How to Build a Career Development Plan: 9 Steps

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July 14, 2023
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min read

With the nonlinear nature of career paths, finding your way can be a challenge. 

That's where a career development plan comes in, serving as a personalized map to guide you, highlight milestones, and lead you to your ultimate career destination. 

Don’t have a plan? Don’t worry—by the end of this guide, you'll have a roadmap to navigate the professional landscape, opening doors to opportunities and paving your path toward success.

3 key takeaways

  • Nine steps for creating a career development plan 
  • How a career development plan serves as a catalyst for professional growth
  • Teal’s resume matching, Job Application Tracker, and tailored insights can be a valuable resource to support career advancement.

What is a career development plan?

A career development plan is your personal roadmap for career growth. Think of it as a strategic game plan that outlines where you are now, where you want to go, and how you plan to get there. It's a proactive approach to managing your career rather than simply letting it unfold.

Typically, a career development plan includes several key components:

  • Career goals: These are the top-line objectives that you want to achieve in your career. It could be something specific like "becoming a project manager within five years" or more generic like "establishing a solid footing in the tech industry." Remember, your career goals should be ambitious but realistic, aligning with your interests, values, and skills.
  • Skills and knowledge required: Identify what skills and knowledge are necessary to reach your career goals. You might need to acquire new skills or strengthen existing ones. This might mean formal education, online courses, or on-the-job training.
  • Actionable steps: Here, you'll break down your larger goals into smaller, manageable tasks. These steps act as your directions along the roadmap. For instance, an action step could be "complete an online course in project management by the end of the year."
  • Timeline: Your plan should include a realistic timeline for achieving each step. A timeline creates urgency and keeps you motivated and accountable.
  • Resources needed: You'll also need to identify what resources you'll need to achieve your goals. This could be financial resources for education, mentorship, or time to dedicate to skill-building.
  • Potential obstacles and solutions: Lastly, a robust career development plan anticipates potential roadblocks and plans for them. It’s essential to consider what might hinder your progress and how you'll overcome these challenges.

Why you should create a career development plan

You may wonder, "Why should I take the time to create a career development plan?" And it’s an understandable question—life is busy, and you've got a lot on your plate. 

But here's the truth: Taking the time to craft a thoughtful career development plan can pay dividends in the long run. Let's dive into why it's so critical for your personal growth, goal-setting, and professional advancement.

Personal growth

Personal growth is about evolving and becoming a better version of yourself. It's about pushing your boundaries, stepping outside your comfort zone away from even a comfortable job, and unlocking your full potential. And guess what? A career development plan is your golden ticket to this self-evolution journey.

By aligning your career aspirations with your personal interests and values, you create a symbiotic relationship between your professional ambitions and personal development. 

For instance, let's say you set a goal to become a team lead in your organization. Along this path, you'll learn leadership skills, conflict resolution, and emotional intelligence—all of which elevate your career and make you a more well-rounded individual.

Goal setting

Next up is goal setting. Goal setting is the foundation of success in any domain, and careers are no exception. But setting goals can be like shooting in the dark without a proper plan.

That's where a career development plan comes in. It gives your career goals structure and direction. Instead of vague aspirations, you'll have clear, actionable steps to follow. Your plan becomes a ladder, each rung a step toward your ultimate goal. And every time you climb one, you get a sense of achievement that fuels your motivation to keep going.

Use a purpose-built tool like Teal to document your job search and career goals.

Professional advancement

Professional advancement is the sweet fruit of all your hard work and dedication. Whether it's climbing the corporate ladder, transitioning into a new industry, or becoming a subject matter expert, professional growth is the epitome of career success.

A professional development plan is a catalyst for this advancement. It's your strategy to outmaneuver competition, overcome challenges, and seize opportunities. With a plan, you aren’t just reacting to what the job market throws at you—you're ahead of the curve, steering toward your chosen horizon.

Steps for creating an effective career development plan

Now that you know why a career development plan is vital, let's dive into the "how." Below is a step-by-step approach to creating a powerful career development plan that's uniquely yours and sees results.

1. Determine your field of interest

Before you set out on your career journey, it's essential to identify where you want to go. In this case, it's finding your career passion, or more specifically, which career you want to work in. This step is about understanding what excites you, what aligns with your skills and values, and what kind of work you see yourself doing long-term.

Consider your passions, your strengths, and areas where you've excelled in the past. Reflect on experiences that have sparked joy and fulfillment in your professional life. This self-reflection will help you choose the right path and ensure that the journey is enjoyable and satisfying.

2. Evaluate your current position

Now that you've set your sights on a destination, it's time to evaluate where you are right now. Take a hard look at your current role, skills, and experience. Are you just starting out, or do you have a few years under your belt? What are your strengths and areas for improvement? What are the gaps between your current skills and those you’ll need for your dream job?

This honest self-assessment is crucial as it gives you a realistic starting point for your career development plan. Understanding where you stand helps you chart a path that bridges the gap between your current state and your desired career future.

3. Establish short-term and long-term goals

With your destination and starting point clearly marked on your career map, it's time to plot your journey. This is where you establish your short-term and long-term goals.

Your long-term goals are your career aspirations, such as becoming a department head or achieving a certain certification. Short-term goals are the stepping stones toward these larger objectives, like completing a relevant course or getting promoted.

Your goals should be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound—also known as “SMART goals.” They should challenge you but also be realistic, given your current position and the resources available to you.

Use a tool like Teal to identify the hard and soft skills you want to develop.

4. Identify resources

The next step is to identify the resources you'll need to achieve your goals. Resources could be financial (like funds for further education), temporal (time set aside for skill development), or even relational (like mentorship or networking opportunities).

Identifying resources also involves recognizing potential hurdles and planning for them. This step prepares you for the journey ahead, ensuring you're equipped to face challenges and seize opportunities as they come.

And this is where Teal comes in as a fantastic resource for your career development journey. Whether you're looking to match your resume to a dream job, track multiple job applications in your search, or land more interviews, Teal is there to support you. Its AI-powered platform simplifies and streamlines your career planning process, by keeping everything organized, intuitive, and easy to navigate.

5. Create an action plan

A goal without a plan is just a wish. That's why creating an action plan is an integral step in your career development plan. Your action plan breaks down your goals into manageable tasks, creating a sequence of steps to follow.

When developing your action plan, consider the necessary steps to achieve your goals, the timeline for each task, and any dependencies between tasks. Be as detailed as possible because this will serve as your “how-to” guide for goal achievement. 

Want some guidance so you don’t have to start from scratch? Here’s how to make a strategic action plan for your job search

Remember: The more detailed your action plan, the clearer your path to success becomes.

6. Implement and review

Creating a plan is just the first part, but the magic happens when you put it into action. Implementation is where your commitment and dedication come into play. It can test your resilience and motivation, but the reward is worth the effort.

Once you've started on your path, regularly review your plan. Are you on track with your goals? Are the timelines realistic? Are there unforeseen obstacles? Regular check-ins allow you to monitor your progress and make necessary adjustments. Remember, your career development plan is a living document, not set in stone.

7. Seek feedback and support

No person is an island, especially when it comes to career development. Seeking feedback and support from mentors, peers, or coaches can provide invaluable insights and guidance. They can offer a different perspective, share their experiences, and even connect you with opportunities.

Don't shy away from constructive criticism; it's an opportunity for growth. Surround yourself with individuals who encourage and challenge you, and remember to reciprocate the support when others seek it from you.

8. Track your milestones and progress

Progress can be a great motivator, so it's essential to track your milestones. Celebrate your small wins as much as your big ones because they’re stepping stones toward your larger goals.

Keeping track of your progress also helps identify patterns, like what strategies are working well and what areas need improvement. Plus, it's incredibly rewarding to look back and see how far you've come!

9. Be ready to adapt and evolve

Finally, be prepared to adapt and evolve. Career development is not a linear path; it's a journey with twists and turns. Markets change, new technologies emerge, and personal circumstances shift. Your career development plan should be flexible enough to adjust to these changes.

Consider periodic re-evaluations of your plan. Are your goals still relevant? Have your interests or circumstances changed? An adaptable career plan is resilient, just like you need to be in your career journey.

Accomplish your professional development plan with Teal

Creating a career development plan may seem like a daunting task, but it doesn't have to be. It's your roadmap to professional growth, personal fulfillment, and career success. And remember, you're not alone on this journey.

That's where Teal comes into play. Teal is an AI-powered platform designed to support your career journey. From crafting a standout resume to tracking dozens (or even hundreds) of job applications, it's is your go-to tool for career advancement. With Teal, you can confidently navigate your career path with insights and resources tailored to your unique aspirations and needs.

Sign up for Teal to start building your future today.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the key components that should be included in every career development plan?

Every career development plan should include clear career objectives, a skills assessment, a gap analysis, short-term and long-term goals, actionable steps with timelines, resources needed for development, a plan for tracking progress, and a contingency plan to address potential obstacles. These components ensure a comprehensive approach to career growth.

How often should I review and update my career development plan?

It's recommended to review and update your career development plan at least once a year or whenever there is a significant change in your professional life. Regular reviews allow you to adjust your goals and strategies to stay aligned with your evolving career aspirations and the dynamic job market.

Can you provide an example of a development action to reach a career goal?

Certainly! If your career goal is to become a project manager, a development action might be to take a certified project management course within the next six months. This action is specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound, making it a strong step in your career development plan.

Lia Zneimer

A career pivoter who started out as an actor, Lia is now the VP of Marketing at Teal. Prior to that, she ran the social media team at WeWork and started The MarketHer, a newsletter to help women find roles in marketing.

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