I’m talking about career development goals. You may be required to develop or update a career development plan as part of your firm’s evaluation process. Some are part of a formal program, while others are less structured. If you are not required to do so, you should take the time to do it yourself.
What is a career development plan? In simple terms, it’s a collection of your own goals that you can use to keep yourself on track. It is something concrete you can look back at over the course of the year to make sure you are moving in the right direction. It will let you evaluate each new opportunity that comes your way and will help you determine whether taking the opportunity will move you toward your goals or will infringe on the time and energy that you need to achieve your goals.
For example, your career development plan should “address what you want to accomplish, what you are going to do, and how you are going to do it.” Your goals should be realistic and include a plan for addressing your current circumstances, including any deficiencies or limitations that you face. Your plan for reaching those goals should include a specific time frame in which you want to achieve your goal and each step toward your goal. It should include both short-term (today through the next five years) and long-term (five to ten-or-more years out) goals.
There are a million different things that could be (and have been) written about how to develop and update career development plans, and the process can be overwhelming. The greatest challenge is to not focus on everything, particularly for newer associates, who are very much aware of the many skills we must develop.
And here is where other people fit in. Find a mentor to talk to about your career development plan. Better yet, find several. Talk to them before you put your career development plan in writing. They can help you figure out where to start, what to focus on and how to get to where you want to go. They can also be instrumental in helping you achieve your goals once you have set them.
I think a good mentor will tell you that your career development plan should be about you. Your plan cannot and should not mirror someone else’s. Yours may address substantive or technical skills or an area of expertise you want to develop, an industry you want to learn more about, a marketing strategy, a networking plan and a personal or work/life balance goal, among other things.
Just keep in mind that, once you have developed it, your career development plan should not add more work or stress to your life. Rather, it should help you streamline your extracurricular activities, give you a checklist that will let you easily determine whether to accept or pass on an opportunity or even an assignment and provide you with a vehicle through which to seek new opportunities, relationships, support and assignments.