It is often said that people spend more time planning their vacations than planning their own careers. Since vacations are, alas, fleeting, it seems like there might be much greater return on your time investment by creating—and actively engaging in—a career development plan. You could continue along the passive route, of course. But like all those vacations you left to chance, you probably won’t like where you end up.
Getting Started with a Career Development Plan
A career development plan is your opportunity to envision where you want to be with your career three to five years from now—and then identify actions steps that will get you there.
- First identify your long-term career goals. Do you want to be doing the same work in three to five years as you are doing now? Or will your responsibilities be different—for example, managing others, building a new practice? Would you like to change settings, practice areas or your entire career? Be as specific as possible. Make your goals SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-bound. An example of a long-term goal is, “Build my own solo practice in wine law.”
- Next, identify short-term goals. Focus on two to four goals you would like to accomplish over the next 12 months to help you achieve your long-term goal. Examples of areas your goals might cover include: knowledge building, skill development, client management, case management, leadership skills, client development and pro bono involvement. Like your long-term goals, these should be specific. Keep your goals to no more than four. Studies show that creating more than that will likely result in you achieving none of them!
- Action steps. Once you have identified your short-term goals, create action steps, along with “start by” and due dates. Using our long-term example from above, a short-term goal might be, “Gain substantive knowledge in wine law.” Action step examples, include “identify a CLE or other course in wine law by May;” “sign up for and attend course;” “use LinkedIn and other resources to find three individuals practicing wine law;” and “conduct informational interviews with them by end of June.”
Great—you’ve created your plan. You’ve identified your long-term goal and thought about action steps you can begin taking now to get you there. Consider what assistance you may need along the way. Are there individuals who can be good sources of information or mentors for you? Are there resources you need? Do you need to work with someone to help you achieve your goals? A buddy or coach can help keep you accountable and on track moving forward.
Consider what obstacles or challenges you may encounter and how you will overcome them. Perhaps you’ve been thinking about this goal for a long time but you never start working toward it. What’s keeping you from doing so? Confidence? Lack of knowledge? Others’ opinions? How important is this goal to you? Is it worth pursuing and, therefore, worth investing the time and dealing with the challenges?
A career development plan is not written in stone. Like your best vacations, no matter how much you planned ahead, you likely learned things along the way that caused you to take different paths and unexpected sights. Your itinerary changed. Your plan will, too. The important thing is to have a plan in the first place. It will encourage you to actively engage in creating the career you desire.
Marcia Pennington Shannon is a founding principal of The Shannon Group, and has nearly 30 years of experience in lawyer career and professional development. Marcia’s latest book is The Lawyer’s Career Management Handbook: Your Bridge to a Satisfying Career.