Career development plan concept cartoon of a woman standing on some blue arrows with a briefcase and the beige-coloured sky in the background.
Image: © Nuthawut/

How to create your own career development plan

3 Jul 2023

If you want to reconcile your own career dreams with industry success, making a career development plan is a good place to start. Here’s how.

Don’t just entrust your career development to your employer, it is a very personal thing and you should have an active role in yours because you are the one who should benefit from such a plan, not anyone else.

A good way to think of your career development is by imagining a series of concentric circles, with yourself at the centre, surrounded by your employer or an employer you would like to work for. The outside circle would be the wider industry or industries you see yourself working in.

Self-assessment and goal-setting and you

Take yourself first, because you are the most important person in your plan – and think about what you want for yourself and how you can achieve that. Then begin to relate that to the research you carry out in your industry (later on in the plan) and think about how you can develop your professional skills to be an attractive candidate for employers.

When assessing your skillset, be as honest as you can, because that will help you acknowledge your weaknesses and areas you need to work on down the line. Ask yourself: What am I good at? What are my strengths, weaknesses and particular areas of interest professionally?

Then think about what kind of job you want, whether it has to be remote or hybrid or part-time or full-time to work out in your non-working life. And if you need to learn new skills, can you do that online, at a university, or at an-person workshop? Be realistic about what your situation is and remember everyone develops at a different pace.

If you need a steer in setting your goals, try the SMART framework out. It’s an acronym that stands for specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely. Check your preliminary goals against it.

Check-ins, mentoring and skills assessment with your employer

In setting out a career plan for yourself, you will also need input from other people who know you in a professional capacity. If you’re still in school, that might be a career guidance teacher or someone you did some work for during the summer. If you’re established in your career you could ask a current or former employer for their views on what you need to work on.

It’s important to have done the self-reflection as mentioned in step one before you seek the advice of someone. For one thing, they’ll be better able to help you and advise you; and you won’t get any nasty shocks if they tell you something is not realistic because ideally, you’ll have discounted any pipe dreams thanks to the SMART chart…

It’s worth pointing out that anyone who has a career development plan that they are actively sticking to sets regular check-ins ­­– whether formal or informal – with their employers. Even if it’s just asking them to give you feedback, that is an indicator of what skills you need to improve to get to where you want to be.

Research industry trends, network and learn new things

Once you have settled on where you want to be and you have spoken to or taken your current employer’s view of your skills into account, it’s time to start thinking about the future. Even if you know you are happy in your current situation for the moment, you should not neglect your long-term vision.

Leverage your current network to gain new professional connections as you never know where opportunities can appear. Keep your LinkedIn profile updated and fresh to show your industry you are on top of your game and that you care about how you present yourself.

If you are hoping to break into a certain part of an industry, keep up with developments and know what’s going on and how you can fit into that.

As for the learning goals that you identified in the previous steps? It’s time to get going on those and be proactive so you can show yourself you are actually implementing your own career plan. Ultimately, things like industry research and employer feedback are only going to get you so far. You are the only one who can fulfil your personal career plan, so take ownership of it and best of luck.

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Blathnaid O’Dea
By Blathnaid O’Dea

Blathnaid O’Dea worked as a Careers reporter until 2024, coming from a background in the Humanities. She likes people, pranking, pictures of puffins – and apparently alliteration.

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