By Elizabeth McKinley, Gannett
A career plan is more than helpful -- it's essential. It's a roadmap to get you where you want to be professionally.
Just as you might wander unfocused around the grocery store when you don't bring a list, you wouldn't want to wander similarly through your career.
After all, this is your career, and you don't want to leave it to chance. Crafting a professional plan can help you focus on your goals and provide the clarity needed to achieve success.
The length of your plan will depend on what you want to accomplish and the industry in which you work. If your career plan is to find a new job, it can take several months. A promotion at work could take a year of planning.
These five essential steps will help you craft a career plan to fit your professional needs.
1. Set your goals
Goals have to be based on who you are so that they're more attainable, says Carole Kanchier, a career counselor and author of "Dare to Change."
Get to know yourself. Setting a career goal that doesn't match your personality will handicap your ability to reach it.
Take time to explore and understand yourself - your interests, values, strengths, assets, passions, ideal workplace environment and skills that you enjoy. Understand your emotions - and how to manage them and the emotions others have.
Be clear on why you want the change and how it fits in a larger context, says Connie Russell, a career and executive coach.
A goal must be specific. For instance: Find a job in the marketing field at mid-management level in which I will shape and craft collateral for an e-mail campaign. Or: Be promoted to the sales management position at my company.
"Once you've clarified a goal that compatible with yourself, you can plan," Kanchier says.
2. Put the plan in writing
Create a goal book, log or journal. You might choose a calendar to track your progress. However you choose to follow your goals, make sure you have a designated place to write down your developments.
State your goal in the present. Be specific and write a deadline for accomplishing it.
Next, think about the steps you'll have to take and possible barriers you might encounter, Kanchier says.
Example: If you want to go back to school, you might wonder where you'll get the money, time or how you're family will react.
Think about ways to overcome these potential hurdles. Your plan should encompass all these challenges, says Deleise Lindsay, managing consultant for DBM.
Create specific language for your plan so that you can articulate your career goals and needs to others who can help your quest.
Russell suggests honing an elevator speech - about 30 seconds to summarize what you're looking for in your goals. If you are prepared in writing and language, you'll be able to succinctly give your goals to anyone you encounter who can in turn potentially help.
3. Navigate / act on your goals
Organize the tasks in your plan and assign dates to them. It could be finding out job leads, identifying who to talk to get the inside intelligence. Without this kind of structure, Russell says, you can really lose track of where you are.
Your plan should include specific steps to take to meet your goals. Those steps might include talking to people in the business to identify job leads, or asking your supervisor how you could get on the management track.
Each step in your plan is dependent on another, so follow through and track your progress in your calendar, journal or outline.
"It's really important to use all the resources available to you. Look on the internet, pay attention to business friends," Russell says.
Lindsay suggests putting together a corporate posse to help you stay focused. They can be a mentor, coach, financial planner or people who are doing what you want to do.
Think of these posse members as your board of advisers, and meet with them at a minimum of every six months. They'll hold you accountable, Lindsay says.
4. Think and live your plan
"Every day we look at our final goals and we follow the plan we set," Kanchier says. "It's very important to focus daily on your goals and plan."
Focus on what you've accomplished in your overall goal, even if you miss a deadline. It's important to keep a positive outlook as you approach your plan and put it to action.
As you go along in your plan, "jot down where you are. You'll see a pattern of what works and doesn't. It's constant evaluation," Lindsay says.
That pattern can help you develop and live your plan successfully.
Kanchier also recommends imagining yourself living your goal, much like many sports athletes meditate and imagine a winning race or match. If you can see yourself successfully accomplishing your goal, your mindset can help push you toward it.
5. Assess and revise if necessary
Even the best laid plans can sometimes encounter a snag. If you need to revise your timeline, plan or goals, do so.
Sometimes there are external factors that you cannot control. A key person in your network may be out of town and you're not able to reach them in time for your personal deadline. Modify the plan as changes occur so that you're still focusing on how to attain the successful end result.
Stay motivated. Just because your goal might be more long-term, it doesn't mean you shouldn't be laying the ground work for it, Lindsay says.
Even if you've accomplished your plan, think about what's next - your next step and next goal, Russell says. Do, however, take time to savor your accomplishment.
'When your mind is focused, you can achieve the extraordinary,' Kanchier says.
Elizabeth McKinley is a freelance journalist who writes about careers and workplace issues. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright 2005 Gannett News Service Gannett Co., Inc. All rights reserved. The information contained in this article may not be published, broadcast or otherwise distributed without prior written authority.