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17 November 2023 - 8 minutes

Here’s How to Build the Perfect Career Plan

Looking to plan out your ideal career? This is what you need to know. 

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Knowing the steps to take in your career can be quite the challenge. And for some, knowing what they want to achieve with their career is an even bigger struggle and one that requires lots of thought and practice and maybe even trying different areas out. No matter where you are in your current career journey, we’re here to help you figure out the best path for you and show you the right steps to take to get there. 

Before we dive into the nitty gritty, however, let’s explore career plans in general and discuss how they can serve as an essential resource when it comes to planning your future. 

What is a Career Plan?

The name is quite straightforward so we won’t waste any more time: a career plan is a guide that helps you lay out your professional goals and track your progress so that you have a visual representation of where you stand. Although it may seem like something you could just keep track of in your mind, creating a career plan helps you:

  • Map out the trajectory of your chosen career: we’re not saying you need to know where you want to be working in 30 years, but creating a rough outline of the job opportunities and promotions that will be available to you in your chosen field will help you stay on track and have realistic expectations of what lies ahead. 

  • Develop the right skills: the vast majority of career paths have tons of different options with diverse requirements and skill expectations; if you randomly focus on new skills and tools throughout your career, you may find that you aren’t able to follow your desired path because you lack the right skills or experience. By knowing exactly where you want to end up, you’ll be able to focus your continuous learning on the right areas. 

  • Be happy with your career: the last thing you want is to spend years studying and advancing your career to end up in a place you don’t want to be! It may seem too obvious, but creating this clear path of where you want to end up helps ensure you’ll be content with your career down the road. 

  • Create a purpose at work: we hope you’ve chosen a career that you love, but in case you’re feeling a bit lost, having a career plan to lean back on can help you gain inspiration and motivation when you’re having a rough day. 

Why are career plans important? 

Could you just keep track of what you want to achieve in your head? Probably, yes. But career planning when laid out in front of you provides crucial assistance for your professional growth. 

Career plans help you fill gaps

Imagine reaching an advanced point in your career and finding out that you should’ve learned a certain programming language or cybersecurity technique years ago. Yes, you can learn it now, but it will take a lot of dedication and time; you hadn’t planned on learning an entirely new skill at this point in your career. If you had used career planning techniques when you were just starting out, however, you would have come by this knowledge ages ago and be ready to take on the next challenge. 

When everything is clearly laid out, you’ll be able to see what gaps currently exist in your education/skills and what you can do now to prepare yourself for the future. 

Career planning encourages self-reflection 

You probably think a lot about where you want to be in five, ten, or fifteen years, but do you ever sit down and think about all you’ve accomplished and what else is left to do? Probably not and don’t panic–that’s totally normal. With a career plan, on the other hand, you’ll have the perfect blueprint for tracking your progress, checking in periodically, and making sure you’re reaching your set goals. 

Career plans help plan for retirement 

You might be thinking it’s a bit early to be planning for retirement, but the truth is it’s always a good idea to plan ahead and be ready for unforeseen circumstances and what will happen when you decide to retire. With a clearly outlined career plan, you’ll be able to anticipate your benefits and salaries throughout the years and better understand what your financial standing will be in the future. 

Career planning helps you if you decide to change careers 

Career changers exist (and at Ironhack, we have a lot of them!) and thinking you can set a plan in stone in your twenties that will last until retirement is a bit unrealistic. After all, things change, jobs change, you will change, and you might find that another area is more interesting to you or better fits your needs at some point in your career. If this happens, you’ll have a clear timeline of all you’ve accomplished, your skills, and your experience which can help you figure out which industry would be best matched with you and what you bring to the table. 

How to Create a Career Plan 

Now that we’ve convinced you why career planning is so crucial, it’s time for the good stuff: actually creating your killer career plan. We’re not sure exactly where you are in your career, so feel free to find the step that best applies to your current situation and go from there. 

  1. Explore career options 

This one is easy! The first thing you have to do when you’re starting out is think about where you want to end up and what you want to do. It’s a big question and might seem incredibly daunting, but ask yourself these questions to help clear it up:

  • What areas interest you? 

  • In what areas do you have education or experience? 

  • What skills do you bring to the table? 

  • Where do you want to be in five, ten, or twenty years? 

  • Are there any important limitations to note, such as geographic restraints? 

  • Are you open to all forms of work (in-person, remote, hybrid) or are only willing to do a certain one? 

With answers to these questions, you’ll be able to create a better idea of where you’d fit in best and move towards that. 

2. Dissect your options 

Now that you have a good idea of what you’d like to do, it’s time to see what’s actually a reality. Although your dream as a child may have been to be a zoologist focused on advancements in artificial intelligence, you now know that career options are quite limited in that area. To get a good idea of the options that are available to you, start by taking your chosen field and exploring potential career options, taking note of any available paths. 

During this stage, it’s especially important to:

  • Focus on the educational requirements for different jobs in your field 

  • Read about the future prospects for jobs in your field 

  • Research requirements, such as in-person or geographical necessities 

  • Be open to new paths that you weren’t familiar with beforehand 

3. Start creating your career plan 

With a solid idea of where you want your career to go, you can begin with a rough sketch of what your ideal career can look like, supplemented with helpful information that you’ve learned through your research. For example, you can map out how you’ll obtain the necessary skills to land your first job while keeping your continuous learning goals clearly drawn out as well. 

Be flexible during this stage and prioritize remaining open to new ideas and seeing what’s out there! Remember, it’s impossible to predict the future, but you can take the right steps to prepare yourself for success.

4. Set your goals 

A career plan would be pretty much useless without goals! And because goals can sometimes be too abstract, impossible to complete, or not very helpful for the little things, we recommend using the SMART (goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-based) method to properly outline your game plan: 

  • Specific: your goals need to be specific and should be broken up into small steps. For example, don’t put “Become CEO at a tech company” with no other steps on how to reach that goal. Set goals that are specific to each step of your career plan to help you break down the process and give you little goals to check off–and who doesn’t love that?

  • Measurable: you could set a lot of goals but if you don’t have a way to measure if you’re achieving them or at least making progress, it will be very hard to stay on track with your goals. In addition, it’s helpful to keep your confidence and motivation high when you’re able to cross off another goal! 

  • Attainable: becoming Elon Musk might be your dream, but keep your goals attainable and realistic so that you’re actually able to achieve them. If you aim too high at the beginning, you could get discouraged and completely give up on your goals.

  • Relevant: match your goals with what you want to achieve, ensuring they match with your career plan and each specific step you’ve laid out. You may feel tempted to add in other goals, but trying to keep your career plan goals relevant will help you stay driven and focused. 

  • Time-based: your career plan is a long-plan, evolving document so you don’t need to have super detailed and strict time constraints, but it’s good to set rough outlines at least to check in on your progress. Again, this is to help you stay on track–if you fall behind, adjust your timelines and make them work for you. 

Creating a career plan may seem extremely daunting, but it’s a completely regular and normal way to lay out your professional goals and make sure you stay up to date with your goals. And a great way to start your career plan is with a bootcamp, which will help you get ready for your career change and get you started with our Career Services. 

If you’re ready to build your career plan and get started, you’re in the right place. Check out our bootcamps and pick the one that best fits with your career goals. We can’t wait to see you in class! 

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