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How to write a killer career plan

Whether you’re a graduate fresh out of uni, a 30 something careerist who aspires for brighter things or a more mature professional who’s looking for even more career progression, there are endless benefits to writing a career plan at any stage of your professional life.

Writing a plan can be an incredibly useful exercise; it will help pinpoint what you really want from your career and how to achieve it. There is of course the risk it may send you running for the hills and booking the next flight out to a desert island to escape it all, but you won’t know until it’s all down on paper.

What are your career goals? Do they involve a complete career change, the chance to manage a department or investment in extra professional development training?

A career plan is a useful tool that you can refer back to time and time again to make sure you’re happy, on track and going in the right direction – particularly if you’re set on promotion over the newly hired hot shot who’s already making waves/annoying everyone* [*delete where appropriate] in the office.

Don’t forget though, aspirations and goals change over time, so don’t be afraid to tweak your career plan along the way. When it comes to progressing your career, always keep the end goal in mind – and remember, everything’s better with a plan.

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Think about your strengths and weaknesses

We’ve all been asked that toe curling question in interviews before, ‘what are your weaknesses?’ through fear of not being hired, most of us will utter something totally rubbish like, ‘I’m terrible at delegating’ or ‘I’m a consummate perfectionist, which drives people mad!’ Neither of which are probably true and you’re only saying it because you hope the interviewer will think ‘aw, they like things to be perfect, we’ll hire them’. They probably won’t by the way.

When writing your plan it’s vital that you are 100% honest with yourself about what you can and can’t do. If your weakness is ‘dealing with people’ but your head is brimming with fantastically creative ideas, then it’s probably best you steer clear of a career in customer relations and maybe look into a career in marketing.

If your strength lies in the tech world and you’ve got one of those problem solver type minds, then perhaps look into developing your coding skills properly with an online training course. Stay true to yourself and what you’re good at – and not so good at – this will set you on the right path to career nirvana and help you live your best life.

Prepare for the dreaded interview question

It’s another favourite in interviews, the ‘where do you see yourself in five years’ time’ question. Have you ever felt the urge to answer, ‘as far away from the UK’s weather as possible, maybe stuffing my face with Gyros on a Greek Island?’ Yeah, us too. Depending on your age and where you are in your career the answer to this will undoubtedly vary. But you should always be prepared for this question at interview and try to deliver your answer as if you’ve really thought about it. Don’t go for the stuttering politician style ‘errrr, ummm. well’.

If you’re a recent graduate still looking for work, it might be hard to visualise where you’ll be in five years’ time; hopefully not still unemployed and borrowing your Friday night beer money from the bank of Mum and Dad. The same goes for professionals who may have been stuck in a career rut for a while and aren’t sure where to turn next. It might not be clear where your career is going.

When thinking about your professional future five years down the line, it’s always wise to take the initiative and develop your skills as much as possible. Set some clear, attainable goals. Be up for trying anything.

Volunteer to help out with causes that relate to your interests or area of work, learn as many new skills as possible, stay up to date with changes in technology or look into studying an online course to help progress your skill set. It’s incredible what’s out there once you open yourself up to new ideas and experiences. Take every relevant opportunity that comes along – this will all help progress your five year plan.

See also: 4 reasons to invest in professional development training

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Keep track of the job market

Do you wake up every night having terrible nightmares about Brenda from accounts and that scolding look she gave you when you dated that invoice incorrectly, or colleagues turning on you because you got the tea round wrong? Whether you’re in a career black hole that fills you with dread on a daily basis or the job of your dreams, part of your plan should always involve keeping an ear to the ground and an eye on job websites. Add companies you’re interested in finding out about to your career plan and start doing some research of your own about the type of people they employ, work culture and career prospects.

You never know what’s out there… better salary, attractive promotion prospects, more opportunities for professional development training. Always wanted to work for that mega cool digital agency you follow on Twitter? It could be worth investing your time in an online course that will help you stand out from the crowd. While you’re at it, why not ping off an email to the agency – from your personal address, obvs – and see what comes your way? You’ve got to be in it to win it.

Be realistic

Although we all secretly dream of being as successful – and rich – as Richard Branson one day, holidaying on Necker Island, planning a mission to Mars, generally goofing around on sun drenched islands spending £10k pocket money every day, chances are it probably won’t happen.

If you’re realistic about your career goals and potential career path, you’re more likely to succeed and realise those goals. Set your goals too high and you’re setting yourself up for failure. Make sure you have a mixture of easily achievable goals and some that are a bit more far fetched. That way you’ll always be making small successes. Write them down in your career plan and keep referring back to them to make sure you’re on track.

What new skills do you need to help advance your career? Is there anything you’d change about your work life balance? Do you want to manage a team or work for yourself? Do you want a promotion within the next 12 months? Do you frequently visualise yourself in your boss’s office handing him his P45 with a huge grin on your face? Think about this carefully to ensure you’re living your best possible life at work.

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Image source: NeoGAF

Regularly review your plan and be open to change

Aspirations and goals do change over time, so don’t be afraid to tweak your plan along the way. If news reaches you of a fabulous new course that will change your professional life forever, add it to the plan. If you have a sudden light bulb moment of how you can become the next in line for that promotion at work, write it down. If you think your plan is too focussed on achieving a bigger salary over happiness at work, maybe tone it down a little. Like you and your career, the plan is a work in progress. No one ever got anywhere by sticking to a rigid plan – just look at Andy Dufrense in The Shawshank Redemption.

Keep your end goal in mind

If you dream of being a globally in demand senior project manager commanding over £85k per year, look at opportunities that will help develop transferable skills in the role you’ve got your eye on. What specific skills does that job actually require? How can you gain those skills quickly and professionally? Will you get a company Maserati thrown in when they call you to say your application has been successful? [hint: dream on].

When writing a killer career plan, always keep your end goal in mind. Do this and your future career will be the stuff of dreams.