A great way to stay on top of your career aspirations is by having a development strategy and plan in place. This organized, written document helps you visualize and articulate your goals in a concise and systematic manner. Download this template to follow along.

Your worksheet should include your goals, interests, values, and strengths. Furthermore, it should indicate the skills or experiences you need to help you grow and reach your desired outcomes. Once you list these out, you can write out your current state, desired state, and actions to close the gaps, with timelines and measurements. There are many methods to boost your capabilities without spending too much money, such as taking an online class, training on-the-job, shadowing an expert, finding a mentor, or hiring a professional coach.

As you craft your plan, here are five categories with questions you can use to help you reach your desired state:

1. Prioritize your interests, preferences, and values.

What motivates you at work? What do you enjoy doing most? What are your lifestyle needs? For example, do you need a set schedule? Do you prefer remote work or in the office? Do you want to travel? To gain clarity on your career goals and values, read this article.

2. Reflect on your current job.

What’s your satisfaction level? Are you challenged, bored, or noticing it is time for a change? What parts of your job do you love doing? What could you do to enhance your current role? What new activities or assignments would you like to try?

3. Look at the possibilities.

If there were no limitations, what would you like to be doing in the next six to twelve months, or the next few years? What do you need to do to get there? Are there software programs or other tools you’d like to be trained on to help you shine as a subject matter expert? Or perhaps you want to manage people. If so, what are the steps at your company to do that?

4. Highlight your strengths.

What are your key transferrable skills, not job-specific, that you can apply across the board? For example, are you excellent at facilitating, project managing, writing, or negotiating? What about specific online, design, or computer skills? If you’re unsure of your differentiating abilities, ask around. You may be surprised to learn what people value most about you.

5. Recognize your gaps.

Be honest with yourself. What do you need to improve or change to reach your desired goals? What’s currently holding you back from taking on additional responsibility, advancing, or looking for a new job? You can also examine what is missing by contemplating what you’d tell a friend in a similar situation. What would you recommend for them to do?

Next steps

Once you have your answers, consider your current performance. Are you meeting or exceeding expectations? If you answered yes, then it’s time to talk with your manager. If you answered no, I’d reexamine your expectations and assess if your job is the right fit. If you are stuck in a lull, look at ways to motivate yourself to perform better.

Most managers want their employees to be candid and proactive. It makes their job easier when they know what’s important to you and where you may be struggling so they can help you. As you prepare, position your thoughts to align with your manager’s goals. Join the discussion with an open mindset for new opinions and suggestions. Together, you can review your concepts, brainstorm additional ideas, and agree on the next steps and actions. Lastly, you’ll want to decide on each area’s milestones and schedule touchpoints before the calendar fills up.

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