The ultimate guide to crafting a five-year career plan

Woman thinks deeply to solve a problem at work

A five-year plan is the ideal time frame to shape your career development plans within, particularly for those who are looking to progress into management roles.

Whether you’ve landed in a particular sector or actively moved into an area you’re passionate about, careers can be an unpredictable thing. For starters, you never quite know where they’ll take you, both physically and figuratively. You might find yourself working halfway across the world geographically, or it may be metaphorical comfort zones they take you out of, allowing you to pick up new skills along the way.

On the other hand, you might be in a career or position you dislike, or found that you haven’t progressed in the way you thought you would. Even if we’re happy in our roles, planning some career goals is a good idea, as they give us something to progress towards over the course of our working lives.

Woman plans ahead using sticky notes on a board

A five-year plan is the ideal time frame to shape your career development plans within, particularly for those who are looking to progress into management roles. It’s not too far off, but long enough to give us the time we need to ideally reach our goals. A superb way of tracking milestones and laying down a solid foundation for long-term professional success, we’ve drawn up an extensive guide to crafting, and getting the most from, your five-year career plan if you’re looking to make your move into management.

Why is a five-year plan important?

A goal without a plan is just a wish.

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

If you’re lacking direction in your current role, or looking to get a head start, then a career plan is a great way to navigate the choppy seas of career development. It brings the realisation of where you want to be and what you need to do into sharp relief, aligning your career goals with actions and aims that can be accomplished in a given frame of time. By taking a look at your situation, you’ll be in a position to identify, and then fill, the gaps in your knowledge that are holding you back from the dream job you want to move into.

Plus, you’ll have a more-than-solid answer for the age-old “where do you see yourself in the next five years?” interview question.

What should your five-year career plan include?

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”

Abraham Lincoln

The finished product of your career plan usually takes the form of a series of steps that tracks where you are now in your current position, to where you want to be in the future. The first step should be detailing where it is you want to be – what is the ultimate goal that you strive for? It helps here to be as specific as possible: narrow things down to a specific discipline and role, rather than just a sector you’d like to work in.

In defining your goals, prioritise your choice based on your interests and strengths, and consider the importance of things such as salary, company culture, working hours and how long your commute may be.

Define success as you see it

Additionally, a definition of your own idea of success is worth writing up too. Far too often, we get swept up in society’s view of what success entails, putting undue pressure on ourselves to meet these supposed ideals. The pursuit of unrealistic goals can be harmful; it’s far better to create your own idea of success and the path you’ll take to get there. After all, are you detailing this plan for yourself, or for somebody else?

List out your skills, abilities and experience

You’ll gain a better understanding of the career path that suits you, while also helping you figure out if you’re qualified enough to take your chosen option by detailing your current skills and experience. Also, here’s where you’ll be able to identify some of the skills that are missing from your repertoire. Since you’re making a move into a management role, there’s a lot to consider compared to the executive roles you might have had in the past.

Look for the gaps in your abilities

For one, there’s an increasing focus on utilising soft skills in management positions. A balance of both role-specific attributes and personal traits is an attractive proposition to hiring managers, and you’d do well to sharpen up these skills if you’re looking to further your career. Things like communication, critical thinking and time management are all highly valued in this day and age; if you feel as though you’re lacking in areas such as these, be sure to visit our article on the attributes that are crucial for career development. If you’re looking for further reading on the topic, then you’ll find further office traits with this list of management skills no leader should be without.

Its own topic altogether, multi-tasking is another key area that the modern manager should have a hold on, and one which you should consider mastering on the path to your career goals. Since you’ll be taking on more tasks and duties than previous roles, it’s an essential skill to have in a management position. If this is something you’ve struggled with in the past, then consider using some multi-tasking techniques in your current role. There are loads of different things you can use to balance your duties at once, some of which we’ve collected in our guide to getting more done through multi-tasking.

Set out some goals and actions

Along with sharpening up your skills, set out milestones that you want to achieve. In doing so, it’ll help you decide the actions that you need to take in order to achieve them. Setting deadlines for each of your goals will help to motivate you to accomplish them too; providing a realistic context that helps to power you through. Whether they’re short-term or long-term, big or small, these measurable moments drive you onwards to your own definition of success. If you’re looking for more articles on learning the management ropes as you develop your career, then be sure to check out the below:

How to pick a management style that suits you

6 tips for managing a large team

How to effectively manage others


How do I create my own five-year plan?

“The future is already here – it’s just not evenly distributed.”

William Gibson

There are plenty of sample career development plans that you can use for inspiration, replacing sections as you see fit to provide a framework for your own plan. Something that will be key to your plan is a proper goal-setting system that records your goals, reasons for them, steps towards achieving them, dates for when they’ll be achieved and anything that might stand in your way. There are some excellent programs and applications used for this purpose specifically, so it’s well worth looking around to find one that works for you.

Remember, there are occasions that can’t be planned for. We don’t mean setbacks or roadblocks, but unexpected instances that provide you with positive opportunities. In your career plan, it’s worth leaving space for those unexpected but appealing moments that can lead to great opportunities. It could be that you welcome these opportunities, should they arise.

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