Skip to content

What’s your career plan?

It’s time again to write personal assessments at Microsoft (aka “Connects”). I detailed the “looking backward” section in Connects with impact. The “going forward” section is broken into your business plan for the upcoming period and your personal growth and development plan. Your business plan for the upcoming period should be taken directly from your group’s and team’s existing plans, but what about your personal growth plan?

Creating a useful and effective personal growth and development plan (aka “career plan”) may seem onerous. Some folks know exactly what they want to do and what they wish to become. God bless them. The rest of us are still figuring it out. If you’re figuring it out, what do you write down? How do you answer your manager’s question: “What would you like to achieve in your career?”

Writing an actionable career plan can be straightforward after answering these three questions: What career goal do you have? (If none, there’s a default.) What are your steps to get there? And what are the gaps between now and your next step? Let’s answer these questions together and create a plan.

Eric Aside

If you’re a manager, you can use the three questions to help your staff create their career plans.

I won’t grow up

What career goal do you have? While it’s okay if you don’t have one right now (we’ll cover that shortly), take a moment to reflect. Do you envision yourself attaining some role in the future? Would you be disappointed if you didn’t reach a particular level by retirement? Do you have a role model you wish to emulate?

If you do have answers to one or more of these questions, let’s double-check them. Is your goal what you want, or is it what you sense your family or society wants from you? Is your goal consistent with your values and personal goals (family, community, hobby, spiritual)? Reexamine your career goal and adjust it as needed to resonate with your whole self, not just your professional self.

At this point, you should be able to articulate your long-term career goal or say you don’t have one right now. If you don’t have a long-term goal, your default goal is to get promoted to the senior level. If you’ve already reached the senior level, your default goal is to continue improving yourself and the value you deliver. Congratulations, you’ve got a career goal!

Eric Aside

For more about different levels and why your minimum goal should be reaching the senior level, read Level up. For more about plateauing at any level, read Permanently high plateau.

Put one foot in front of the other

You’ve got a career goal; what are your steps to get there? If your career goal is getting to a particular level, the steps are the levels in between. Likewise, if you’re an individual contributor and your career goal is to be a VP, the steps to get there are the roles in between: lead, group manager, and director. If your goal is to improve yourself at your current level, the steps are to strengthen or mitigate the areas you’d most like to develop.

Coming up with steps is straightforward. To make your career plan actionable, you need targets. When do you want to achieve your career goal? When does that imply you should complete each step along the way? Naturally, these timeframes are inexact, but setting targets helps you, your manager, your mentors/coaches, your co-workers, and your friends and family make concrete plans to help you reach your goal. The targets can also indicate if your goal is too aggressive or passive, which may cause you to shift your targets and/or goal.

Your career goal, steps to get there, and target timeframes to complete each step form a career plan that’s ready to discuss with your manager, mentors, and family and friends. Listen to their feedback. Adjust based on what resonates with your whole self. Even if your final plan turns out not to be as aggressive or lofty as your initial plan was, you’ll feel invigorated knowing you’ve got clear, achievable steps to reach a career goal that fits your life and values.

Eric Aside

For more on navigating to a long-term goal, read The value of navigation.

One step at a time

Now you’ve got a career plan. How do you start achieving it? Ask key people, “What are the gaps between now and my next step?” Those people start with you and may include your manager, spouse, mentor, close friend, or whoever you believe has insight into you completing your next step.

Often, there are multiple gaps between your current skill set and the next step in your career plan. Don’t work on all of them at once. Instead, start with the gap that most significantly impedes your progress (your key people can help you identify it). Strengthen your skills and mitigate your weaknesses until that one gap is no longer the most significant. Then close the next most significant gap. Here’s a template for your career plan that might help organize your thoughts.

Career goal: Become a <role/level/position>.



<Next role/level/position>


<Following role/level/position>


<Following role/level/position>


<Goal role/level/position>


Gaps to reach next step (in order of significance):

  • <Gap that most significantly impedes my progress>
  • <Next most significant gap>
  • <Next most significant gap>

Life is hectic. People have trouble changing more than one thing at a time. Focus really helps. Choose your biggest gap, close it, and repeat until you’ve achieved your next step.

Eric Aside

For more on focusing your efforts, read Out of focus.

When You Wish Upon a Star

Congratulations! You now have a career plan with a goal, concrete steps, target dates, and specific skill gaps to focus on improving right away. Well done.

Remember to put all your planning within the context of your whole self. You can’t enjoy success in one area if you’re struggling in another. Remember to share your plan, including steps, targets, and gaps, with the important people in your life. Listen to their feedback and adjust if it resonates with you. Remember to focus on one improvement at a time. Change is hard, and progress is easier to see and achieve when you focus.

Over time, your career goal may change. That’s fine. Come up with new steps, targets, and gaps and share them with peers, friends, and family. What’s important is to work toward a goal, improve yourself, and make a positive difference for the people in your life. Doing so makes each day worth living.

Eric Aside

Special thanks to James Waletzky for providing valuable feedback on the first draft of this month’s column.

Want personalized coaching on this topic or any other challenge? Schedule a free, confidential call. I provide one-on-one career coaching with an emphasis on underrepresented, midcareer software professionals. Find out more at Ally for Onlys in Tech.

Published inUncategorized

Be First to Comment

Your take?

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: