Do you need a career plan?

What would you say if someone asked you to outline your career plan? Are you the sort of person who can give a step by step account of the coming five years? Perhaps you’d struggle to outline the next five months! The question is, does it even matter either way?

If you’ve attended any interviews recently, you’re highly likely to have been asked some form of the career plan question.

For instance:

  • Where do you see yourself in the next year/five years/ten years?
  • What are your goals for the next year/five years/ten years?
  • What are your longer-term career goals?
  • What’s your dream job?
  • Tell me more about your career hopes or aspirations?
  • What are your future goals?
  • Where do you see yourself in your career and what’s next for you?

The wording is different yet the core meaning is the same. The interviewer is trying to establish your intentions, including how likely you are to commit to the opening they’re recruiting for.

They’re also attempting to gauge your level of ambition. Depending on the job role and company set up, they may hope to see that you’re open to internal development opportunities. Conversely, they may be trying to make sure you’re not planning to climb the ranks far sooner than they’d be able to accommodate!

How to answer this sort of interview question:

Before we return to the main focus of our post (namely, whether career plans really matter!), we want to share this blog post from The Balance Careers. It contains some fantastic tips on how to answer these interview questions, with example answers to help you hone yours.

Now back to those career plans. Do you really need one?

To quote Melody Wilding, writing for Forbes, “you can move forward confidently in your career without a five-year plan. You can still be successful while doing it from a place of agility and resiliency, not pushing and forcing.”

Yes, this is excellent news for anyone who struggles to map out their future! That said, there are also some useful insights to make any existing career plans more effective.

Summarising some key points from Wilding’s feature:

  • None of us can predict our future – and that includes our future priorities and opportunities.
  • If you’re overly focused on one set plan, you may reject ‘important opportunities.’
  • You may see setbacks as failures and stop trying.
  • All in all, you may end up feeling ‘stuck’ in your career.

How to plan more effectively:

The above isn’t to say you shouldn’t consider your future plans at all. Wilding recommends:

  • Questioning whether the career path you’re on is your own or someone else’s (i.e. are you actually pursuing someone else’s idea of success? That someone else could be a boss, former teacher, partner, friend, family member…)
  • Questioning any ‘shoulds’ that crop up. For instance, saying you should pursue a promotion in your current line of work or you should want to gain managerial experience.
  • Considering the shorter term. What do you see yourself changing or not changing in the coming year?
  • Taking a more experimental approach; allowing yourself to make small changes that you can continually adapt and respond to, rather than pursuing a rigid five-year plan.
  • ‘Reframing failure as feedback’ and looking at what you’ve learned from the situation and what you can do next.
  • Reviewing your plans on a regular basis to make sure they still fit your current intentions.

What to do next:

Why not keep things simple and think about your coming year.

What are your priorities right now? Are there any non-negotiables for your next role? Is there anything that has previously been non-negotiable that you may now be open to?

Work through all of today’s questions in your own time and you’ll be ready for the career plan question…both from yourself and your future interviewers!

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