How to Create a Five-Year Career Plan
Do You Need a Career Plan?
These days, people stay in a job an average of about four years. This means most people will have about seven to ten jobs during our working life. Many people will change the company we work for, our location, and our career, as well as changing jobs. And planned change is much more likely to get us what we want than haphazard change.
I was talking to a friend yesterday who is staying at her job and waiting for the other shoe to drop. She's been told that the company is reorganizing and she may be out of a job. And many of us are in this situation. Do we want to wait until we are unemployed? I think it is better to plan the career we want and go for it, rather than waiting until we are just job-hunting to survive.
Also, some of us fall into a career by accident, and it works. But often it doesn't. Some people invest in a lot of schooling and end up with a career they chose in childhood, then discover it does not give them the happiness, the fulfillment, or the income we want.
How did you get into your current career?
Create a Fulfilling and Successful Professional Life With a Career Plan
There is another way. We can discover and choose a truly fulfilling and financially rewarding career, and we can develop a plan over several years—perhaps five years—to achieve our goal. Then we put that plan into action and create a fulfilling, rewarding, financially successful professional life.
It's up to you, but I would say that we're much more likely to have a great life and achieve financial success with a career plan than without one. A chosen career is much more than a happy accident or a job that pays the bills. For many, it is the center of a fulfilling life!
My Experience as a Career Coach
Being a career coach is a fulfilling part of my life. Over the last 20 years, I've helped many people leave dead-end jobs, discover their dreams, and create prosperous lives. The process of choosing a calling or career is creative and empowering, as well. People discover skills they never knew they had. Helping other people create new careers and new lives is a rewarding career for me, for sure!
Career plans are good for any career. I've helped people in many professions with their career plans.
- I've helped a waiter get a job at the best new restaurant in the city.
- I've helped a manager of city planning plan on how to move up from a small city to one of the biggest cities in the US.
- I've helped a professor decide between a career of scholarship or becoming an administrator.
- I've helped a minister re-launch his career.
- I've helped a child-care specialist find a better job when she was laid off.
- And I've helped a librarian choose among new careers including law, entrepreneurial management, writing, and not-for-profit leadership.
A career plan for a waiter may seem like a crazy idea—until you learn that a waiter at a good restaurant can make over $100,000 a year! And you may think you are stuck in one career or industry, until you learn the secret of transferable skills. With a dream, a plan, and the willingness to make it happen, your new career is coming right up!
Table of Contents
- What Does a Career Plan Look Like?
A good career plan starts where you are today, and shows you the practical steps to your dream job in your ideal career.
- Choosing a New Career
A fulfilling career is created by design, not default.
- What Does an Informational Interview Look Like?
Learn a fun, easy technique: informational interviewing
- Dare to Dream
Be open to being more creative, or more deeply of service, and, so, being more fulfilled.
- Elements of Your Dream Job
Answer these eight questions, and you'll know where you were meant to be!
- The Steps of Your Career Plan
Build a plan that takes you from where you are to your dream job in your ideal career.
- How Do I Get Help?
books, assessment tools, and career coaches
- Making It Real
Put your career plan into action!
Three Things That Don't Matter
Here are a bunch of things that worry people and stop them from going for a career. But, for the person determined to make his or her dreams real, they don't matter:
- Age: My youngest career client was in high school. The oldest is close to 60. You're never too young, or old!
- Education: The ability to learn is more important than what you have already learned. Gain learning skills, and the world is your oyster.
- Personal history: One of my clients began his career plan when he came out of Federal prison. Now, he's a lawyer!
Don't let anything stop you from creating your future: The past is gone, and today is a new day!
What Does a Career Plan Look Like?
Any good plan starts where you are, goes where you want to go, and has steps that you will take to get from here to there. A career plan is more like an itinerary than a road map. You'll start where you are. The jobs, promotions, education, and training are the stops on your journey. And a top job in the career of your dreams is the goal.
If you are already in your dream career, and just want to move up, your plan may take less than five years. If you want to be a brain surgeon, and you're just graduating high school, then a fifteen-year plan is in order! But in looking at a big life change, five years is a good start.
So, our plan will answer these questions:
- In my job and career, where am I now?
- Where do I want to be in five years, in terms of job, career, and income?
- What steps will I need to take to get from here to where I want to be?
The specific steps in a career plan include:
- Job titles I will apply for
- Education, training, on-the-job training, and certifications I will seek and attain
- Types of companies I will work for
- Income expectations
- Plans to relocate - or not
Where we want to be in five years, or another time frame we choose, includes:
- Job title
- Type of company, and specific companies we might want to work for
- Desired income, backed by realistic research
- Work environment
- Type of work we want to be doing
Now, we're going to build your career plan - backwards. First, you'll define your goal, then we'll come back to where you are today, and how to get there.
Choosing a New Career
If you already know what you want to be when you grow up, you're lucky. If you're already in that career, your double-lucky. But many people find themselves either not knowing what they want to do (even when they've grown up already), or in a dead-end career and not knowing where to go next.
There are two key points in choosing a career.
- It's not just about the money. The stress of a job you don't like will cost you more (in medical bills, or lost and wasted time and energy) than the higher salary. So, it's about fulfillment. Each of us has a different calling. Knowing what career is right for you calls for inner research.
- It's not what you expect. In most jobs, you do not spend most of your time doing what you were trained to do. For example, psychologists do not spend most of their time counseling patients. If they are in a bureaucracy, they fill out a lot of paperwork. If they set up an individual practice, they spend a lot of time running a business. Even movie actors spend a lot more time auditioning and rehearsing and getting their makeup and costume on than they spend in front of the camera. Knowing what a job is really like calls for outer research.
To choose a fulfilling career, you need to do two kinds of research:
- inner research. Through remembering your dreams, thinking of people you admire, or taking assessments that identify skills - perhaps hidden skills - and preferences, you can find which jobs and industries would be fulfilling for you.
- outer research. Ask to meet people in the career of your choice. Get to know them. Do informational interviews. You're not looking for a job, you're looking for answers. You want to know what someone's job is really like. It's easier than you think - just take them out for lunch or a cup of coffee. People like to talk about themselves. And they are thrilled to be someone else's role model. What? they think, this person wants to be like me? Wow! Your asking to meet them makes them feel valuable and appreciated, and they open up and answer all your questions.
What Does an Informational Interview Look Like?
Here's an example that shows how easy informational interviews are, and how they work. One of my clients was leaving a profession as a librarian because it was no longer fulfilling. He had a sharp mind, and was seriously interested in studying law. Working with me, he came to realize that a person with a law degree could have many different types of careers: criminal law; civil law; corporate law; legal counsel to not-for-profit organizations; legal counsel for a city or other government; law professor; and many more. Rather than just jumping into law school, my client went out to meet some lawyers and ask them what their work life is really like. He ran into two surprises.
One was a good surprise: Everyone was happy to talk to him, and to provide really valuable, useful information about what their work was really like. The second surprise was maybe not so good: Most of the lawyers were not happy doing what they did, and they didn't know any other happy lawyers, either. Even the lawyers that were happy did work that really wouldn't satisfy my client.
So, he decided not to be a lawyer - and saved three years of his life and about $150,000 in tuition. One good reason for a career plan is not to waste money and time going somewhere you won't want to be when you get there!
Dare to Dream
The first step in a great career plan is to think big - to widen your horizons. I don't mean to think unrealistically. Saying I want to be a movie actress, or President of the United States, or CEO of a Fortune 500 corporation is more daydreaming than planning, for almost all of us. So, let's not be grandiose. But let's be open-minded: Be open to using skills you enjoy that you've never used at work. Be open to getting more education. Be open to being more creative, or more deeply of service, and, so, being more fulfilled.
A key idea in our dreaming is transferable skills. There are things that we do every day that don't fit just one job. They could fit into a whole new career. I met a man recently who grew up professionally through the rental car business. But he really loved boats, and wanted to run his own company. So he created a company that manages and sells foreclosed boat marinas. And he's doing really well. At first, bankers and other backers doubted him - how did managing a rental car business help him manage marinas. He replied that they were really the same - managing property assets; generating current revenue by leasing those assets; and leveraging value by selling the assets at the end. He had discovered the transferable skills that took him out of a corporate career and set him sailing in entrepreneurial waters.
Are you ready to discover your transferable skills? You can start by asking three generic questions:
- What am I good at doing with data and information?
- What am I good at doing with people (and animals)?
- What am I good at doing with things?
Each uses skills in one or more of these three areas. Here are some examples:
- A waiter or waitress needs all three: Taking orders and entering them accurately; conversing with people, being friendly, and keeping them happy; and carrying food and delivering it without dropping it. It's actually a very skilled job, when you consider that most people have skill in only one or two areas.
- Architects and computer programmers work with data, but in very different ways. One works at a very conceptual, high level; the other, down in the details.
- A life coach who wants to work less with people might become a dog trainer - the skills are quite similar!
Many people have transferable skills they use at home or in volunteer work that can build a new career, as well. Look for your transferable skills, and you may find a new career waiting!
Elements of Your Dream Job
The goal of your career plan is your dream job. How would you describe it. Richard Bolles, in his annually-updated bestselling career guide, What Color is Your Parachute recommends answering these eight questions:
- What transferable skills do I most enjoy using?
- What is my favorite area of knowledge or expertise?
- Where would I most like to live?
- What kind of people do I like to be with at work?
- What values and goals are most important to me?
- What working conditions are acceptable? How about excellent?
- What salary do I want to receive?
- What level of responsibility do I want to hold?
When you've done a lot of inner research and a good bit of outer research, you'll have defined your goal - the pinnacle of your new career. Now, let's build the steps to get there.
Don't Take No for an Answer
Here's another great tip from Richard Bolles. When you want to find out how to do something, don't take, "It's impossible" as an answer. For example, if you want a new career as a computer programmer, and you're over 50, most people will tell you it's impossible. Thank them politely, and walk away. And tell yourself, "He doesn't know how to do what I want to do." Then keep looking until you meet a computer programmer who got into it late in life, and ask, "How did you do it?"
Most people didn't take the road less traveled. That's why it was less traveled. If you want to take the road less traveled, most people will tell you it's impossible. Find one of the few who has gone before, and follow the pioneer - or be the pioneer.
The Steps of Your Career Plan
Our career plan starts where we are, and takes us where we want to go.
Assessment: Where Are You Today in Your Career?
Now that you have your goal, it is time to consider where you are now, and how to get from here to there. Here are some key questions:
- Do you have a job? If so, can you dedicate 5 to 10 hours per week to developing your new career. If not, how about 30 or 40?
- Do you have enough money to live right now? Is your life stable? If not, then getting enough income and balancing life - with a job or by other means - comes first, and your work on your career comes after that. But don't lose sight of your goal!
- Are there any core job-hunting skills you need to polish? We all can learn to interview well, take tests well, do research on the Internet, and look and act professional. But if any of that is not 100% clear for you, then you will want to brush up on those skills so you shine. When you shine, you stand out from the crowd, and get what you want from a potential employer.
- Are you already in your dream career? If so, you'll want to build a plan to move up the ladder. If not, you'll build a plan to shift into the career you want.
- Do you have the skills and education required for your new career? If not, you'll plan how to get them.
- Can you demonstrate experience, knowledge, and expertise that will get you the next job in your career plan? If not, you will want to develop professional or volunteer experience that demonstrates what you have to offer.
- Do you want or need to move to a new location to achieve your dream job?
On any of the items in the above list, if you are not where you want to be, then you will want steps that will get you to where you are going. That is, if you have already reached your goal on any one point above, you don't need to put steps in the plan for that area. On the other hand, if you are not at your goal, then plan steps to get there.
Build the Steps of the Plan
Using the same six points we used to assess where you are now, you can build the steps of your plan.
- If you have a job, dedicate 5 or 10 hours a week of quality time to writing your career plan, then taking action to make it happen. If you are not employed, then schedule 30 to 40 hours.
- If you are not financially secure (earning more than you spend) and stable, then deal with that, first. For example, if you're engaged to be married, start your career plan three months after the wedding!
- Create a great resume; learn the art of writing cover letters and thank-you notes; and look and feel great. If you are shy or not great at interviews, then practice and gain these skills. Unfortunately, it's not enough to be great at your job. You have to be great at job hunting, as well!
- If you are not already in your dream career, you must plan a lateral move from your current career to your desired career. You can either move now, and work your way up in your new career, or you can move up in your current career, then move over.
- Plan for school, whether it's a degree, a certificate, or classes, and training or certification that will establish credentials in your new career.
- Many people have skills, but don't use them in ways that show. Start to use your best skills. Even use them in unpaid volunteer work, if you have to. Build a history of these skills, and collect references and testimonials to prove what you can do to make your new prospective company delighted to hire you.
- If a move is in your plans, decide on the best time to make it happen - early, or late.
Do Some Research
Creating the seven steps of your plan will raise questions. To keep your plan realistic, you'll need to do some research. You will need to research job titles, job descriptions, job requirements, and salaries. You may have to research educational options and how much they cost. You may have other questions, too. These days, almost all these questions can be answered on the Internet. And Internet research skills should be at the top of anyone's list. What if you can't find the answer: See the sidebar, don't take "no"for an answer!
Check Your Plan
Now it's time for a bit of happy imagining. Walk through your plan, and ask:
- Am I starting where I am, rather than making assumptions or dreaming?
- Is each step realistic? Can I do the first steps now? When I've done the first steps, will I be able to do the next steps? And am I really committed to the time and effort to make this work?
- Did I cover all six areas of the plan?
- Do I end up where I want to be?
Add any missing steps. Add questions you need answers to, and do research to answer those questions.
Some Examples of a Working Plan
Let's say that education is key to your plan, because you want to be a doctor, and you haven't graduated high school. Step one is to focus on your study skills. Step two is to get a Graduate Equivalency Diploma (GED). From there, since you want to go to a really good college, you go to a community college first, and get straight As. That opens the door to a great university with a pre-med program. Medical school, and you are on your way! That's a big dream, but if you do each step, then you can do the next one. So it's realistic.
Say someone has been a stay-at-home Mom for 20 years, and wants to work in retail at a high-end design boutique. Let's assume a natural love of style, fashion, and fine clothing, which is why the person chose this career. The skills of caring for people transfer from children to boutique customers. Now, what is needed is to demonstrate these skills. This budding salesperson could: Volunteer at a church service that helps homeless people select clothes for job interviews, then take pictures of her happy clients and get testimonials. She could write articles, online or in local papers, about style and fashion. She could either take some courses in selling, or practice her sales skills at flea markets or crafts fairs. Put all that together, and a first job in fashion is a slam-dunk!
How Do I Get Help?
Your career plan is certainly worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, maybe millions. If you compare your lifetime earnings when you succeed on this plan, versus what you'll earn without it, you'll see what I mean.
Since the plan is this important, you'll want to do a good job. What Color is Your Parachute by Richard N. Bolles, is an indispensable guide. It teaches you all about transferable skills, and all the tools you need to discover your dream, build your plan, and make your dream career real.
You may also want to look into career skill assessment tools. These are tests you take that can discover hidden talents and aptitudes, or show you what you do and don't like in a job setting. Some people find them helpful, and others don't.
And getting some career counseling is a big help, too. Career counselors can help you find the right tools and encourage you to stay focused on your commitment to inner and outer research.
You can also get help with individual steps. There are many training programs on how to build a great resume and how to use the Internet for a job hunt. Guidance counselors can help you make career-related education decisions. And head-hunters may help you find your next job.
Your Career Plan
Will you make a career plan?
Making It Real
I did my first career plan when I was 23 years old. One day, I realized I'd spent more time poo-poohing and avoiding the self-discovery exercises in What Color is Your Parachute? than it would take to actually do all the exercises. So I sat down and did them - and I never looked back. I've re-invented my career that way three times - each time with great success.
So, make this plan. And master time management skills, possibly using The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey, so you can really invest time in creating your career. And hold yourself accountable to your commitment, whether it's five hours a week, or forty.
Does all this sound like hard work? It is! But most people don't realize a simple fact - hard work is fun. Most of us are under-employed and bored out of our skulls, and don't realize it. A little hard work is a worthwhile investment in the life of your dreams. Go for it!
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.