Career Development

Complete Guide to Career Development Planning

Quick Navigation:


A career development plan provides a guide to advancing your career. It helps make important professional decisions, like what skills you need to develop or how to ask for a promotion.

This article outlines what you need to know about career development planning.

What is career development planning?

Career development is a broad term that refers to all of the planning and decision-making you need to do to progress your career. This could include earning a degree or certificate or asking for a raise. You can also use this planning to find and pursue a new career. It’s important to recognize that achieving career goals often requires active planning and input.

How to create a career development plan

Here are the steps for creating a career development plan:

1. First, understand your career goals

The first step in career development planning is figuring out your concrete career goals. Answer some questions about yourself to help you understand your personality, character traits, and core values:

  • What are my passions in life?
  • What is my dream job?
  • Which skills am I best at, and which skills do I love the most?
  • What are my greatest strengths and weaknesses?

2. Second, write out your plan

After thinking broadly about your goals, develop a detailed career plan that outlines where you would like to be professionally five years from now, then 10, and how to get there.

Once you have identified long-term goals, create short-term goals to be your first steps and challenges to overcome. For example, you might need to learn how to use a specific piece of software, and you might have to overcome a lack of time or resources to attain this knowledge.

For each short-term goal, list two or three actions that will help you achieve it. For example, to learn how to use the software, you could enroll in a course, practice with a colleague or ask your manager to assign you projects that require you to use the software.

3. Third, find out more information and research online

When you’ve written your plan, find out more information and research online to refine your career plan further.

Schedule a meeting with your supervisor and outline some of your short-term goals, especially goals where your supervisor can help you. For example, your manager might know about scholarships to pay for professional development courses.

Present your plan to mentors, close colleagues or others that can provide useful feedback. Senior figures in your sector or mentors can help make sure that you have identified the best degree or certification to achieve your goals. They may also help you identify a degree better suited to getting your dream job. Your company’s human resources department may also provide feedback and support.

4. Fourth, execute your plan

Next, you must follow through and execute your plan. Create a timeline for each action you identified to hold yourself accountable. For example, you could enroll in a professional development course that begins in September, and plan to ask your human resources department several months earlier whether your company can help pay your tuition. 

5. Fifth, network for success

Networking can be key to advancing your professional development plan. Ask your friends and colleagues at if they have contacts who might be helpful or offer to swap contacts. Make plans to meet up with your mentors, get in touch with existing contacts and attend networking events. Talk to people you haven’t met before at work and social events. Ask your manager to introduce you to contacts at your company who could help you learn relevant skills.

Online professional network platforms can also be effective, but it is also important to meet people in person. You may also volunteer in a field that is related to yours.

6. Finally, evaluate your progress on a regular basis

Periodically check on how much progress you’ve made. You might return to your written plan every six months, for example, and make sure you have taken on each of the tasks you planned for that timeframe. Re-evaluating your plan regularly will help you stay on track.

Your goals and needs could change over time, in which case you may need to revise your plan. For example, if you fall behind in courses you are taking to get a degree, you could update your timeline to make your plan more achievable. You should not be afraid to revise your plan if your dreams change or you encounter a setback. Incorporating these kinds of issues into your plan will ultimately help you to meet your professional development goals.

Elements of career development

There are many elements that you can improve, develop and work toward, leading you to have a successful and satisfying career. 

Some of the elements of career development include:

Workplace behaviors

Workplace behaviors are the consistent actions and interactions between employees, management and external parties of an organization that influence its effectiveness and success. Managing your workplace behaviors can help to improve how colleagues, supervisors, managers and employers value and rate an employee in the workplace.

These can be verbal behaviors, such as how you speak to another person and how actively you listen when others speak to you. They can also be nonverbal behaviors, such as trusting your colleagues and management and dressing in workplace-appropriate attire. When workplace behaviors are positive, teams can increase performance and productivity, and individual employees can move more quickly into promotions.

The following are examples to improve workplace behaviors:

  • Over-deliver on assigned job tasks
  • Thank people for taking time to help or meet with you
  • Dress according to your workplace’s dress code
  • Begin preparing for a work project or task early
  • Promote honesty, loyalty and dependability among your team members
  • Practice active listening when collaborating

Promotion

Promotion in the workplace is when an employee gains additional responsibilities and more leadership, advancing to a higher-level role from their current position. Usually, the promotion comes with a higher salary as well. Depending on their organization or career trajectory, many professionals can advance from an entry-level position to a low-level management role to an intermediate management role, and so on.

The following are examples to seek and achieve promotion in the workplace:

  • Displaying loyalty and honesty in the workplace to colleagues, managers and supervisors
  • Offering to assist or train others
  • Actively participating in meetings, providing your creative ideas to solve problems
  • Consistently completing high-quality work
  • Aiming to exceed expectations
  • Completing advanced education or professional certification

Career change

Career change is when a professional seeks a different role within their current industry or a role in a different industry. Many professionals choose to change careers to pursue personal interests, career advancement, skill-building, work-life balance, job and industry growth, core values and more. 

The following are some examples to successfully make a career change:

  • Compare your values, skills and interests in your current role to others inside and outside of your field
  • Consult with a career counselor or mentor
  • Network in your industry with professionals in various roles
  • Meet professionals in other fields of interest
  • Upgrade your skills and training to meet the requirements of a new job

Salary and raises

A salary is what an employee is paid for their work in an organization, and a raise is when that salary is increased due to exceeded expectations, work anniversary or promotion. Salary and pay raise is often determined by different factors like qualifications, work experience, nature of the profession and workplace behaviors. Other examples of compensation that may influence salary and pay over a career include commission and bonuses.

The following are examples to improve your salary in your workplace:

  • Keep track of your accomplishments and work responsibilities to demonstrate your worth
  • Advance your skills with certification and training courses to improve your work performance and results
  • Review industry standards for your role, years of experience, level of education and other factors to determine the most appropriate salary or raise
  • Improve on your workplace behaviors and deliver consistently high-quality work

Skill-building

Skill-building is the process of mastering skills and learning new ones. This process can help you provide more effective and efficient solutions in the workplace and improve your hard and soft skills. These improvements can all aid in career development through refining workplace behaviors, promoting high performance and better results, and increasing salary and raises.

The following are examples to identify skill-building opportunities and also to build skills:

  • Read professional development books and industry articles
  • Join professional organizations in your industry
  • Enroll in the skill development classes, either in-person or online
  • Earn professional certification
  • Teach yourself new skills
  • Learn from colleagues who already have the skills you want to build

Networking

Networking involves meeting other professionals in your industry. This step can help your career development because you can make connections and gain access to career advancement opportunities. 

Here are some examples of networking to help with career development:

  • Join a professional or industry organization
  • Actively participate in professional organization events and meetings
  • Connect with coworkers in a variety of departments
  • Enroll in advanced education or a certification course to meet like-minded professionals
  • Attend networking events and job fairs
  • Keep in contact with connections

Advanced education

Advanced higher education involves pursuing a level of education above your current level or earning an additional degree. This step can help you develop your career through refining technical skills, learning new concepts, challenging your critical thinking and problem-solving and networking with other professionals. Some professionals can earn an undergraduate degree if they secured their position with other training programs, while others may choose to earn a graduate or professional degree if their role requires it or it can help them advance their career.

The following are examples for continuing your education:

  • Pursue a discipline applicable to your industry
  • Consult with industry standards, your colleagues and network connections about common education paths
  • Discuss with your employer or manager what advanced education you may need to earn a promotion or raise
  • Consider a degree in a field that interests you but still offers valuable skill-building

Certification

Professional certifications are demonstrations of a professional’s skills, knowledge and experience within a field. They can be earned for necessary industry qualification, general industry expertise, skill-building and learning a new technique, process or computer program. This step can help your career development by providing proof to your current and future employers that you are highly qualified and dedicated to professional development.

Here are some examples to identify and pursue certification:

  • Consult your employer, manager, mentor or a career counselor for industry-relevant opportunities
  • Review your state’s requirements for professional certification
  • Complete training modules. study and take exams to earn certification
  • Pursue continuing education credits as required