How to create a 5 year career plan

Every year as I prepare for my annual review, I take the opportunity to look back and reflect on the year’s achievements (and challenges).  Equally important, though, is to look and plan ahead for the future chapters in my career.

This year, I have been working through recalibrating my 5 year career plan, and in doing so, thought I would capture the criteria and considerations that weigh in to the planning effort.

Debt/Income review
An obvious output of my career is earning an income, and using that income to pay for living expenses, debt, and contribute to savings (both long term and short).  So in planning out the next five years, I lay out the income I want to achieve, and how that translates in to either percentage raises each year, or the need to move to a higher pay scale through changing roles or employers.

Family Unit review (how old will kids be?)
At present I have 2 kids, ages 5 and 3, with another coming in the next few months.  As I plan out 5 years, I have to think about life with a 5, 8 and 10 year old.  For me, one thing that is especially important is being able to participate in and support my kids in their academics and extra-curricular activities.  So I have to think about a career path that will afford me the flexibility to go watch after-school sporting events, for instance.  Similarly, reflecting on and evaluating how my employer values family is a big part of this review.

Career trajectory (dev -> lead -> PM -> Mgr -> Exec)
I have always assumed an upward mobility in my career, with each change in position providing increases in responsibility, income and influence.  In truth, my career path has had a bit more of a sawtooth pattern, as I rise through the ranks, then return to a mostly developer role before rising up again.  There really is no wrong answer here, but one should determine where they want to move towards in order to be able to determine if their current position or role is supporting that goal.  Additionally, does your employment situation offer opportunity for growth and promotion?

Skills (are there new skills I need/want to learn)
For a short period of time I held a contract with a state agency.  While there were a lot of things about working for Government that did not appeal to me, one thing this agency did particularly well was enact a commitment to training their employees.  All the full time staff in the group in which I worked were expected to identify and take 40 hours of outside training each year.  This time was factored in to the budgets and planning of all the projects.  In many ways, I had not seen an employer be so faithful to a professional development initiative as that agency.

As part of my career plan, I have to evaluate my current skill sets and identify the areas where I want to improve or expand.  From that, I have to evaluate my employer’s interest, commitment and willingness to invest in professional development.

Business type
Somewhere along the line of my career planning, I determined that I wanted to work in a variety of businesses.  These included:

  • owning my own business
  • working for a small business
  • working for a non-profit
  • working for a government
  • working for a publicly traded company
  • working for a large (nationally recognized) company

As I consider my current employment state, and thus current employer, is it helping me achieve this goal of having a diversity of workplace experiences?

Using this framework has been helpful for me to think about and prioritize my career plan.

About the author

derek Derek Smith is a software developer with 20 years of history developing on the Microsoft platform. He is the founder of HomeSpot HQ, and is the Director for Microsoft SharePoint Professional Services at rmsource, inc. in Raleigh, NC. Derek is on Twitter, , and Linked In

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