Creating a career plan and exploring your career choices

Creating a detailed career plan is one of the most useful things you can do to identify where you are, where you want to be and how to get there.

If you’re not completely sure of your professional direction or your next career move, a written plan can provide clarity to your situation and set up a framework for your career development. The career planning process helps you figure out what you want your career path to look like and what you have to do to make it happen. It's very helpful to evaluate your career options before you start your next job search.

With that in mind, here are five steps to creating your own career plan.

1. Start with your values

To discover what you really want to do – and whether you’re on the right track now or need to switch direction – ask these fundamental questions about your personality, preferences and values:

  • What motivates me and what do I enjoy doing?
  • What are my personal attributes and lifestyle priorities?
  • What do my family and friends see as my strengths and weaknesses?
  • What are the five important factors or non-negotiables I am looking for in a job?

2. Evaluate your skills

As well as your personal preferences, your existing skills are an important indicator of the direction in which you could head. Reflect on your skills set with the following questions:

  • What qualifications and experience do I have?
  • What are my key strengths, transferable skills and technical skills?
  • What are my biggest achievements to date?
  • What are my weaknesses and areas for development?
  • What other skills can give me a competitive edge?

3. Decide on your career direction

Based on your values, key interests, attributes, skills and experience, you can now start to formulate ideas on the type of roles and industries that align well to your present career goals. Brainstorm the following:

  • The industries or companies that appeal to you
  • The types of roles that you are attracted to
  • How these options match your personal preferences
  • Key skills that may need development

4. Set clear career goals

Now you know where you want to go, it’s time to set some goals. Ask yourself the following questions to help break down your goals into smaller, more manageable milestones for your career plan:

  • What do I want to achieve within the next six, 12 and 18 months?
  • How and when will I achieve my training and education goals?
  • How and when will I gain the additional skills and experience I need?
  • How can I expand my network, and by when?

The SMART goal methodology is useful for setting professional development goals that are achievable and tied to real-world outcomes:

  • Specific: Be as precise and clear as possible about what you want to achieve.
  • Measurable: Have criteria in place to measure how you’re progressing towards your goal.
  • Achievable: Your goal should be achievable within a certain timeframe.
  • Realistic: Make sure your goal can genuinely be accomplished.
  • Time-based: Have a deadline or timeframe for reaching your goal.

Example: I will enrol in X course and ensure I am qualified to work in Y area within six months. After getting qualified, I will apply for a minimum of three jobs in Y area per month. My ultimate goal is to be working in Y area within 12 months. I will seek out employers that offer work life balance and will prepare questions about for my job interview.

RELATED: How to create a strategic career plan

5. Review your career plan regularly

Once you’ve established your goals and how to achieve them, you now have a clearer direction in which to focus. If you're still stuck, a career advisor can help you with career planning and assess your different career paths.

It’s important to monitor the progress of your career plan at least every quarter, to ensure that you are on track to meet your goals. Re-evaluating your career plan and goals is vital to both staying on track and adjusting them, based on changing economic and personal circumstances.

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