your computer, have all your information in one place so you can refer to it regularly. However you assemble it, your plan should include: 

  • Goals that include the work that you find most interesting, how you see yourself living your life, and what effect you would like your work to have. Don't censor yourself. It's all valid and useful information.

  • Your current skills and the skills you need to develop, including any certifications or degrees. This will help you identify any skill haps you might have that you'll need to rectify to meet your goals. 

  • Activities you'll need to do to address these skill gaps. These activities can be anything you need to develop the skills you need to move ahead in your career, such as cross-training, college classes, joining professional associations, job shadowing, or reading books.

  • Include a "doomsday scenario." While that sounds a little melodramatic, you need to plan for obstacles that might occur or things that might derail your progress and come up with ways you can address them so that you don’t lose sight of your goals and keep yourself on track.

Remember that your five-year plan is never written in stone. It’s a constantly evolving document that you need to review and reassess regularly. Consider taking a look at your plan every few months or so to see if you need more time to reach a goal, or add new action steps as needed.

Expert Tip

Consider using a Gantt Chart to manage your career plan. A Gantt Chart is a project management tool that allows you to visualize work completed correlated to the time allotted for that work. They can include start and end dates, milestones, and a chart that shows a timeline as well as a list of tasks.

Is it okay to not have a 5-year plan?

Let’s be honest: your career isn’t going to fall apart if you don’t have a five-year plan. Plans are super-helpful, but circumstances change and you can’t be so rigid that you miss out on great opportunities because they’re “not in the plan.” If you can’t bring yourself to write down a structured plan, that’s okay, especially if you stick to the spirit of the plan, which is to keep moving forward, keep learning, continually develop your skills, meet new people, and try new things, all of which will help you seize on professional opportunities when they present themselves. 

Template for a 5-year plan

So how does all this information fit into a five-year plan? If you’re having trouble visualizing how to create a five-year plan, consider this template to get you started.

Template for a 5-year plan

Plan Period: {date} to {date}

My current job: {where you’re working now and in what role}

My long-term goal: {where you’d like to be in five years}

Steps I’ll take to reach my goals:

  1. Year 1 {list your actionable steps}

  2. Year 2 {list your actionable steps}

  3. Year 3 {list your actionable steps}

  4. Year 4 {list your actionable steps}

  5. Year 5 {list your actionable steps}

Personal Development Objectives  {list what you’ll need to do to get to where you want to go}

How can I enlist others to help me? {list people who can help you and how they can support you so that you meet your goals}

What are areas I need to develop and how will I address them? {list Development areas and plans} {dates}

Remember, having a five-year plan doesn’t lock you into anything. Life changes, so plans can change too. But having a roadmap to guide you along your career path can help ensure that you’re not spinning your wheels in a career that isn’t fulfilling or meaningful to you, and provide a reminder of the steps you need to get to where you want to be.

Need help reaching the next step in your career? Check out Career.io’s Job Search Strategy tool, which will provide you with expert guidance, proven methodologies, and top-notch tools to streamline the job search process and target opportunities that are right for you.

Key takeaways

  1. A five-year plan is a set of career goals that you would like to reach within the next five years.

  2. A five-year plan gives you the time you need to think deeply about your goals and figure out what steps you need to take to make them happen.

  3. When creating your career goals, make sure that they are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound (SMART).

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