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

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.

How to Create Your 5-Year 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: 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 3: 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 4: 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 5: 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 6: 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 7: 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.

Final Thoughts

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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Featured photo credit: J. Kelly Brito via


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