Your graduation date is approaching or you’ve just graduated from college. You’ve probably started the search for your first job to launch your professional career. But you might have skipped an important step in the process—creating a career development plan.
A majority of younger millennial and older Gen-Z college graduates begin their job search with the belief that they should enter their desired industry or company immediately after graduation.
Research has shown that this group, born between 1990 and 1998, is motivated by roles that they perceive to be meaningful and where they are given responsibility quickly. To build their careers and increase their salary, today’s younger workforce is more likely than older generations to change jobs.
However, the reality is that more than 60% of fresh graduates can’t find work in their field. But don’t let the statistics scare you. Even if you don’t start out in your desired industry, with a career development plan, you can still work your way towards your dream job.
In this article, we’ll help you create your first career development plan
What is a Career Development Plan?
Also known as a professional development plan, a career development plan is a document that outlines your career goals and the path you can take to achieve them. Simply put, a career development plan is a roadmap for your career.
A properly-written career development plan outlines:
- The starting point: Where you currently are in your career (current job)
- The destination: Where you’d like to end up in your career (dream job)
- The gap: The obstacles and challenges you must overcome to reach the destination
- The route: How to close the gap to reach the destination
To bridge the gap between your starting point and the destination, you’ll have to assess the skills that you already have and determine the skills you need to develop as you grow your career.
A career development plan will help you visualize where you want to go and connect your daily actions to that goal. It also helps you set realistic growth expectations and recognize milestones along the way, keeping you motivated.
Tips for Creating Your First Career Development Plan
Starting your career without a development plan can lead to, at best, directionless job-hopping. At worst, having no roadmap to guide your career can lead to being stagnated in jobs that you don’t like.
Create your first career development plan in these five simple steps:
- Identify your starting point
- Identify your dream job (destination)
- Perform a gap analysis
- Draft a career development plan
- Measure your progress and re-evaluate where necessary
Let’s explore each of the above steps in depth below:
1- Identify Your Starting Point
As a recent graduate, you probably don’t have plenty of professional experience. However, you probably have some experience from internships, volunteer positions, and jobs you took while studying.
Reflect on these experiences and the skills you’ve gained. Ask yourself the following questions:
- What do I enjoy doing?
- What skills and natural abilities do I possess?
- What am I doing when I feel most motivated and excited at work?
- Which skills and talents am I lacking?
- What professional experiences do I have?
- Do I prefer leading, working as a team, or working alone?
- What gets me excited about getting to work in the morning?
- What drains my energy?
- What is my calling in life?
Carefully consider the answers to the questions above and write them down. If you’re searching for your first job, this exercise will also help you figure out the kind of jobs to apply to.
2- Identify Your Destination (Dream Job)
What is your dream job? Do you see yourself as the CEO of the company you’re working for? Regardless of how lofty your dream seems, you can plan and work towards it.
After determining your biggest career goal, you can lay out a roadmap toward it. For example, you can create year-by-year career goals that will see you develop from an entry-level position to middle management and finally to top management.
Your goals should always be SMART—specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound.
When creating a career advancement plan, it’s important to set goals that motivate you. Ask yourself why your goals are meaningful to you—beyond financial gain.
3- Perform a Gap Analysis
Once you’ve established where you want to end up, compare it to where you currently are – a process known as a career gap analysis. What are the skills you need to get there? Which educational requirements do you need to achieve your goal?
To get a good idea of what is needed, look at job postings for that role. Pay attention to the skills, attributes, and experience required by employers for that role. Check several job postings and list down the requirements.
Use the list you’ve created to determine the skills and experience you need to build. Create an excel spreadsheet where you can rate your skills and experience on a 1-5 scale—1 representing minimal attainment and 5 representing perfectly meeting the requirement.
Rating your skills will help you determine where you need to spend more time and effort to develop yourself for your dream job. Make time to review and update this document regularly.
4- Draft a Career Development Plan
Armed with the information and insights you’ve gathered so far, you’re ready to draft your first career development plan.
In a timetable presentation, lay out a roadmap indicating which action to take and when. Break down big goals into smaller chunks you can work on each week or month. For example, if your goal is to have an MBA, smaller goals could include researching the best programs, seeking recommendations, and preparing your applications.
Remember to give your goals some breathing room, allowing for unforeseen challenges and setbacks.
To ensure that you stay on track, review your career advancement plan document every six months. Update your development and make revisions where necessary.
5- Measure your Progress and Re-evaluate where Necessary
For the success of any plan, it’s essential to measure progress and keep on revising it. It’s easy to get too busy and forget all about your career development plan.
For it to work, commit to regularly tracking your progress on your career goals. To make your progress easier to visualize, you can cross out the parts of your plan that you’ve achieved. If you’re behind on some goals, you can readjust the plan or work a little harder to achieve them.
An effective career development plan should include milestones—which you can use to measure your progress and success. Milestones can include completing a course/training, getting a positive performance review, or getting a promotion.
You don’t have to create your career development plan all by yourself – it’s advisable to enlist the help of a mentor or trusted career advisor.
Remember, your career development plan isn’t set in stone. An unexpected career move or new opportunity can significantly change your career development plans. You can always revise and adjust your career development plan or make a new one.