Whether you’re at the start of your career with only a faint idea of what you want to do, or you know exactly what you want but aren’t sure how to get there, having a career plan is the key to plotting your next steps.

And if you’re in the former category, don’t worry—everyone has to start somewhere. Even the most impressive of careers started with entry-level positions and the nagging feeling of “what’s next?”

Actively planning your career allows you to take control and groom yourself for your next step. Plus, a career plan will help you navigate which lateral moves to make, milestones to aim for, and sequential promotions to approach all the way to your dream job. Let's get started.

How to build a career plan that leads to your ideal job.

Step 1: Identify your dream job.

Not sure what that is yet?

Move on to step 2.

Consider what you’ll need to get there and make lists for:

  • Necessary skills
  • Required industry experience
  • Recommended leadership roles

Now that you know where you’re going … back up to where you are.

Step 2: Self-reflection and self-assessment

Use your self-assessment and self-reflection to consider potential dream jobs. Keep this information in mind when considering future roles, employers and industries.


List your top soft skills.


  • Ability to simplify complex problems
  • Public speaking
  • Big picture strategy
List your hard skills.


  • Salesforce certified
  • Proficient in Adobe suite
  • Coding languages like HTML or Java
Identify your industry experience


  • Retail
  • Food
  • Construction


Think about weaknesses and gaps in your skills or experience that might hinder you down the line.

This will help you create milestones to work toward. Examples:

  • I don’t have the right industry experience for where I want to end up
  • I need more management experience
  • I don’t have the right certifications
Write down your personal values.

Ideally, these will work with your employer’s culture. Examples:

  • Positive environmental impact
  • Time with family and friends
  • Travel

Step 3: Identify next step jobs.

These are the rungs to your ladder!

Pinpoint 2 to 5 lateral and or sequential jobs that will help you land your dream job.

  • Lateral moves build well-rounded skills.
  • Sequential move are typically promotions that move you up to a new level of management or responsibility.

For each one, consider what you need to get the gig, like:

  • Pre-requisite certifications or positions
  • Soft skills
  • Job and or industry experience
  • Network contacts

Step 4: Time to plan!

Create a general career map which ends at you dream job.

Pinpoint 2 to 5 lateral and or sequential jobs that will help you land your dream job.

Start with where you are now and build a logical sequence your career can follow.

Need direction?

Out of the positions you listed in step 3, which one is the most realistic to pursue next? And after that?

Pro tip.

Keep in mind that pursuing lateral moves may work nicely toward preparing you for a big leap.

Now get specific and create your 5-year career plan.

Evaluate your current situation. Ask yourself:

  • Does my current employer offer opportunities I can pursue?
  • If not, do I have any helpful contacts in my network?

Research factors you can control, including:

  • Learning opportunities at your employer, on your own or via outside programs
  • Volunteering for organizations that will help you practice new skills, demonstrate more experience, or even create a portfolio
  • Networking opportunities, both online and at in-person events

Identify where you want to be at the end of 5 years, keeping in mind how this will relate to achieving that dream job.  Break this down to achievable mini milestones with steps to achieve each one.

Example 5-year plan

  • Dream job: CMO at an environmentally conscious company
  • 5-year goal: Marketing manager
  • Current position: P R Coordinator

Milestone 1

ASAP: Get approval from manager to take on cross-functional projects.

Next steps
  • Offer help to the marketing team
  • Express desire to pursue an entry-level marketing role
  • Take internal training capsules on social media marketing and email marketing
  • Start regularly reading blogs related to branding and digital marketing

Milestone 2

6 months to 1 year: Make lateral move to marketing coordinator

Next steps
  • Identify my marketing niche: email marketing, social media, or content strategy
  • Take certification courses to prove skills in that area
  • Write out an argument for promotion and present it at my annual review. Quantify my impact and show improvements to programs based on my efforts.

Milestone 3

2 to 3 years: Land a promotion to Marketing specialist at current employer or elsewhere

Next steps
  • Maintain knowledge of wider marketing strategy by reading industry thought leadership
  • Look for ways to lead projects to demonstrate leadership potential
  • Research environmentally conscious employers and keep an eye on job openings
  • Make strategic connections with people at my organization and at other target employers

Milestone 4

5 years: Get promoted to marketing manager at current employer or elsewhere

Author: Anne Shaw
Source: The MuseOpens in a new window