The end of the year is a time for reflection. So close to January, we all start thinking of our New Year’s resolutions and make plans for the next 12 months.
Don’t forget to include professional development in your game plan for 2024. Whatever you want to achieve work-wise over the next 365 days needs to be carefully thought out. A career action plan can help you with that.
A career action plan is a list of long-term and short-term professional goals and steps you need to take to achieve them. The time scope of a career action plan differs - you can create it for 3 months, 5 months, or even a full year.
A career action plan helps you set realistic goals for yourself and keep track of your achievements. It is very difficult to make substantial progress when you don’t have any specific objectives or don’t measure your growth in any way.
Once you write your career action plan, you will have a crystal-clear picture of what you want to do, what you have already done, and what you still have to do to achieve your goals.
Decide what you really want to do and what career you wish to pursue. If you’re already professionally active, are you happy with your job? Or is it time for a career change?
If you’re a fresh graduate looking for your first working experience, what industry interests you? Or perhaps you’re preparing to get back to work after a career break. Do you want to return to your previous job? What steps can you take to rejoin the workforce? Maybe you should consider looking for a returnship?
You must be honest with yourself because all the next steps in your career action plan will depend on this one. If the foundation is faulty, the entire structure will collapse sooner or later.
Next, you have to make a list of all your strengths and limitations. What are you good at? What needs improvement? Are there any skills you know there is little chance of developing on a professional level?
Your career action plan needs to be realistic, which means you have to be absolutely honest about what you can and cannot do. Seeing all your strengths and weaknesses listed side by side will help you understand what career is right for you.
It is crucial to know what you can and want to do. But it is equally important to be aware of what you’re not good at. Setting challenges for yourself is a good thing, but you would be unhappy in a career where you’d struggle all the time.
Find a healthy balance and focus on careers that will allow you to use your strong skills and develop the weaker ones without burning you out.
Now that you know what you’d like to do and what you are good at, it is time to face those facts with reality. Sadly, personal preferences aren’t the only guidelines when it comes to choosing a career.
When you write a career action plan, you have to be up to date with what is happening in the job market. Which jobs are in demand? Is your preferred profession among them? Which sectors are on the decline and difficult to find a position in?
Another factor to take into consideration is the finances. What is the average salary for your target role, with your experience and in your location? Is that enough for you? Do you need to look for another, better-paid job?
But compensation is not the only area in which your location matters. Certain jobs are often in higher demand in some regions than in others. If the career you’d like to pursue is currently on the decline where you live, you have two options.
One, change your angle and look for work in a different sector. Or two, look for your desired position in a different country.
Is it time to relocate? If so, make Europe Language Jobs part of your career action plan. It is the best place to find a job abroad.
Once you are more self-aware, it is time to get down to logistics. Decide the scope of your career action plan.
Do you want to achieve your goals in 3 months? Do you need more time? Maybe your self-reflection has led you to discover there is much to work on and you will need up to a year?
There is no right or wrong answer. How long you set out to take to complete your career action plan is entirely up to you. The time frame depends on your personal situation, how big the changes you wish to make are, the time you can dedicate to working towards your goals, and more.
So, it doesn’t matter if it’s 3 months or 6 months or 1 year. The most important thing is - again - to be realistic. Give yourself all the time you need to avoid rising frustration along the process if a deadline you set turns out too tight.
Once you have decided how much time you need to complete your career action plan, it is time to set realistic goals. Use the SMART method to make sure your objectives are ambitious but down-to-earth.
Knowing how much time you have will allow you to create long-term and short-term goals. Effective planning must include both types. You cannot create a sustainable strategy with just short-term or only long-term goals.
The long-term goals will act as major milestones and act as something to strive towards. The short-term goals are easier and quicker to achieve, keeping you motivated along the way.
Picture it as a video game, if you will. Long-term goals are levels you need to unlock, and short-term objectives are the paving stones leading the way towards them. The interface of Duolingo illustrates that perfectly:
The “Level up” is a long-term goal, and the little achievements along the way are short-term goals leading you to upgrade.
Remember to assign a time frame to every goal separately. It is not enough to decide that completing the entire career action plan will take you 5 months. You need to map out every step of the way and set clear, realistic deadlines.
Setting goals is a huge part of writing your career action plan. But even short-term goals cannot be reached if you don’t break them down into little actionable steps.
Goals are your destination, steps are how you get there. Think of going on a trip. You can’t just teleport from one place to another - you need a car, a plane, or any other mode of transport. Additionally, you won’t reach your target blindly navigating the road. You need to plan the route with a map or use a GPS to get there safely and quickly.
Objectives and goals work in the same way. A long-term goal is your destination, short-term goals are stages in your journey, and steps are all the little details such as how you get there, where you stop for petrol, or what snacks you bring.
During your job market research, you discover that German is currently in very high demand among employers. You used to learn German but it has been a while since you used it, and your language skills got a bit rusty. You would currently describe yourself as a low B1, but you need to reach a strong B2 level to have a chance of getting a job with German.
Long-term goal: Reach an upper B2 level certification in German
Short-term goals: read a book in German, hold a 30-minute conversation entirely in German, watch a film in German without subtitles
Steps to get there: sign up for a language course, find a language exchange partner, go on a trip to Germany
Of course, this template is missing one very important aspect: deadlines. The goals are not time-based, which makes them impossible to achieve, but it’s just a rough sketch to illustrate the difference between long-term goals, short-term goals, and steps.
Theory is one thing. Practice is a wholly different matter.
When entering the execution phase of your career action plan, remember that the strategy you created is not set in stone.
Yes, it is important to respect deadlines and do your best to achieve your goals in time. Do not slack off, but keep in mind that circumstances can change.
If your goal was to complete an online marketing course in 2 weeks, but something happened that forced you to put the course on a back burner for a bit, don’t stress. It will delay your progress, but the most important things are still the health and well-being of you and your loved ones.
If your career action plan is timed for 6 months, you cannot put your whole life on hold during that time. Build the deadlines around your regular tasks and obligations, and don’t forget to leave time for relaxation and fun.
You are in charge of your career progression, so you are also authorised to make necessary changes in the case of an unexpected curveball life likes throwing at all of us.
May the one who has never made an action plan and then forgot about it be the first to throw the stone.
We’re only human. We’ve all had our “flash in the pan” moments. One day, you wake up motivated and convince yourself you’ll be jogging every day for the rest of your life. A week later, you sell your running shoes on eBay because what seemed like a brilliant idea now feels more like a momentary lapse in judgment.
One way to prevent discarding your career action plan is to monitor your progress. If you set SMART goals, achieving them one by one will come naturally.
You can’t make any real progress without knowing where you’re at. Set alarms for your deadlines, schedule reminders to keep on top of your tasks, and check every goal off your list.
There is a reason creating to-do lists is so satisfying. Humans were made to feed on gratification, and there are few things more satisfying than ticking a box next to a task you completed or an objective you reached.
Regularly make a balance of what elements of your career action plan got done, and which didn’t. Analyse why this happened and adjust your strategy accordingly.
My Duolingo loves feeding me random fun facts.
By spending 15 minutes a day learning French, you could learn 1000 words every month.
By reaching a 14-day streak, you are 5x more likely to complete the course.
By reaching a 50-day streak, you are 9x more likely to complete the course.
And so on.
This article is not sponsored by Duolingo. They are just really good at stressing the importance of consistency and mapping out goals.
And consistency is key. Going back to the example of jogging: do you know why it didn’t work out? Because going for a run every single day is not feasible for most people.
Those shoes wouldn’t have ended up on eBay so soon if the goal was jogging twice or three times a week. Sometimes, less is more.
Don’t bite off more than you can chew. An elephant can be eaten in one go. Space out your long-term goals, short-term goals, and steps.
Doing something for 20 minutes a day for a year brings better results than spending 2 hours a day on something you give up after a month. Remember that when writing your career action plan.
Voilà - here is your recipe for a smart career action plan. The key takeaway is to be 3 things: honest with yourself, consistent, and flexible.
Writing a career action plan will help you create a clear path for yourself, set goals, and keep track of your progress. Professional development is a key ingredient of happiness and quality of life, so preparing a strategy works in your favour.
Get familiar with Europe Language Jobs’ career advice blog and continue growing professionally - in and beyond 2024.