What is a Career Development Plan? Who owns it? How to set the goals you really want? How to discuss the plan with your manager? Find out in this post.
You can go to work day by day, hoping that you’ll be brought up the career ladder sooner or later. But hoping is not the best kind of plan. Isn’t it better to consciously move towards your goal step by step?
Career Development as a Company Policy
Some companies provide a continuous Career Development system for their employees. That means that each employee meets with their manager on a regular basis (usually once in 3, 6 or 12 months) to build or update their Career Development Plan, discuss current achievements and goals for the upcoming period. This can be sometimes combined with performance evaluation meetings.
To help in building the Career Development Plan (CDP), companies may also provide the approved Skill Matrices for each specialization, i.e. they have the list of skills and required levels of mastering them, such as Novice, Intermediate, and Expert for all levels of specialist. Such skill matrices are helpful in defining which skills you need to develop or improve in order to meet the acknowledged requirements. Some employers also provide training, knowledge sharing sessions, webinars, and educational programs to help the employees gain the appropriate skills and competencies, so in this respect building and implementing a CDP is made easier there.
But even if you are working in a company of that kind, don’t wait for the initiative from your manager. This is your career and no-one else knows your goals the way you do. So, it is you who should be the driver of change.
Steps to Build Your CDP
Step 1. Make a list of your goals
List your short-term or long-term goals. A two-year period is good for career goal setting, as it is short enough to be visualized. If you can, go further and come-up with a five-year goal in addition. Otherwise, just select a direction you want to develop, ie. test management or test automation.
You may find inspiration in this post about possible career growth paths in software testing.
Step 2. Test your Goals
Sometimes, the goals we try to achieve are not what we really want and need because we have become trapped by having the wrong goals. This might be because we perceive someone else’s goals as also being our own. We may want a cool car, C-suite position or a million dollar salary because someone told us that it’s cool, but would that make us really happy? Not necessarily.
To make sure your goals are really yours, and achieving them would make you feel happier, try this exercise to match your goals with your values.
Write a bunch of goals you can think of, and don’t think too much or filter out; let your subconsciousness work. Opposite to each goal, write the answer to the question ‘Why do need it?’. After that, check whether the answers on the right sound motivating and if they resonate with your inner values.
For example, if your goal is to “Become a test automation lead in 3 years”, then your ‘Why’ answer may be like this (or shorter, if you are not a graphomaniac like me):
‘Automation is interesting. I want to build my own great team, leadership is exciting for me. Becoming an expert will enable me to share with others and help them.’
or like this:
‘Because it’s prestigious. I’ll have big salary. I’ll be able to work less than my subordinates’.
Which one sounds more inspiring and energized?
Step 3. Make them SMART
Once you have filled your list of ‘real’ goals, make them SMART (specific – measurable – achievable – realistic – time-bound), and positive (focused on what you want to achieve rather than on what you do not).
Step 4. Define your Strengths and Gaps
For each goal (if there are more than one), assess what strengths and knowledge gaps you have. Knowing your strengths will give you confidence and help you place your focus correctly. Understanding your weaknesses or skills gaps will help define your actionable items and opportunities for growth (or show you that the gamble is not worth taking, which is not bad anyway).
Now, based on your gaps and strengths, for each long-term goal, you can think of short-term (1-6 months) goals or milestones. Write them down using SMART.
Step 5. Match them with your Current Job
Now that you have a list of your goals, think about how they are relevant to your current place of work. Let’s be honest, sometimes we find ourselves going the wrong way. If you review and update your CDP regularly, going the wrong way will be unlikely. But if this is the first time you’ve built your plan and set the goals honestly after years of work, you may face the fact that you don’t see yourself within your current company or your customary life any more.
Step 6. Talk to your Manager
If you see your goals as being relevant within your current company, prepare to discuss your career plans with your manager. You could use the tips listed in this post about having regular one-to-one meetings.
Some questions you might ask your manager during the meeting:
- How realistic is your plan or goals from the manager’s point of view? Find out how the plan matches your company’s culture and goals.
- What is the manager’s feedback on your strengths and gaps? Ask for suggestions for ways of filling the gaps.
- What new responsibilities can you take over in the short term to stretch your experience?
- What career opportunities are available in your company with regard to your selected goals and direction?
- What do you need to do to get a promotion or new assignments in a discussed period of time?
Your career development is your responsibility. There is nothing more discouraging than having to do a daily job that doesn’t bring you excitement and satisfaction. So, be honest with yourself in defining your goals and evaluating your current position. Sometimes we need some rest or a ‘reload’ to have a fresh glance at the way we are going. If you keep doing the same things day by day, your tomorrow will most likely be the same. Like someone said, ‘If you want something you’ve never had, you’ve got to do something you’ve never done.’ Applied to a career goal, it’s probably the best career advice we can offer.