Career Plan Template:
A Workbook That Supports Professional Growth
Do you want a career that aligns with your personal interests, strengths, and values? If so, you have to take control of it and one way to do that is by creating a career plan. In this workbook, you'll not only find a career plan template, but also a number of worksheets that will help you work your way through the four-step career planning process.
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How do you build a meaningful career where you feel fulfilled professionally? It starts with self-reflection and an intentional plan. However, careers today are not necessarily linear or predictable Despite the erratic nature of career paths, the way to get where you want to go starts with an understanding of your strengths, skills, values, and what you want out of your career.
That’s why we created the career plan template. As you work through the template, you’ll reflect on where you are today and what you enjoy. From these insights, you’ll be able to craft a plan that helps you get where you want to go. This workbook is an excellent way to start a career conversation with your leader, or if you lead a team, use it to help your direct reports build their development plan.
What Is a Career Plan?
A career plan is a document that helps you make thoughtful decisions regarding your career trajectory. Typically, it includes four parts: a self-assessment of where you are currently, research about where you want your career to go, immediate, short, and long-term SMART goals, and an action plan.
Creating a career plan aims to ensure that you are on track toward a truly satisfying, fulfilling, and engaging career. Not only that, but the process will help you get to know yourself better, understand your career options, and make decisions that align with your goals, values, and needs.
As you evolve throughout your career, your career plan should evolve with you. It should be treated as a living document, rather than a static one, that is regularly updated as you progress, encounter setbacks, or change your goals.
Why It’s Important to Have a Career Plan
If you want your career to give you a sense of purpose, satisfaction, and fulfillment, you can’t leave it up to chance. You have to take control of it, and one way to do that is with a career plan. The process of creating a career plan is vital as it helps you clearly define what it is you want, where you currently stand, and what needs to be done to bridge the gap. Once you do, you can make intentional choices and decisions regarding your professional life. According to the Government of Prince Edward Island, career planning will also help you:
- Develop meaningful professional goals and objectives
- Inventory your hard and soft skills
- Increase job satisfaction
- Plan your professional development needs
- Improve communication with your boss and align their goals with your own
- Manage stress and anxiety
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The Career Plan Workbook
After filling out the form, we will send you the workbook and also a copy to your email so you can file it away or share it with your colleagues.
The 4-Step Career Planning Process
The best career development plans, the ones that have the potential to shape your career and inform your professional choices, aren’t created overnight. You need to take time to reflect on your past, evaluate the present, and plan for the future. To help you create your career plan, use the 4-step career planning process as a guide.
- Assess Yourself
- Research Your Career Options
- Set SMART Goals
- Create an Action Plan
By following this process, you will create a career plan that is thorough and actionable. In the following sections, we’ll dive deeper into each of the steps and provide you with questions and considerations that will help you gather the information you need to write an official career plan.
1. Assess Yourself
The first step in the career planning process is to assess your skills, work values, experiences, and education, as well as identify your strengths and weaknesses. Not only will this information make it easier for you to make informed decisions about your career progression but it will also be helpful to have on hand as you decide what goals to set for yourself and what to include in the action plan portion of your career plan.
Before you can explore your options and start planning your career, you first need to identify what skills you currently have and your level of proficiency. This will influence what careers you are eligible for right now and which would require additional education or training. To help you identify those skills, you need to consider two categories: hard and soft skills.
Hard skills are skills, competencies, abilities, and knowledge that you learn through formal education, training, or hands-on experience and are required to do a specific job. You might also hear them referred to as technical skills. Examples of hard skills include:
- Spoken languages
- Project management
- Graphic design
- Video production
- UX design
Soft skills, on the other hand, are the non-technical skills that allow you to interact and work with others. They are highly coveted in today’s workplace and can be learned; however, you would not necessarily learn them in the same way you would technical skills. Soft skills may also be referred to as interpersonal, social, or people skills. Examples of soft skills include:
- Emotional intelligence
- Time management
- Critical thinking
During the assessment part of the career planning process, it is essential to reflect on your background given that your past professional experiences can significantly influence the path your career takes. Things to include in this section include:
- Job experience
- Volunteer experience
Work values, which may also be referred to as career values, are defined by Glassdoor as “personal ideals, motives, and beliefs that help you identify what’s most important in your career.” They are a guiding light that will shape your everyday attitudes, behaviors, and decisions in the workplace. When your work values are aligned with your team’s or company’s values, you are far more likely to feel a sense of fulfillment and satisfaction in your career. To help you define your personal work values, ask yourself the following questions:
- What is important to you at work?
- What makes you feel fulfilled at work?
- What makes you feel satisfied at work?
- What things give you a sense of purpose and meaning?
- What kind of work environment do you prefer to work in?
- What is something that makes you feel anxious, upset, or disengaged if it's missing from your career?
- What values are you willing to sacrifice things like your time, finances, or relationships, for?
Strengths and Weaknesses
One of the best ways to asses yourself during the career planning process is to conduct a personal SWOT analysis, which will help you identify your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. While this is as simple as asking yourself the following questions and writing down the answers, do not be afraid to give yourself time to thoroughly contemplate your answers over the period of a few days. Questions to ask during a personal SWOT analysis include but are not limited to the following:
- In what areas do you excel?
- What comes naturally to you?
- Do you have a skill or talent that makes you stand out at work?
- What do you love to do?
- What tasks/topics prompt others to ask for your help/feedback?
- What do you receive the most praise or compliments for?
- What do you do better than others?
- Are there any tasks or responsibilities that you avoid/do not like?
- Do you lack training or experience in a particular area?
- What, if anything, do you think is holding you back from achieving your goals?
- What skill or behavior do you receive feedback or criticism about?
- Do you make any repeated mistakes?
- When has fear stopped you from taking on an opportunity?
- What strengths, skills, or abilities do you have that are not currently used at work? Would you like to tap into them?
- What resources would make you more successful? (ex. People, technology, funding)
- Is there a need or trend in your company or industry that no one is filling that you can?
- What skills, qualities, or abilities do you want to learn?
- Are there any projects/assignments you want to participate in?
- Could your weaknesses threaten your success/goals? In what ways?
- What external obstacles could stand in the way of your success/goals?
- Is there a demand for your skill set?
- What is the competition like for your desired position/career?
- Could technology threaten your position/career?
- What do your peers in similar positions do more of/better than you?
2. Research the Possibilities
Investigating your next potential opportunity is an essential step in career planning. By researching opportunities, you will discover what you want out of your career and be able to narrow down the options.
However, keep in mind the changing landscape of roles in organizations. What a role looks like today won’t necessarily be what it looks like tomorrow. New roles will emerge while the need for current roles will fade away. For insight into where roles are heading, Center For Future Work compiled its list of the 21 Jobs of the Future list.
Here are a few ideas that will help you begin the researching portion of this process:
Talk to a mentor: Whether they’re in your organization or outside of it, a mentor will give you guidance on career options. The facts back up the importance of a mentor, as 80% of professionals attribute their success to working with a mentor.
Follow thought leaders: LinkedIn offers a wealth of information and insight into different roles. Connect and follow individuals with similar roles to the one you are considering pursuing.
Get first-hand knowledge: Seek out individuals who are currently holding roles you’re interested in and ask if you can interview and ask them questions about their career path.
Explore job descriptions: Review postings within your company or on external sites such as Indeed and Monster to understand better what the role you are considering entails.
Also, as you conduct your research, ask yourself the following questions to qualify each role you’re investigating.
Would you enjoy this role?
What projects would you take on?
What responsibilities would you have? Are you willing to take on that responsibility?
Will you have direct reports? Would you enjoy leadership or leading a larger team?
Are you ready for everything that comes with leadership, such as performance management, coaching, hiring/firing, reporting to senior leadership, etc.?
Who would you report to? Would you like/dislike this?
How much autonomy would you have?
Would this be too much/too little for you?
What skills would you be using? Are they your strengths?
Would you need to develop new skills? Would you enjoy using these skills?
Would this role suit your personal life and responsibilities?
Does this role align with your values?
What are the working conditions? (Ex. Time commitment, working hours, travel requirements, physical demands, safety concerns)
What are the demands of this job? Is it fast-paced or laid back? Would you like that?
How much would you earn? Does it meet your financial needs/expectations?
What perks does this role offer?
What is the future outlook for this role?
3. Set SMART Goals
Once you have assessed yourself thoroughly and conducted the necessary research on potential career options, it’s time to translate that information into goals. Typically those goals will fall into one of three categories:
- Immediate Goals: Goals you want to achieve in the next few months.
- Short-Term Goals: Goals you want to achieve in the next year.
- Long-Term Goals: Goals you want to achieve in the next several years.
Regardless of what category your career goals fall into, it is helpful to ensure each goal follows the SMART goals model. While this might be one of the more time-consuming parts of the process, it is worthwhile as it will challenge you to think more deeply about the goals you are setting than you might otherwise. Doing so will help mitigate the risk of including goals in your plan that are not realistic or specific enough.
To help you get started, here is a breakdown of the SMART goals acronym, along with a question to ask yourself at each step:
Specific: What exactly do you want to achieve?
Measurable: How will you know you have achieved this goal? What metric can you use to track your progress and measure success?
Achievable: Are you confident that this goal is realistic, yet challenging?
Relevant: Why is this goal important to you? What will you get out of achieving it?
Time-Bound: When do you want to achieve this goal? Does that deadline create a sense of urgency and motivation, without causing unnecessary stress?
4. Create an Action Plan
The final step in the career planning process is to create an action plan so that you know what needs to be done to make your goals a reality. First and foremost, it should break down your goals into tactical steps, as well as include the timeline, resources required, and potential obstacles to be aware of. In fact, here is a list of questions to ask yourself as you work through this step in the process:
What steps do you need to take to accomplish your goal?
When does it need to be accomplished? How big of a priority is it compared to your other goals?
Who can help you achieve your goal?
What resources will you need? (Budget, Training, Technology, etc.)
What potential problems or obstacles might you encounter? How will you overcome them?
What milestones can you celebrate along the way? How will you celebrate them?
As you create your action plan, you will likely identify specific skills, abilities, or knowledge you need to acquire to achieve your goals. In that case, you will find it helpful to have the following resources on hand:
How To Write a Career Plan (+Template)
Whether you’ve been asked to create a career plan as part of your professional development by your employer or have taken it on yourself to do so, you might not know precisely how to write a career plan or even what it should look like. For that reason, career plan templates exist. However, before diving right into it, take the time to work through the career planning process so you have all the information you need to write a thorough and actionable career plan.
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Career Plan Template
Next Steps: Put Your Career Plan Into Action With Niagara Institute
Given how complex and volatile today’s world is, it is more important than ever to have a career plan. It will give you a much-needed sense of direction and confidence and help ensure that you stay true to your goals, values, and needs at every step.
While it’s up to you to make that plan a reality, it does not mean you are alone along the way. In fact, with a partner like Niagara Institute, you have access to training programs and professional coaches that will help you learn essential leadership, communication, and business management skills and get yourself one step closer to achieving your ideal career.