Key steps for career planning and development

Mark Talmage-Rostron
11.08.2021·11 min read

40 years ago, if you dedicated yourself to a company, you would have a career for life. How times have changed

Today’s career paths don’t work like that. Whether through ambition or upgrading our skills to get promotions and pay raises or even move to an entirely different sector, most of us will change careers several times throughout our lifetimes.

In fact, the average person changes jobs 12 times in their lifetime, according to the latest available public survey data (2019). The median tenure for employees with less than a high school diploma was 4.8 years (men) and 4.1 years (women). Interestingly enough, the higher an individual’s education, the lower their unemployment stints throughout their career, the longer they tend to remain with an employer, and the less likely they are to cite education as a barrier to changing careers. College graduates had a median tenure of 5.2 years (men) and 4.9 years (women).

With career changes being so frequent it’s now more important than ever to have a solid career development plan.

What is career planning and development?

A career plan is an assessment of your skills, learning, and development through different job types that helps you progress towards a career goal. It doesn’t entirely focus on the development of your professional life but includes the progress and development of wider life skills. More than just a job: a career plan brings focus and adaptability to changing job markets. Career advisors at progressive colleges can be a tremendous help here.

According to a recent LinkedIn analysis of employment trends, the two top-growing sectors for careers in 2021 are Front-Line E-Commerce work, which has been growing at an annual rate of 73%, and Loan and Mortgage Experts. To move into these upcoming fields, you need to understand the skill bases and educational qualifications required.

The benefits of a career plan

Career planning can seem intimidating but it’s worth the time and effort. Commitment and discipline will lead to a much better future.

  • Identify the right jobs for your skills

Identifying a career path that is in line with your innate skills means you get to do what you’re good at. Targeting the right jobs means you won’t find yourself in positions that you’re not interested in, or that won’t add anything to your career path experience. Choosing the right career is essential for planning the development and success of your long-term goals.

  • Change career or find a new job more easily

A job search is only a small step in pursuing your goals in career development. Finding a job can be challenging, but you can face that challenge by deciding what career you want to pursue, and ensuring you have the right skills for it. This mindset makes job changes an exciting step towards your goals, rather than a massive hurdle to overcome.

  • Ensure job security

The careful career planner will prepare not only skills for today but the skills that will be in demand tomorrow. As automation replaces repetitive work in almost every field, planning your progress into indispensable roles will help to future-proof your career.

Being on the cutting edge in career planning can make you more attractive to top employers, ensuring greater job stability. A future-proof career plan transcends age and background, as you develop important knowledge and abilities that will always be in demand.

  • Successful career progression 

The development of your career relies on how you plan your long-term goals. By recognizing your goals and always seeking to develop them, you will be in a better position to be promoted, or, in times of downturn, remaining employable.

Being consistent in developing your skills will also help when you are changing jobs, as new challenges can be approached with confidence, leading to successful career progression with increasing financial reward. That can be boosted by earning a top-class degree from a recognized university. Research conducted by the Forte Foundation has discovered that, on graduation, MBA students can expect to see a 35–45% increase in their salary and can often lead to a promotion and a fast career progression.

  • Find your fulfillment

As we spend a sizable proportion of our waking hours at work, it’s no surprise that it has an enormous impact on our well-being. In fact, about one-third or 30% of human life is spent working so a job that doesn’t resonate with your values and abilities can be frustrating. Knowing what career path to pursue is a smart part of the game plan to be a successful professional in any industry. It provides satisfaction and a sense of achievement.

The career planning process

Some individuals can identify the path they want to take at an early age; others of us are still in the process of trying to identify what we’re interested in. Whatever step you’re at, make a point of checking in with your career plan at regular intervals to make sure you’re getting what you need from it.

Follow these 5 components of the career planning process to achieve success in developing your career.

1. Self-assessment 

Self-assessment is the first step in choosing your career. It is a big part of your career development. Evaluating yourself makes you aware of what you can do and what you want to do in your life. It’ll help you identify career options that will determine your future.

To understand your career opportunities, you need a clear and honest picture of where you are now. This will include your personal preferences, knowledge, weaknesses, and goals. Think about what you enjoy but also what you’re naturally good at.

Self-assessment doesn’t have to be complicated: We’ve created a series of career quizzes that you can take to help assess your strengths and weaknesses across the fields of business, finance, entrepreneurship, and more.

Being aware of “soft skills” is also key to your self-assessment. Employers are looking for people who can work well with others; so, if you can demonstrate you’re a good communicator, a team player, a problem-solver, or someone who is innovative, resourceful, and a positive influence on others, make sure you include these qualities in your self-assessment.

2. Career exploration

After identifying what interests are matching your abilities, you can choose a couple of career options to explore. Career exploration is necessary to determine which career path will give you achievement and satisfaction in the long run.

Building a list of careers is also a backup career plan in case your first choice doesn’t work out. When looking at careers, remember to think long-term. We live in a world where the fast pace of technology is producing new career opportunities all the time, and also where previously attractive careers are no longer viable.

Ways to explore career paths:

  • Desktop research: looking at what’s out there is a quick and easy way to get a feel for the range of jobs available. Understanding job opportunity trends is really important in planning career development. Desktop research also gives you wide access to informational tips and tricks on how to land your dream career.
  • Career fairs: attending career fairs allows you to meet employers. You can also meet others who have the same interests, and exchange information to help you reach your goals. It’s even easier with virtual career fairs, like the ones offered to Nexford learners by Localized.
  • Internships: if you are a fresh graduate, you may decide to apply for an internship to get experience in a career you’re interested in. It will help you get a behind-the-scenes idea of what the job entails and develop relevant experience.
  • Career advisors: if you’re having trouble in career decision-making, you may ask for the help of professional career advisors to help you identify which career suits your personality and skills.

3. Career identification

Listing the possible career paths, you want to pursue is just a part of the career plan. You must prioritize and identify which career you will excel in. Career decisions are critical; you should be specific about what you are passionate about and that will drive you to excel.

Consider the other factors that can influence your decision, such as how in-demand the position is, the kind of salary you’ll expect, the working conditions, and any qualifications required.

Research the opportunities for promotion and progression. Think about your backup plan, the transferability to other similar roles, and job security in your chosen field.

4. Create a SMART career goal

Once you’ve explored and identified your best career opportunities, it’s time to dig deeper and set clear goals.

SMART goals focus on setting smaller goals that are specific and measurable to help you stay on track. Identify steps that are attainable rather than taking a big leap towards your goal, especially for career starters. Make sure that your goals are relevant and worth your time and effort.

It is also important to set a time limit, regardless of whether you’re working with long-term or short-term goals. Creating a goal with a deadline will give you a framework and will also help you to prioritize what to do first.

One example of a time-bound goal is: within 4 years I will be a professional in the field of sales and I expect to get promoted. It’s just a statement, but it gives you the drive to strive and excel in your career. Another example is: by the end of the week, I will research and rehearse things that may arise in the interview for the job I am hoping for. This statement gives a clear framework of what needs to be done immediately so that you’ll be well prepared.

Plans are crucial and it's hard to achieve your goal without them. “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail”- Benjamin Franklin

5. Action plan

Creating an action plan is the most important component of the career planning strategy. A detailed flow of your actions helps you to stay focused to attain your goal.

To do this, you’ll need to identify comprehensive and detailed responsibilities and tasks. Your plan should include short-, medium- and long-term goals.

Don’t be discouraged if you find there are detours and changes along the way. As you develop your career plan, it is usual for things to change. Build-in some flexibility and be prepared to change direction if you need to.

Applying for your chosen career

To start reaching your career goals, you need to prepare yourself and your resources.

  • Develop a well-rounded CV

At Nexford, we employ competency-based education, giving practical scenarios and tailoring learning to application in the workplace. Writing a good CV is crucial to being able to get past the first stage of selection. When you write your CV, consider presentation, keywords, clear and concise detail, and accuracy. Make sure your CV is precisely tailored to the job you are applying for and review it thoroughly before submitting it.

  • Personal branding 

Personal branding is the set of skills and experiences that makes you who you are and allows you to stand out and flourish. Nexford offers short courses related to personal branding and workshops that will help you build your identity. You can also have a 1:1 learning session with professional branding experts.

  • Job searches

The next step is to find the right jobs to apply to. Not all employers were created equal and picking the right applications can be crucial in getting the next phase of your career off to a successful start.

At Nexford, we partner with Localized and other job portals to access local and global vacancies. There are opportunities for networking through connecting with industry experts at Nexford’s specialized programs for success seekers. This enables a smooth transition from learner to worker.

  • Applying

Nexford University is ready to advise on how to make your cover letter appealing to hiring managers. You’ll also get advanced tips that will help you prepare for your job application and an opportunity to practice interviews with experts.

Tips for ongoing career development

Having an organized career plan helps you to achieve success. But it’s not a one-time task: It will need ongoing work to make sure you stay on track. With emerging technologies changing career prospects every year, you’ll need to be flexible and adaptable. Advances in AI-driven technologies and robotics will increase the range and amount of work that can be done by smart machines. 38% of U.S. jobs will likely be automated within the next 15 years, affecting at least 100 million knowledge workers by 2025.

Upskilling and re-skilling are crucial to maintaining your career stability. Nexford offers lifelong learning with the Alumni Access service to continue improving your current skills. The service includes access to LinkedIn Learning, IBM Digital Nation Africa, and CMI.

At Nexford you’ll do more than just learn. Localized forms part of our Career Services, where as a Nexford learner you can network with other learners, connect with industry experts, attend virtual career fairs, and view exclusive job opportunities all on one platform –ensuring you’ll graduate with more than a degree.

About the Author

Mark Talmage-Rostron

Mark is a college graduate with Honours in Copywriting. He is the Content Marketing Manager at Nexford, creating engaging, thought-provoking, and action-oriented content.

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