Setting career development goals to live your fullest life

When you think of someone whose career you admire, what do you think about? Chances are, you think about where they are now. Their title. Their salary. Their list of achievements. But the truth is, they weren’t always where they are today – they started out at the bottom and worked their way up with a career development plan. When you know how to create a development plan for your career, you’re able to do what your heroes once did: leverage your assets to create success. 

The secret behind building a career development plan is taking responsibility for your own professional growth. No one is going to come in with a magic wand and give you your own business or ensure you’ll achieve a leadership role at your current company – you have to create a career development plan for yourself.

Unsure of where to begin? Here’s how to set goals for growing your career and follow through on them.

Career development: A tool for living your best life

What is career development? It depends on who you ask. Young professionals may equate making a career development plan with making more money. Small business owners likely see career development as a tool for enhancing the lives of employers and employees alike, since fulfilling careers create happy, hard-working employees. For people at any stage in their career, the prospect of building a career development plan often sparks mixed emotions, from excitement to apprehension about all the unknowns. So when we ask what is career development, what we’re really getting at is values

Retain rockstar staff with a career development plan

Career development planning is critical for individuals’ job fulfillment, but it’s also a powerful tool for employee retention. When building a career development plan is part of your company’s staffing strategy, this adds immeasurable value to your business. At its core, career development planning means honoring your value (and your team’s value) in the workforce. In a value-driven staffing relationship, employees do their best work, since they feel their employer appreciates them and wants them to be successful. As an employer, when you meet your staff’s needs through world-class career development programming, you’re forming the backbone of a healthy, productive workplace.

How to create a development plan for your career: Guiding principles

The Society for Human Resource Management outlines methods for creating an effective career development plan to propel your career forward. When you’re learning how to create a development plan for your career, keep the following principles in mind for progressing within an organization or field.


1. Explore your career ladders

Career development is commonly thought of as making progress within an organization. Career ladders create a vertical path up a company’s hierarchy. With this type of career development plan, you achieve career growth with each promotion to the next tier.

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2. Consider your career paths

start career development

When building a career development plan, you must also consider the career paths available to you. Unlike career ladders, which are vertical, career paths explore options in all directions, potentially in multiple organizations. To find your career path, look beyond the obvious career ladders to the more nuanced options, like horizontal career lattices, dual career ladders and encore careers. Examining multi-dimensional career development paths provides more options for discovering what really inspires you.

3. Put the “care” in “career”

You must align your career development plan with your nature – your strengths and passions, which form the quintessential “you.” Do you bring artistic flair to your business? Managerial skills? Entrepreneurial thinking? Your contributions create a competitive edge that sets you apart from the rest.

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4. Set goals for your career

In order to learn how to create a development plan for your career, you must set goals for yourself. Where are you in your professional journey right now and where do you want to be? Don’t just make up a vague goal like “get a promotion.” Think of a specific goal you can track. For instance, decide you want to be vice president of a Fortune 500 company in the next 10 years. Pick an objective that’s within the realm of possibility that you can realistically begin working toward.

Also, as with setting any goal, you need to think of the purpose behind your career development goals. Why do you want to secure this position? Is it because you want to provide for your family? Are you seeking financial freedom? When you have a larger inspiration in mind, you’ll find it easier to keep persisting, even when circumstances become challenging or you hit a plateau. Setting a trackable goal with meaning behind it – what Tony refers to as a SMART goal – is a strategy that works in regards to keeping one inspired and on track in their career development.

5. Strategize to achieve your goals

Now that you have your goal in mind, it’s time to begin building a career development plan. How will you become vice president in the next 10 years or start your own entrepreneurial endeavor that will be talkably different? Be realistic, but don’t be afraid to stretch. As Tony Robbins says: Most people overestimate what they can do in a year and they underestimate what they can do in two or three decades.

Think about the changes you must make right away in order to set your career development plan into motion. What are the intermediate steps between your current position and the one you want? After you’ve identified your purpose, establish the steps needed to get to your end goal and hold yourself accountable along the way.

6. Find the tools you need

teamwork in career development

When you’re mastering how to create a development plan for your career, you can’t do everything on your own. Even though self-reliance is a huge factor when it comes to moving forward in your career, you still need the tools and strategies necessary to succeed. Online courses, educational classes, podcasts, meet-up groups and immersive business seminars are all great ways to make progress building a career development plan. Find out what resources your company offers employees to help them achieve their career development goals. Look into the types of skill-building workshops and seminars that would be most beneficial to you. At the end of the day, it’s not about how many resources you have, but how resourceful you can be with what you have access to.

7. Connect with others

Creating a successful career development plan comes down to your personal accomplishments, but it is rarely a solo effort. One great way to make progress toward your career development goals is to connect with others. This could be turning to peers for support and mutual reassurance. It could be finding a mentor whose success you admire. It could be working with a coach who understands your goals and helps you achieve them. It could even be studying the career trajectory of someone you don’t know and building a career development plan modeled after theirs.

connecting with others for career development

Building a career development plan step by step

When you put the following step-by-step process into action, building a career development plan becomes much more straightforward. Here are eight steps you can take to maximize your chances of career development plan success.


Write down your primary career development goals. As mentioned above, make sure your goals are clear and trackable. When you’re setting your goals, remember that nothing is out of reach. Don’t let your self-doubt hold you back from aiming high. Now is the time to practice building confidence – in yourself, your future and your ability to achieve any outcome you want. 


Evaluate your goals and determine which ones to include in your long-term professional plan. Unlike your short-term goals, this is where you would ultimately like your career to end up. Think of it as the legacy you create. By differentiating between short- and long-term goals, you’re able to see the forest through the trees, pace yourself and work strategically. If you don’t reach one of your short-term goals, realize that you haven’t failed – you’ve just learned an unexpected lesson that will propel you to success. 


Identify the barriers between both your short-term and long-term goals. Be aware that these barriers are often limiting beliefs or other mindset issues. When you’re learning how to create a development plan for your career, remember that the law of attraction is at play. You attract what you focus on, and when you want something badly enough, that focus comes naturally. So don’t let barriers deter you from pursuing the fulfilling career you deserve.


List two to three activities that will help you reach each goal. Ideas include taking a training course or cultivating a relationship with a specific mentor. By creating a list of tangible strategies, you make your goals actionable. If a strategy doesn’t produce the results you want, give yourself an A for effort and try a different technique. By empowering yourself, you’re able to increase your sense of self-efficacy in building a career development plan


Identify tasks in your current position that are harmonious with your career development plan. If your current role entails writing (and you enjoy writing), how can you increase or emphasize the writing components of your job? This approach is a key tactic for leveraging the resources you have to create bigger and better outcomes.  


Identify tasks in your current position that are not contributing to your career development goals. How can you reduce them or eliminate them completely? In work and life, if an action doesn’t contribute to your ultimate purpose, you must reprioritize it. The same is true when you’re learning how to create a development plan for your career


Write down any additional experience, knowledge or skills you must acquire to achieve your career goals. This is when building a career development plan starts to feel real. You’re at a point where you can pinpoint precisely what to do to bridge the gaps between where you are now and where you want to be. When you know exactly what’s needed, you’re able to seek out and implement those resources. 


As with anything in life, if you do not have a method for assessing your career development plan, you are planning to fail. Establish how and when you will monitor progress toward your goals. If your goal is to make an additional $5,000 by the end of next year, measure your progress quarterly so you can adjust your strategy as needed. If your goal is to expand your professional network, assess your progress weekly by counting the number of new contacts you’ve made that week. When you have a plan for assessing your progress, failures aren’t failures – they’re indicators that a change of course is needed.

Ready to create a successful career development plan?

Creating a career development plan is well worth the effort. It’s your tool for getting from where you are to where you want to be. Craft a succinct career path to reach your goals with Tony Robbins’ Goal Setting Workshop.