How to make a career development plan

Creating a career development plan is a way to clearly take ownership of your future. Indeed, whilst most people don’t have goals (and certainly not written down ones) those who do have a constant reminder of what they need to do to achieve their goals so in affect are more likely to succeed.

What is a career development plan?

Fundamentally, there’s nothing too complicated here. A career development plan is simply a written record of your short, medium and long-term goals which relate to your career. It’s not set in stone, things can change.

However, what it does do is mark out the steps you’ll need to take to achieve those goals.

Where to start

Getting started is the hardest step. You’ll need to give some attention to what your realistic options are. This will involve taking an honest appraisal of yourself as well as what is available to you with various qualifications, experiences, skills and attributes. In short, you can’t aim for something if you don’t even know it exists.

If you are particularly early in your career, or considering a complete change of career, then it may be useful to use this time to gather information. Undertake some courses, attend talks in the relevant field, talk to others, and possibly volunteer.

Organise your goals

Now you should be beginning to have a clearer idea of the goals you’re aiming for. However, what you may also find is that they don’t represent a linear path. In fact, sometimes goals can contradict each other. If this is the case, you’ll need to organise your goals in a way which prioritises them.

To do this you may need to look at your personal motivational ‘must-haves’. For example, is it more important to have intellectually stimulating work or a large pay check? Is it of higher importance to have a career which has part-time options for raising a family, or is location more important?

Be realistic

It’s worth pointing out that at this stage you need to become increasingly realistic. This isn’t about dashing dreams, but it is about taking an honest approach to what is possible.

It’s also about looking at your wider life and what your overall life goals are. Your career development plan shouldn’t be sitting in isolation from the rest of what you want to achieve and do with your life.

Being realistic also involves looking at what steps are needed in order to achieve the short, medium and long-term goals in your plan. Do you need to undertake more qualifications? Do you want to read more books to inspire you? Will you need to attend specific training? How much experience will you need?

Break it down

You’ve now gathered a lot of information and a lot of evidence. Your next step is to order this in to rough time frames. You want to set short-term goals, medium-term goals and long-term goals, which would mean planning for a minimum of 5 years in advance.  We have written another article on how to make a 5 year career plan which may also help with this.

You’ll need to frontload the detail in to these categories. This means you’ll need to give more attention to the steps needed to achieve the short-term goals than the long-term ones, all the while ensuring they still work overall. This is because it is realistic to accept that your career development plan will evolve over time.

Use SMART goals

If you’ve worked in business then you’ll probably be familiar with SMART goals. If so, use the technique now. If not, then let us quickly explain. SMART is an acronym for:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Relevant
  • Time bound

By working through each goal using the SMART technique you can ensure you have in place a realistic way of actually achieving the goal. It helps you to further refine the steps you’ll need to take.

Put it all down on paper

You’re nearly there. Now it’s time to put all of the information succinctly together in to one document which will be your actual career development plan. Use a dated and tick-box approach and vow to review it every 3-6 months to check that you are on track to reach your goals.


Career development plans aren’t a one-off exercise. It would be highly unusual for it not to flex and change over time. This can happen due to a whole range of influences from family life to health and technological development to opportunity.

So create the career development plan, but never stop reviewing it.