Writing a Career Action Plan

Part 1: What is It and How Can It Help Me?

A man working on a plan
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Developing a career action plan is the fourth step in the career planning process. You will arrive at it after doing a thorough self assessment and a complete exploration of viable career options which were identified during the self assessment. Next, one must choose from those occupations after examining them carefully and determining which one is the best match. The career planning process is ongoing, and bi-directional, meaning you can move back to previous steps when you need to gather more information or clarify your choices.

Once you have identified an occupation to pursue, you should develop an action plan.

An action plan can be considered a road map that will get you from point A—choosing an occupation—to Point B—becoming employed in that career. It even helps you get past Point B, to Points C through Z, as your career advances. It is also referred to as an Individualized (or Individual) Career Plan or an Individualized (or Individual) Career Development Plan.

According to Individualized Career Plan Models - Eric Digest No. 71 (ERIC Clearinghouse on Adult Career and Vocational Education), individualized career development plans are essential instruments that counselors use to help their students and clients meet their changing goals, interests and needs in this fast-paced, rapidly changing society. Though the ERIC Digest talks about counselors and other professionals using individualized career plans, you can develop a plan yourself.

Even if you do work with a counselor, you will need to do some of the work independently. For example, a counselor can't set your goals for you. He or she will just help you clarify them and assist you in finding strategies to reach them. You must amend your action plan over time as your goals change, your priorities change, and your career grows.

Let's begin now to take a look at how to develop a career action plan step-by-step.

Create a worksheet you can use to outline your career action plan. It should contain four sections. Here are instructions for completing it.

Employment History/Education and Training

Title the first section of your worksheet "Employment History/Education and Training." This part is straightforward. List any jobs you've had, in reverse chronological order—most recent to least recent. Include the location of the company, your job title, and the dates you worked at that job.

When you eventually write your resume, having organized this information will prove very helpful. That goes for the next part as well—Education and Training. List the schools you attended, the dates you attended them, and the credits, certificates, or degrees you earned. Also, list additional training and any professional licenses you hold. Next, list volunteer or other unpaid experience. You may find that several of these activities are relevant to your occupational goals. By volunteering, you may have developed skills that will play a vital role your future career. Again, you can use this information on your resume, on job interviews, or when you apply to college or graduate school.

Self Assessment Results

The next section of your worksheet should be "Self Assessment Results." If you met with a career counselor or similarly-trained professional who conducted a self assessment to help you gather information about yourself, this is where you can write down the results you got from them including the occupations that were suggested to you during that phase.

You may even want to attach the information you gathered when you explored these careers so you can refer to your notes later on.

Out of all the occupations you explored, at some point in the process, you narrowed your choices down to one of them. That is the one you plan to pursue. You may even have two occupations—one to aim for in the short term and one to strive for in the long term.

They should be related, the second being one that is a step up from the first. For example, you can say you want to become a nurse's aid first, and then after you get some experience, you plan to become a registered nurse.

Short Term and Long Term Goals

The next section should be a place for you to list your occupational and educational goals. They should correspond to one another since reaching your occupational goals will usually be dependent upon reaching your educational ones. You should have short term goals—those you can reach in a year or less—and long-term goals which you can reach in five or fewer years. You can use increments of one or two years in this five-year plan as well.

This breakdown will make your plan easier to follow.

If your long term occupational goal is to become a lawyer, here's what your short and long term plans might look like:

  • Year One: Complete my bachelor's degree (12 credits left to go), apply to law school, get accepted to law school (a positive attitude is a good thing)
  • Year Two through Year Four: Enter law school, study hard and earn good grades, graduate from law school with many job offers
  • Year Five: Begin working in a law firm

Barriers to Reaching Goals

As you try to reach your goals you may face some barriers. You will have to find ways to get around them. In this section of your action plan, you can list anything that may get in the way of being able to reach your goals. Then list possible ways to overcome them. For example, you may be the primary caregiver for your children or elderly parents which may interfere with your ability to complete your degree.

You can deal with this barrier by enlisting the help of your spouse or another relative. Perhaps you can arrange for child or adult daycare.

You're On Your Way

A well-thought-out career action plan will prove to be a very useful tool. You've gone through the career planning process carefully, choosing a suitable occupation.

Setting goals and planning what you need to do to realize them will ensure that you reach your career destination.

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