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Career Success

How to Create a 5-Year Career Development Plan (With Examples)

Written by Vicky Oliver
Author of 6 best-selling books on job-hunting and job interview questions, business etiquette, frugalista style, advertising, and office politics.
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Whether you are just starting out or are well underway in your profession, creating a five-year plan for your career development is the best strategy for achieving your short-term advancement goals. Why?

Because goals that are written down tend to be reached faster than goals that just idly float around in our heads.[1] Just the process of writing down goals will help you plan concrete next steps that you can take to ultimately achieve them.

Defining a Career Development Plan

Have you been envisioning yourself in a particular position a few months or years in the future? The next supervisor? Department head? Or even an executive?

Unless you collect your thoughts and make a career plan for your career, you’ll always be daydreaming. Going through 5-year career development plan examples and coming up with a clear plan is the best way to get started and achieve your goals.

A career development plan is made up of processes that create an individual’s professional life. It enables professionals to come up with strategies and customize them to achieve their career goals.

It is a key area of human development because it influences an individual’s lifetime starting from the point when they get a job. It’s all about managing an individual’s work, education, and leisure activities to ensure that they achieve their personal and professional goals.


A career development plan affects the relationship between the employee and the organization. The main goal of every organization is to boost employee productivity.

Therefore, making employees develop as professionals will help them realize this goal. An organization will appreciate those who manage their careers by supporting them to grow on their respective paths.

Should Organizations Invest in Employees?

A huge proportion of the workforce today feels undervalued. And feelings of being undervalued can have tremendous consequences in the workplace.

Employees quit their jobs due to a lack of opportunities for growth and professional development. If unhappy employees don’t leave, then you’ll have unskilled employees sticking around.

Unmotivated and unskilled workers can destroy your organization’s culture, office morale, and revenue streams. You can prevent employees from leaving you for your competitors by encouraging them to read career development plan examples and invest in career planning and development.

How to Create Your 5-Year Career Development Plan

A career development plan will always start from the position you currently hold. It is made up of a series of steps that will eventually lead you to where you want to be at a specific point in life.


It will allow you to clarify your goal and direct you towards your objectives. It’s a plan that lists the education and experience that you need in the professional world to reach your personal and professional goals.

Before you start writing down your plan, you need to conduct extensive research and think critically. You need to go through a series of steps while creating a career development plan.

The benefit of planning five years out rather than 10, 15, or 20 years into the future is that you can see clearly the steps needed to attain your vision. Here are seven steps to create your 5-year career development plan (with examples):

Step 1: Take Time to Dream

The important first step is to carve out time to think through the position you would like to achieve within the next five years. Be sure you understand the “why” behind the “what,” and eliminate any goals that include “should” behind their premise.

Your end-goal needs to excite you and reflect what you love to do. Now, write down your overall five-year goal. This serves as the heading of your plan.

Every plan starts with defining a hoped-for result. Then, once defined, the action plan begins to naturally take shape. Once you have determined your desired dream and set a course of action, the pieces fall into place and align with your ambitions.


Envision All the Elements

A plan to move from Point A to Point B is not linear but a convergence of several sub-plans or baby steps. Yes, your five-year career development plan will gradually move you to an end goal, but getting there will take effort on several different fronts.

For example, if you are after one or more job promotions in the five-year timespan, your well-devised plan must include more than simply going to HR and filling out an application.

You will need to take tangible steps that will prove your ability to take on more responsibility and add more value to the company. Then, you will need to plan multiple check-ins and meetings with the higher-ups at the company to make sure you stay on track.

Step 2: Set Clear Goals

Knowing your overall career goals helps in giving you purpose and direction in your career. Having the right goals and the right reasons to attain them will allow you to achieve the desired results. This is different from finding your field of interest. Therefore, don’t get it confused.

Goals are the things that help you end up in the place you want to be. On the other hand, defining your area of interest is all about looking for answers in the affirmative within.

Your goals need to be as specific as possible. You need to narrow down your goals to the position that you want in the industry that’s best suited for your experience and talent.


You need to set short-term and long-term goals. Short-term goals are quick to achieve. They motivate you to move to the next level while giving you a feeling of accomplishment.

Knowing where you want to be in the next two years will help you define the first phase of your career development plan. On the other hand, when you ask yourself where you want to see yourself in the next ten years, you get a sense of direction in your career development planning. You can achieve a big goal gradually through incremental changes.

You should set career development goals that motivate you. Figure out why you want to accomplish the goals that you’ve set and why they are important to you.

Once your career development plan has meaning and interest to you, you’ll have an easy time following it. Always read career goals examples and use the SMART criteria when setting your goals.

Step 3: Look at Your Current Position

You need to review where you stand in your career at the moment. Figure out whether you are in the appropriate position that leads you towards your objectives.

Do you want a remote job? Do you possess all the skills that you need to achieve your goals? If you aren’t heading in the right direction steadily, your plan will go to waste.


Review your skills, experiences, and knowledge and their relevance to your goals. Conduct a gap analysis to review the differences between where you are and where you want to be. Reviewing your strengths and weaknesses can also help in preparing you for your next position.

Step 4: Identify Key Barriers

This is one of the most difficult parts to outline clearly. You can divide this section into two separate parts. The first part is the barriers within such as the habits that you’ve formed over time.

The second part is external barriers that you’ll probably face as you strive to achieve your short and long-term goals. You can make your plan detailed by outlining how you’ll tackle your inner and outer barriers.

You can eliminate internal barriers by creating and following routines or diluting them to ensure that they don’t threaten your progress. External barriers can be eliminated by making separate plans to tackle them individually after conducting extensive research.

Step 5: Put It Down On Paper

A career development plan describes a series of steps that you’ll be required to take to achieve your goals. After conducting extensive research of what you want to achieve and where you are today, you can create a good plan.

Consult your manager or mentor to get feedback as you build a career plan. Write down the steps in form of a schedule. And indicate when and how you’ll undertake every action. Give plenty of room by including flexible goals, dates, and backup options.


Since everything might not go as planned, keep everything flexible and stay open to changes that might be brought by external elements. Review your plan regularly to ensure that you are on track.

Going through a career plan example and revising the process regularly will help you remain focused on what you want to do.

Step 6: Have a Timeline for Your Goals

While establishing SMART goals can help you make progress, it often leads to overlooking them. You can easily reduce the chances of this happening by setting realistic timetables.

Realistic timetables are great tools that help you motivate yourself to invest more time and energy into your goals. Having realistic timetables will give you the direction that you need to help you navigate your way to a specific goal.

When choosing a short-term goal, ensure that they are a milestone to a bigger goal. If the short-term goal is not related to the primary goal, the effort becomes less important.

Step 7: Build a Reputable Brand

Your professional brand plays an important role in your present and future career success. Most employers are not relying solely on cover letters and resumes to hire individuals.


They want to know all their candidates inside out. Candidates need to have and maintain a LinkedIn profile.

Keep your profile active by sharing the growing trends of your field, connecting with key people in your chosen industry, and conversing with them. This will not only demonstrate your experience but also showcase your skills and character.

Step 8: Polish Your Technical Skills

You will never get ahead unless you’re a pro when it comes to technical expertise. Investigate the technical skills you’ll need to hit your five-year goal. Envision what activities you will need to pursue to gain these skills. Is it more education?

Can you find training opportunities through your job, volunteer work, or a side gig? List all the skills you will need to master, along with your strategies for attaining them within your five-year career development plan.

Step 9: Burnish Your Soft Skills

Reflect on the people in the upper echelons of your company or industry whom you admire. Write down any qualities they possess that make these leaders effective in their roles.

These likely include numerous soft skills along with all the technical skills! After all, the more responsibility one takes on, the more the need to manage people, which requires the emotional intelligence that soft skills provide.

Some soft skills include:

Do you have any of these skills, or do you need to work on developing them? List the skills that you will need to intentionally develop. Then, consider how to go about attaining them.


For example, do you need to be able to speak confidently and eloquently in front of a large group of people? You may want to join a local Toastmasters Club to pick up this vital skill. Conversely, maybe you’re the one in a group chat or Zoom call who is always talking. If so, you may have to remind yourself to stay on “mute” more often.

Do you admire an industry leader’s ability to resolve conflicts? Commit to reading up on or watching podcasts about effective conflict resolution strategies. Take a class on it, if need be. Or if your company won’t pay for it, see if there is an online class you can take for just a small investment.

Keep a running list of all the soft skills you are amassing and the classes you’ve taken. In this way, you implement your five-year plan to hone your soft skills.

Step 10: Learn How to Toot Your Own Horn With Panache

Create your plan for self-promotion. Regardless of whether you are a boisterous extrovert or a restrained introvert, expand your professional networks and let people know your capabilities. Make a list of who can help you achieve your objective and then strategize how best to directly and indirectly gain their notice.

The most important place to start is within your own company. When you win a piece of business or create an attractive website or advance a project in any way, you really have to let people know. Don’t be shy. Also, don’t assume that you can just dash off an email that the higher ups will necessarily read. You need to get comfortable with promoting your achievements. No one will do this for you.


Step 11: If You’re Not Getting Accolades at Work, Be Prepared to Get a New Job

Sadly, the office can be a competitive place. The key advantage of creating a five-year plan is that you can always use it to see where you are on your projected timeline. If you haven’t been promoted in three years, it’s time to find a new job. At least you’ll have all the technical skills and soft skills you’ve developed, ready to put on your resume.

Step 12: General Networking

Is there a young professionals group associated with your industry that you should join? Does your company offer a mentor program that will pair you with a senior employee who might become your advocate? Do you need to expand your LinkedIn presence and begin commenting and posting your own industry observations?

Add these strategies to your five-year career development plan.

Step 13: Graphically Plot Your Plan

Now, place your actions and strategies into a visual format that shows all the elements together. Your graphic can portray concurrent strategies, or it can be a linear plan (shown below). Or you can start with a linear plan and add to it, family-tree style, as you find that you need to amass more skills.

Consider adapting a project management Gantt chart or a checklist to plot out your five-year career development plan.[2] Color-code categories and indicate timing for completion. Several project development templates can be found online and many may serve as a workable visual graphic for your personal five-year career development plan.

Regularly Revisit Your Plan

Keep your plan visible (but not for all to see at the office.) Commit to reviewing and reworking it monthly. As your roles change, you may have to tweak your overall goal and amend some of the action items. This is easier to do if you’ve made it a habit to keep your action plan up-to-date. It should serve as a constant reminder of your overall ambition throughout a five-year period and your personal journey to get there.

5-Year Career Development Plan Example

Year 1: Excel at Job

  • 1st quarter: Get to know leaders at company.
  • 2nd quarter: Find a mentor inside company (or outside).
  • 3rd quarter: Become indispensable.
  • 4th quarter: Ask for performance review and raise.

Year 2: Attain More Skills

  • 1st quarter: Identify training opportunities/costs/time commitments.
  • 2nd quarter: Apply for training.
  • 3rd quarter: Pursue further training opportunities.
  • 4th quarter: Apply new skills in new position.

Year 3: Secure a Promotion or Find a New Job

  • 1st quarter: Present goal to supervisor for feedback.
  • 2nd quarter: Gather evidence of exceptional performance.
  • 3rd quarter: Apply to any openings within the company and/or outside the company.
  • 4th quarter: Transition to new positions.

Year 4: Build Professional Network

  • 1st quarter: Identify industry associations.
  • 2nd quarter: Increase LinkedIn presence.
  • 3rd quarter: Begin attending association meetings/events.
  • 4th quarter: Undertake leadership role in association.

Year 5: Prepare for the Next Step in Career Advancement

  • 1st quarter: Look for and lobby for extra assignments.
  • 2nd quarter: Gather evidence of exceptional performance.
  • 3rd quarter: Present goal to supervisor for feedback.
  • 4th quarter: Apply to any openings; transition to new position.

Bottom Line

Career advancement happens when you set aside time to dream, define a goal, and write down your course of action. Keeping your plan visible and checking off the elements as you complete them will provide the steppingstones to your success.


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