How to Develop a Career Plan

We take a look at how to develop a career plan to help ensure your career stays on the right road

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During job interviews you may be asked the common question, ‘Where do you want to be in 10 years?’ Many trainees do not know how to answer this question and they often come up with a generic response along the lines of, ‘I hope to grow with the company and eventually move into a position with more responsibility.’

But wouldn’t it be great if you really did know where you wanted to be in 10 years? 

If you have a career action plan in place, then there is a better chance you will have a good idea of where you want your career to be in one year, five years, 10 years and even longer term.

The simplest and most beneficial way of looking at a career plan is that it is a personal roadmap that will bring a sense of direction, focus and a determination to reach the goals laid out in the plan.

In the same way businesses produce business plans a career plan is a personal business plan. A decent career plan helps to formulate personal branding, career missions and an understanding of what is required to achieve pre-determined career goals.

Putting your plan in writing will also allow you to trust your judgment when it comes to making career choices, as well as reminding you about your professional talents and experience, not to mention it will encourage you to have a positive attitude about how far your career has to go and the potential for excelling.

Greater chance of success

It is universally agreed that students and professionals who have developed and follow their own career plan have a greater likelihood of success because they know which steps to take in order to achieve it – but where to start when putting a career plan together?

Nicholas Kirk, regional managing director at Page Personnel Finance, HR & Secretarial & Business Support, says: ‘When planning your future, it is important to take your long-term goals and ambitions into account. Where do you ultimately want to be in your career? What steps can you take today to get you closer to achieving that goal?

‘If you are honest, upfront and have open lines of communication to your employer, they can help you visualise a career path and highlight the opportunities that are open to you within your current organisation.

‘A career plan will help you to stay focused on what you really want and make sure that you are developing the right skills and experience to get you there. We find that people who plan ahead are generally more likely to make good choices when establishing their careers and are rewarded with the opportunity to become successful more quickly.’

Plan planning

When sitting down to create a career plan, it is worth remembering there is no set format that a career action plan must have. Plans can vary in size from one or two paragraphs to several pages, they are unique to each individual, personalised and containing information that applies only to the relevant individual.

The most important features of effective career action plans include professional likes and dislikes, steps required to obtain a desired job, professional growth targets, a timetable to reach specific goals and a list of other professionals or colleagues that may provide advice if required.

Managers and colleagues will give guidance, while a mentor can often help provide a valuable external perspective on your career path and a recruiter can help you understand the skills employers are looking for.

Robert Half managing director Phil Sheridan says: ‘Finding a mentor is important. Having someone you can turn to throughout your career to ask for advice, whether it’s navigating office politics or preparing for a career transition, will hold you in good stead. Even the most senior professionals will typically have someone they turn to for guidance.

‘Likewise, finding a recruitment consultant who you trust and who understands your career aspirations can help expose you to a multitude of job opportunities you may not otherwise be aware of. Building this relationship over the course of your career will allow the consultant to understand your motivations and find the perfect match as your career advances.’

Specialist or generalist

For many trainees pursuing a career in accountancy there will come a time when it is necessary to decide whether to pursue a generalist or specialist approach. This also largely reflects the kind of business trainees wish to target.

Small and mid-sized companies generally give professionals the opportunity to get involved in a variety of projects, allowing them to increase their skill sets across a broad range. Large businesses, in contrast, allow accountants to focus on a specific area but within a large, often international organisation.

Ellis King, manager, Accountancy and Finance Contract at Morgan McKinley, says: ‘I think it is important for junior employees to look for roles which firstly mirror their study and secondly give them as broad a range of experience as possible before they decide what they would like to do in their career.

‘The days of having a five-year or 10-year plan are coming to an end in this profession as technology is moving so fast that it is hard to judge how the sector will develop in the future. Therefore, it is vital to get a taste of a broad range of disciplines before deciding what to specialise in.’

Ongoing planning

Many people only think about their career goals when they start looking for a new job or at their annual appraisal, but ongoing career planning and management is essential to long-term career progression. Remember that nobody will care about your success more than you, so make time for planning and invest in your own career.

Karen Young, director at Hays Senior Finance, says: ‘For the majority of accountancy professionals, career planning will be a mix of setting formal objectives through appraisals and continuing professional development, and more informal thought and discussion around your career plans.

‘Think about your skills, what you enjoy doing, and where you want to be. Do a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis. Whether you measure success by promotion opportunities, contribution to society or addressing your work life balance, the first step is to identify your goals and motivations.

‘Once you know where you want to be, it is much easier to figure out how to get there. Breaking your long-term aspirations down into short to medium term goals makes them more manageable, and enables you to take first steps towards reaching them. You might realise you need to take a training course to learn new skills or refresh old ones, or develop your IT or language skills through online learning.’

"When planning your future, it is important to take your long-term goals and ambitions into account. Where do you ultimately want to be in your career? What steps can you take today to get you closer to achieving that goal?"