Some people just wait for their career to happen to them. But you need to be proactive if you expect to achieve the results you really want. If you’re motivated to move up the career ladder, it may be time to write a career development plan — a roadmap for your growth and success.

Creating a career development plan can pay off for both job seekers and those currently employed. Instead of merely thinking about what you want out of your professional life, consider taking these steps:

1. Define success

Career success means different things to different people. What achievements would you like your resume to show 20 years from now? Perhaps you’d like to become the CFO at a nonprofit organization. Or maybe you’d like to be an in-demand financial consultant who regularly speaks at conferences and has a few books published. Think big, and write down your aspirations.

2. Identify goals and barriers

Organize your to-do list into short- and long-term goals. For example, a promotion to manager may be a few years ahead of you, but leading a project team for the first time might be possible within the next few months.

Sketch out a general timeline of goals, then identify any potential barriers. Pay particular attention to areas where you might need to build your skills in order to advance professionally. Perhaps your public speaking abilities are weak, or maybe you aren’t familiar with a certain type of software necessary for a position you desire.

Not quite sure what might be preventing you from moving forward? Talk to your manager or a trusted mentor for advice.

3. Start tackling potential obstacles

For each obstacle on your career development list, write down the steps you need to take to move forward. That could mean enrolling in a training course or taking advantage of career development or mentorship programs offered by your company.

Of course, knowing the steps you need to complete is only half the battle. Actually taking those steps is the other half. One way to motivate yourself is to set a deadline for taking action. Then — and here’s the important part — tell someone your deadline. Ask that person to help hold you accountable for meeting the goal you set.

4. Re-evaluate often

If there’s one universal truth about career development plans, it’s that no matter how carefully you prepare, they rarely follow the exact course you’ve set. Our careers are as vulnerable to the unexpected as our lives. A job opportunity emerges at another company that you absolutely can’t turn down. You decide to move halfway across the country. You start a family earlier than anticipated. Any number of factors could cause your career development plan to change course.

The key here is to be flexible. Realize that your career development plan is just that: a plan. It’s not set in stone. Make a point of re-evaluating it regularly — say, every three to six months. Are the goals you’ve set still the ones you wish to work toward? Are the barriers you identified still applicable? What progress have you made in tackling those obstacles? By making adjustments as necessary, you can be sure you’re always moving in the right direction.

Whether you’re a recent graduate or you’ve been in the workforce for many years, the best time to write a career development plan is now. By making an honest assessment of your skills and setting specific long- and short-term goals, you’ll soon be ready to put your plan into action.

Have you written a career development plan? Share your experience in the comments.

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