Career Development Planning

How to Create Your Career Development Plan and Tools That Can Help

Dahna M. Chandler, MPS

If you’re ready to move ahead in your professional life, it might be time to revisit your career development plan. Your manager may be able to offer some amount of help. However, you are ultimately responsible for positioning yourself for success. Let this guide help you start and continue on your path to career achievement.

Construct a Career Development Plan

A career development plan establishes your short-term and long-term career goals and outlines the steps required to achieve them. By defining and tracking each step, you can stay on course to reach those goals and be on your way to owning your career.

To get started, answer the following questions:

Woman planning career

A career development plan charts your path to your career destination. By answering these questions, you’ll be able to develop specific tactics to get from one step to the next.

  1. Where am I now in my career? 
    • Outline your current role, industry, formal job description and skill set you use to do your job.
  2. Where do I want to go? 
    • Detail the role you want, its job description, and the industry if it’s different from the one where you work. Research your dream job on career sites to learn what skills and experience are required.
  3. What barriers will I have to overcome? 
    • Identify what stands in your way to getting to your career destination. This list could include missing job skills and educational credentials or geographic limitations.
  4. What steps will I take to overcome those barriers? 
    • List all the things you’ll do to close skills and educational gaps and how you’ll confront other obstacles.

Suppose you’re an internal communications coordinator with a bachelor’s degree. It’s not enough to decide you eventually want to be a vice president of internal communications. You need to research what that role requires and then plot a path toward that goal.

List the skills you’ll need and the job experiences you must have to qualify to be a vice president. Once you know that information, you’re ready for the next step: goal setting.

Set Career Development Goals

Career development goals are specific, measurable steps that lead you to your career target. Goals help you make your plan reality by breaking your long-term career objective into smaller, attainable elements.

Productive goals are SMART goals—specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound. For example, you want to get a promotion to internal communications manager but lack the required credentials.


So, you might set the following goal: “I will get a communications management certificate by taking the four necessary skill development workshops by June 30, 2021.” A stronger goal would identify the name of a training organization for your industry or college or university where you’ll take the certificate workshops.

Then, you break the goal into the steps: register for the workshop series, complete the work, earn the certificate, and update your resume.

It’s important to set shorter-term goals like the one described above and craft a SMART plan to achieve them. You should have two-year, five-year, and ten-year career goals (begin with the two-year goal; it’s easier to visualize). You can then break those down to quarterly, monthly, weekly, and even daily goals.

Reach Your Career Goals

Here are some pointers you can use to check off those short-term goals on the way to your long-term targets.

Career Development Tools

There’s some indispensable tools for career development success. They will help you determine who you are personally and professionally, and how that contributes to or hinders your career development.

All these are available online, and many are free. The more comprehensive resources usually come at a cost.


SWOT Analysis

 This tool will help you assess the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats to your career success. Then, you can manage or mitigate them in ways that ensure successful forward movement.


Career Testing

Also called career aptitude testing, this helps you determine what career path is best for your skills, personality, motivations and values. They give you an idea of how likely you are to succeed in specific jobs. There are multiple tools you can use for this purpose, many of them free or free to try.



These tools offer in-depth assessments of your work-related values, interests and aptitudes. They often get administered and assessed by career counseling professionals.


Ongoing Research

As you engage in the professional development process, keep researching and updating your dream job description to ensure you measure your progress against the most up-to-date list of desired skills and experience.


Community Resources

You’ll find these in your local area or in the communities to which you belong. They include the college career counseling office, local library or government-sponsored job search centers. A web search can provide those you’re unaware of since they vary from location to location.


Personality Tests

These are designed to help you learn about your motivations, preferences, interests, psychological and emotional make-up, and interaction style with others. They range from free online tests that provide a broad overview of your personality traits to more customized tests that cost money.


Employer Programs

Ask your employer what they provide in regards to career development. Common programs include in-house skills development, job shadowing, off-site training, personal development, career counseling, tuition reimbursement, mentoring, industry conference or seminar attendance, paid association membership and more.

In using one, or a combo of these tools, you’ll also uncover what career skills you already have, where you need to improve, and what you need to develop to achieve your professional goals. After all, professional growth is is a key element of thriving at work.

Just like any other important goal in your life, you can’t leave career development to chance. It’s an ongoing process that requires research, planning and goal setting. Do it well, and you may be rewarded with increased opportunities, promotions, salary bumps, professional recognition, and more.

What career development strategies and tools have you used that you found most effective? Your insights are important and may help others. Add them in the comments below.

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