Thoughtful career planning is the difference between dreading how you spend each day and being excited by it.
Managers who encourage their teams to create and follow through on career plans are rewarded with employees who contribute innovatively with thoughtful deliverables, collaborative effort, and drive.
Whether you’re someone who’s just entering the workforce or a company leader who wants to develop the talent already in your roster, career planning benefits everyone. This article will cover the basics and offer a few examples and templates to guide you.
Career planning is the process of determining how you want to invest your time and skills in a way that is emotionally satisfying, leverages your strengths, and is reflective of your financial needs or circumstances. It also includes defining the steps that will bridge the gap between where you are now and where you want to be.
Career planning isn’t something to do just once; in fact, reevaluating a career plan every few years is critical as your values, interests, and circumstances change over time.
Employees who regularly reflect on their goals reaffirm their dedication to their work or they gain clarity about changes they should make to their current reality. After a productive career planning session, they may be empowered to take that promotion or make a lateral move into a different organization or industry.
There are three phases to planning your career: conducting a self-assessment, exploring different career options, and creating an action plan.
Are you excited by your work? Does your current job align with your values and make use of your strengths? If you’re not sure how to answer those questions, consider your:
Interests – What you enjoy doing
Values – Ideals and beliefs that determine your priorities
Strengths and weaknesses – Your natural competencies, learned skills, and personality traits
Workplace needs – The type of environment you work best in
Financial or lifestyle needs – The kind of income or benefits you need to be physically and emotionally secure
Being thoughtful about these factors will help you choose attainable goals or evaluate if your existing goals are realistic for your current circumstances.
If you’re confident that you’re already on the right track, reach out to more senior members of the company to talk about options for leveling up. Get a sense for what your career trajectory might look like, what opportunities within the company are available, when promotions happen, and what will make you a shoe-in for them.
Toying with the idea of a career change? Connect with people who are working in industries or roles you’re interested in. They can give you a better idea of what it’s like to work in those positions, if it’s actually a good fit for you, and what you need to do to make the switch.
Once you’ve defined an ideal job opportunity or a plan for advancing in your career, it’s time to draw the map that will take you there. Here are a few things to work on in the process:
Developing new skills – Invest in education or training to help you toward your long-term goals.
Establishing short-term goals – Take on projects or make other more immediate steps that will help you master your current role while gaining valuable experience for future job opportunities.
Setting mid- and long-term goals – Identify activities, projects, or new roles you can take on in 2 to 5 years that lead you to your ideal job or lifestyle.
Career paths obviously look different depending on your interests, goals, skills, and chosen field. Still, to move up in your career usually involves some combination of training and sequential roles that help you level up and reach your goals. Here are some examples:
Here’s what a career path may look like for someone with the goal of becoming a school principal:
Bachelor’s degree in Education
Teacher (at least 3 years)
Master’s degree in School Administration
School administrator certification
Here’s what a career path might look like for someone interested in leading a company in their marketing efforts:
Bachelor’s degree in Marketing
Master’s degree in marketing
Director of Marketing
Vice President of Marketing
Chief Marketing Officer
Whether you’re developing your career plan for the first time or you’re a manager helping your employees develop their paths, one of these templates can help:
Employees who haven’t yet created a career plan will want to consult this template, which includes much of the process outlined above.
This template is for managers to support their employees’ goals and help them plan for the future.
Employees and managers can work on this document together. Employees start by outlining a few skills or steps they need to reach their goals, while managers can provide feedback on the employees’ current performance, strengths, and weaknesses.
Employees with renewed motivation will bring their A-game to the company, while managers will find themselves leading teams that are more engaged and productive. What’s not to love? As a bonus, this win-win situation is easy to execute. Consider using one of the career planning templates above as part of your annual performance reviews. The employee and manager template in particular gives you both a chance to look to the future while reflecting on the employee’s current skills.