How to create a 5-year career plan (and make it work)

Success rarely happens by accident or overnight. Those who achieve their career goals almost always chart their ambitions into a comprehensive career plan.

While it is always good to have short term career goals to keep you motivated, those who gain substantial success understand that you need to work towards those goals that provide long-term satisfaction.

The career planning process

Your five-year career plan is your road map to success. It should identify the role you want and set out a clear strategy to get you there. Before you begin, ask yourself these questions:

1. Where do I want to go?
Start with a goal. No, not just ‘I want to have a fatter salary and a nicer office come 2020’ but ‘I want to be heading up my department within 18 months so I’m then part of the in-house talent pool that will be in the running for an executive position.’ At this point, it’s worthwhile giving some thought to what you’re wishing for. A certain position may seem glamorous from a distance but that doesn’t mean it’s well suited to your skill set and personality type. And even if it is, it may involve the kind of hours and stress you’ll find deeply unpleasant.

2. How am I going to get there?
Break down your final goal into a lot of smaller ones and arrange them in a logical sequence. What training might you need to undertake? Will you need to get a mentor at some stage? What KPIs will you need to surpass in order to navigate a performance review that will facilitate a promotion?

3. Put it in writing
Writing out your goals makes them real. The difference between daydreaming about career glory and actually achieving it can come down to something as simple as creating a document that details the career journey you aspire to in black and white. In the first column of your career plan, list your short-term, mid-term and long-term goals. In the next column, write down the skills or traits you need to develop to achieve each goal. And in the third column note the resources or support you’ll require to make that happen. Finally, use the fourth column to set a target completion date for each goal.

How to stick to your career plan

A five year career plan is only half the battle. You need to stay motivated in order to achieve your goals:

  1. Celebrate small victories: You’ll find you stay more motivated if you recognise and reward yourself for all the smaller milestone events along the way.
  2. Stay flexible: In today’s economy things move quickly and it may well be you’ll end up in a great job that won’t come into existence for a couple of years yet. What you want to do is become an irreplaceable employee. Keep a close eye on how your industry is changing and adjust your career plan appropriately.
  3. Regularly re-assess your goals: The career journey you want today may not be the one you want tomorrow, especially given the impact of life events. A useful question to periodically ask yourself is: are the goals listed on my career plan still motivating me to do my best at work? If not, what are some goals that would? Remember, you are in it for the long haul. Stay motivated, focus on your goals and put them in writing. Using these tips will help you achieve a last and rewarding career.

See you in five years!

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