Do you have a career development plan that you actively work? By that, I mean a plan you refer to often and update even more often? A plan that you go to when making decisions about new opportunities and educational goals? If so, I applaud you! Way to go!! If not, I suggest you carve out a couple of hours yet this week to start crafting one. You’ll thank me later.
Creating and maintaining a career development plan is vital to moving your career forward. And I’m not just talking about answering the standard question asked at your annual performance review – “where do you see yourself in three or five years?” I’m talking about serious self-assessment and planning that touches on all aspects of your life and future.
You may think it’s not necessary and that you really don’t have time for it. I’ve not always been good about maintaining my own career development plan. And when I look back at those times when I was without one, I clearly see that I was floundering. That’s not to say that having a plan will completely prevent the occasional career slip n’ slide, but it will help get you back on course more easily. It provides the foundation from which to build when unexpected changes or offers arise.
We all have those work colleagues who appear to just be lucky when it comes to climbing the career ladder. Promotions and plum assignments seem to come their way more often. Well, I guarantee they have career development plans. They know what they want and have made a plan that lays out how to get there. They are “working their plan.”
There are endless career development plan templates on the internet. Pick a style you like, but make sure it includes these key elements:
Assessment of Your Strengths
You are really good at certain things. You may intuitively know what those things are, but you will continue to learn more about those things from every endeavor you undertake. Each job can provide you valuable insights into your strengths. Many of us don’t take time to think about what our strengths are, but knowing them can help lead you to opportunities that fit you well. Maybe you have benefited from a boss or colleague who saw a strength in you and guided you to opportunities where you could utilize it. But maybe that wasn’t really a strength, but was just work you seemed to do well. There’s a difference. Strengths are about passion and flow. When you reflect back on all your past jobs, both paid and volunteer, you will discover what brought you the most enjoyment and the most accolades. Finding that intersection of enjoyment and success will provide you with the strongest insights into your strengths.
Identifying What Kind of Boss Helps You Thrive
Most of us have clear preferences for how we are managed and led. Some of us do our best work when left alone, others like to collaborate and have a sounding board to bounce ideas off. Many people fall somewhere between those two. Unless you are an entrepreneur who works independently, you should identify and document the characteristics you most desire in a boss and use that information to make decisions about new job opportunities. Always ask prospective new bosses about their work styles during job interviews so that you’ll know if it’s a good “boss-fit” for you. The perfect job is never just about the work itself. In fact, “54% of employees said their main reason for staying on the job is their loyalty to their coworkers, team, boss or company (Ajilon)” 
Training and Education Planning
A good employee is a learning employee. Not only is training and education beneficial to your career growth, it benefits your employer too. “Forty-two percent of L&D professionals who indicated their employees were highly engaged in learning [indicated they] were also highly engaged overall at the organization (Findcourses.com)”  Include all types of training and education in your development plan. If you want to complete a degree program, you will especially need to plan and prepare well ahead of time. Unlike a professional development workshop that you can attend on short-notice, a formal educational program is going to have application deadlines and attendance requirements. Also, training and education can be expensive, so explore all options. If you’ve been working your plan by discussing these goals with your supervisor, you will be in a better position to ask for assistance – whether financial or simply allowing you time to devote to learning.
Alignment of Non-Work Aspects of Your Life
Obviously, your personal life influences your career decisions and vice versa. Do you want to move to another city, state, or country in the future? Do you have a spouse that wants to? Do you want to have children? These aspects of our lives are all mental expectations we have that we rarely plot out on a timeline alongside career goals. Career planning is a holistic process that needs to include all aspects of your life. The balancing and timing of all these elements will likely present your biggest challenge. Remember that your plan is changeable, so don’t keep yourself from including these aspects of your life because they seem too uncertain.
Building Your Personal Board of Directors
We should all have a personal board of directors who act as a planning and support team. Your board should be comprised of individuals who are fully “in your corner” (both personally and professionally.) Just like a company’s board, membership should be diverse and represent different perspectives. Identify people who will support your efforts, while also challenging you to think big and bold. Share your plan with your board members. Tell them that you expect to occasionally check-in with them about your plan and that you’d like them to hold you to some level of accountability for achieving your dreams and desires.
Documenting your goals in a career development plan will ensure that you have a reference point for decision-making when new opportunities arise, and will allow you to measure progress. By “working your plan” you can maneuver more adeptly around situations that may slow down progress or lead you off your path. Well…, what are you waiting for? Get planning!
Kimberly Nuckles is part of the GovLoop Featured Contributor program, where we feature articles by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Contributor posts, click here.