How To Develop and Write a Career Action Plan

A career action plan is a roadmap to your future

Female college student sits at desk with laptop

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A career action plan is a roadmap that will guide you from the starting point in your career to a place where you feel like you're truly advancing. For example, a career action plan can help you choose an occupation and then guide you to getting a job and advancing in your career. Also referred to as an Individualized Career Plan or an Individualized Career Development Plan, a career action plan will help you reach your career goals.

Key Takeaways

  • A career action plan is a roadmap that guides you to where you want to be in your career.
  • Choose an occupation to craft your career action plan around, and then set goals that you want to achieve.
  • The timeline for achieving your career action plan goals should start with your short-term ones and end with your primary objective.
  • Be flexible—your career action plan can always change.

Choosing an Occupation for Your Career Action Plan

The first step in developing a career action plan is choosing an occupation. You can follow the career planning process in order to identify which occupation you want to have as a career. There are a few steps to follow.

Self Assessment

Try several different self-assessment tools to learn about your values, interests, aptitudes, and personality type. Your goal is to identify a list of suitable careers that match these traits. Ideally, there should be between 10 and 15 occupations on your list.

Career Exploration

Now that you know what occupations are suitable based on your self-assessment, begin exploring the ones that interest you. Don't do an extensive investigation into every single career on your list—only ones that are real possibilities deserve that sort of attention. For the others, read more about them before eliminating them from your list. The occupation that appears on the surface as something you wouldn't like could end up being the one that interests you the most.

Dig deeper into the careers that you would consider pursuing. It's smart to narrow down your list to three to five occupations.

Make a Match

Armed with information about several careers, begin to make a final decision. Think about the pros and cons of each of your options. Consider job duties, educational requirements, earnings, and job outlook. Not only must you enjoy your work, but it also has to support your lifestyle financially and should have decent job prospects. It is also imperative that you be able to fulfill the educational requirements. Choose the career that, based on this data, is the best fit for you.

Goals: The Foundation of Your Career Action Plan

Now that you have chosen a career, it is time to set goals that will make up the foundation of your career action plan. Include short-term objectives which you can reach in under a year and long-term ones that will take from one to five years to achieve.


A career action plan is different than a simple list of goals. It also includes all the steps you will need to take to reach them.

You can follow these steps to set goals for your career action plan:

  • Make a list of every career goal you might want to achieve: Remember this is your list, and no one is judging what you put on it. These goals can be small, like getting a positive review from a boss, and big, like making a six-figure salary one day.
  • Categorize your goals into short-term goals and long-term goals: Applying to college or a training program, for example, will take less than one year to do, so put that on the short-term goal list. On the other hand, getting your degree or finishing the program is generally a long-term one that could take four or more years.
  • Identify barriers that could threaten your ability to reach your goals: There is likely to be something that comes up along the way. Considering what that could be and how it could impact your career action plan is important. You can then figure out if and how to overcome those challenges. If you can't find viable solutions, you may need to reformulate your goals. If, for instance, you have a learning disability that could impede your ability to earn a degree, find a college that provides students with resources to help them succeed.

How To Write Your Career Action Plan

Finally, it's time to write your career action plan. Your timeline for achieving your goals should start with your short-term ones and end with your primary objectives, such as getting your first job or being promoted to a certain title and salary. Some people find it helpful to begin their plan at the end with the primary objective. You could state the goal that will take the most time first, and work your way backward, putting a plan in place for how you could achieve it. There is no hard and fast rule, as long as your plan is easy for you to understand and follow.

List each of your goals and indicate how long it will take to achieve each one (just estimate the timing to the best of your ability).

Then, beneath each goal, write a bulleted list of every step you need to take to achieve that goal. In this bulleted list, you should also state the barriers that might get in the way, along with workable solutions for overcoming them.


Your career action plan should be flexible. Don't be afraid to make changes to it as you go, such as adding more short-term goals to the plan.

After you're done writing your career action plan, follow it. Set aside time on a weekly or daily basis to review it and the steps you need to take to reach your goals. You can even make a career action plan alongside a friend and then check in with each other every week. The important thing is to hold yourself accountable and take action on the plan.

Once you reach your primary objective and goal, you can start all over with a new career action plan.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is a career action plan?

A career action plan is a document that outlines your plan and strategy for achieving your career goals. It can guide you from landing your first job to leveling up to the C-suite, if that's what you want to do. It's also known as an Individualized Career Plan or an Individualized Career Development Plan.

Why is it important to have a career action plan?

It's important to have a career action plan because it can help you achieve your career goals. It outlines smart steps that you can take to reach your career potential. From landing your first job to becoming a manager, a career action plan is a roadmap that you can follow so that you can advance in your career. Setting goals like this can help you reach milestones in life that you're proud of.

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The Balance uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Penn Law. "Career Advancement Minute: Setting Short-Term and Long-Term Career Goals."

  2. American Psychological Association. "Setting, Elaborating, and Reflecting on Personal Goals Improves Academic Performance."

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