Eight tips for building a career development plan

Are you keen to take another step up the career ladder? Whilst it can be tempting to simply do your job well and wait for opportunities to find you, it can mean missing out. Creating a personal development plan with your career aspirations in mind can help you hone the skills you need and give you focus.

A personal development plan should be a written account of the areas where you want to improve, in this case, with a focus on your career. It’s a place where you can detail an action plan and help give your efforts a sense of direction. A well thought out personal development plan should help you recognise your strengths and weaknesses, as well as the actions you need to take in order to reach your goals.

Whilst putting together a personal development plan can seem time-consuming, it’s easy to put off tasks you know you could benefit from without a clearly defined blueprint to follow.

But what should you be thinking about when you start to build your personal development plan? These eight tips can help spur you on to your next career accomplishment:

  1. Look at what you’ve already achieved: We all need some motivation at points and using achievements already ticked off to build the foundations of a plan can help. Looking at the progress you’ve already made can help encourage action to further progress goals. It can help you feel like you’re not starting from scratch, whilst also highlighting where further efforts need to be made.
  2. Set clear, defined goals: When setting out targets, it can be tempting to keep them vague. However, your goals should be defined with a clear time frame of when you want to reach them. This makes it easier to see how small steps you’re taking are leading to a bigger achievement and allows you to track whether you’re on the right path. Be realistic when setting out goals, striving towards the unattainable can be incredibly demoralising.
  3. Remember to be flexible: Goals are important, but so is being flexible. There may be times when you realise, you’re going to fall short or an opportunity comes along that will take you off track. Your career development plan should give you a path to follow, but it isn’t set in stone. Regularly going back to your plan and seeing if it still reflects your situation, aspirations and more is crucial.
  4. Actively look for opportunities: We’ve probably all been guilty of wanting a change, but doing little to encourage it at some point. If you want your career to move forward, you need to take responsibility for this and search out opportunities. This may include looking at courses to boost skills or taking on different tasks at work to grow your skill base.
  5. Keep your CV up to date: Whether an internal or external position has caught your eye, you’ll still need to apply. With plenty of competition in many sectors, job openings may only be accepting applications for a short period of time. For this reason, it’s far easier to keep your CV up to date, as well as a list of achievements, and to hand, ready for when you need it.
  6. Join a professional association: If you’re not already part of one, joining a professional association can be invaluable. First, it can enhance your professional image and may help you stand out from the crowd. Second, associations typically offer excellent networking opportunities that may be just what you need to take you where you want to go. You’re also likely to find resources for keeping skills up to date, seminars and conferences, and job opportunities.
  7. Find a mentor: Seeking out someone within your sector that you admire can help push you forward. A mentor can offer a wealth of experience and an established network to tap into. If you’re at the stage in your career where you can mentor someone in a more junior position, this can help too; from honing leadership skills to showcasing your knowledge. Whether you think you’d benefit from a mentor or have something to offer another person, it’s an excellent way to expand your connections too.
  8. Be prepared to move around: You may be happy within your current work environment. But if you really want to progress you need to be prepared to move where the opportunities are. However, remember not to burn bridges. Always leave on good terms where possible, you never know where the next opportunity may come from.

Remember as you progress through your career to ensure it’s reflected in your financial plan too. Whilst increased salary and benefits may not be your main motivation, they do have an impact on your lifestyle. As your salary rises or you receive bonuses, it’s worth thinking about your long-term financial security. You may decide that increasing investments, pension contributions or rainy-day savings are right for you, for instance.