It’s time to make a career development plan
Building a career in insurance offers plenty of promise with many different paths to choose from. Perhaps you already know the direction you would like your career to take; or maybe you don’t just yet. Either way, your future success will take work, thought, and planning. Don’t wait. Here’s what you need to know to get started on your career development plan today.
What is a Career Development Plan?
A career development plan (CDP) is a document that states your career goals and outlines the steps to take to achieve those goals.
Think of a CDP as a route map for a road trip. Mapping your route out in advance can save you time along the way, helping you take the most efficient path to your destination and avoid missteps along the way. If your travel companion suggests stopping at an interesting site, you check your route map to see if it is along the way or not.
Why have a career development plan?
Preparing a written career development plan gives you the chance to reflect on your objectives and aspirations and forces you to think what it would take to achieve your goal. And, having your CDP at hand helps you to make well-informed decisions about your career along the way, including future career moves.
When do you need a career development plan?
Every insurance professional, or aspiring insurance professional, should have a career development plan throughout their career. At the beginning of your career and at every stage along the way, your plan will help you decide which skills to work on, which courses to study, which opportunities to pursue, and even who might be a suitable mentor. So, the perfect time to develop your career development plan is now. No excuses. Don’t procrastinate thinking you should wait until you’ve got that promotion or taken that course.
How to use a career development plan
A career development plan isn’t something that you simply create at the beginning of your career and set aside. Rather, you should treat it a living document, something that you regularly review and update. Why? Because that is how life is. Unexpected things happen. New opportunities arise, the market changes, technology changes and yes, you may also run into major roadblocks. Your career development plan isn’t a paper route map but rather, more like a satnav system that recalculates when ever needed. Of course that doesn’t happen automatically. Recalculating will be up to you.
What to include in your plan?
A career development plan can be simple or it can be quite detailed.
Include this key information in your plan:
- Goals – short-term / mid-term / long-term
What is your ultimate career goal? Again, look at your CDP as a route map for your road trip. The long-term goal is your destination on the journey. Unless you’re already almost there, you’ll need to break it down into steps. This helps make things more manageable. Think about what you need to accomplish in the next 6 – 12 months. Or the next 2 -3 years. These steps are your short-term and medium-term goals.
- Action plan – be very specific.
Break your goals down even further into achievable objectives that you can work on one by one or in parallel to achieve your goals. Make sure your objectives that are attainable and measurable. This is the most dynamic part of your plan.
What does a career development plan look like? Remember this is YOUR plan. Some people like to create a written document that looks much like a business plan. Others are more comfortable with a spreadsheet or table format – there are some great examples on the Internet. What is most important, is that whichever format you choose is one that works well for you.
Download a sample template at the end of this article.
6 Steps to a Career Development Plan
STEP 1: Assess your current situation
Understanding your current career status is the first step in creating a plan for your professional development.
Identify your present capabilities and skills:
- What education course have you completed or are you working on?
- What experience have you gained so far that you enjoyed and/or were good at?
- What do you like, and not like about your current role?
STEP 2: Define your goal – your dream job
Dream a little
What do you envision for your career? Where do you want to go, what do you want to do or become? You may not have a clear picture in your mind but jot down what you do know. Do you like to work alone or prefer working with a team? Do you want to become a leader? How about a subject matter specialist? Is there a subject matter that you find particularly interesting? Or a business area of interest such as claims, underwriting, or operations, etc. What about lifestyle? Are you a particularly social person who loves networking? How about a salary level? Or perhaps you’re drawn to a managerial role, or to work in a specific city/country.
Research and explore
Next, look at your options. The Insurance Institute of Canada has a great insurance Career Path Chart on their website. This tool provides excellent information on a range of different insurance industry career paths.
Set up time to talk to people who already have the role you’re considering. Find out what path they took, what it’s like to actually do the job and what they see as key success factors for the role. How hard did they have to work to get there? What certifications or licenses did they need to obtain? Would they recommend the role?
If you’re still not sure about your dream job, then consider setting short-term career goals (e.g. ask yourself, ‘where do I want to be, in another two, three, or five years’).
STEP 3: Perform a gap analysis
A gap analysis looks at the difference between where you are now and where you would like to be in the future. For example, you may need to undertake an additional course of study. Refer back to the first two steps. What did you learn about the skills, experience, training etc. required for your long-term goal position? How does that compare to where you’re at today? List off the areas where you have work to do; where there are gaps to fill.
Next, research what your options are for filling those gaps. Are there courses that you should take? Maybe you need to work towards a certification. Or perhaps you need to gain work experience in a specific role. Create a list of all the things you need to accomplish that will help you get to your goal – all the things that make up the knowledge, skill, experience etc. gap between today and your long-term goal.
STEP 4: Create an Action Plan with SMART Objectives
Now it’s time to draft the actual action plan.
Take another look at that gap list. Is there a specific order for completing some of the items on your list? Some things may need to be completed before you can even begin working on others. For example, you need 2 years of experience in the industry before you can apply for the company’s trainee program.
Arrange your list in chronological order and estimate the amount of time it should take to complete each item your list. You may need to do more research for this. Most likely some things you can work on in parallel. And some things will take a lot of time. For example, gaining experience in a specific line of business.
Next, ask yourself if all of the items on your list are attainable? What will have to happen to remove or circumvent any roadblocks? Will you need to move to a different role, company or city? Perhaps there is a trainee program that will help move you along the path. Or a tuition reimbursement program.
Now that you’ve worked through all these questions, you should have enough information to create your plan. We recommend using SMART Objectives.
What are SMART objectives?
An objective that meets the SMART criteria is specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. Using the SMART approach will help ensure that the objectives you set out for yourself in your plan are:
- clear – you know what the expection is (specific),
- you have a way of assessing how well you have done (measurable),
- they are objectives that you can actually meet (achievable),
- meeting those objectives will help you attain your longer term goals (relevant) and that
- meeting them will keep you on track (time-bound).
STEP 5: Implement your plan
No plan is of value if you don’t act on it. In order for your career development plan to be effective, your need to commit yourself to completing the tasks that you’ve set out for yourself and sticking to the timeline. And be sure to look out for opportunities. Refer to your plan to assess if the opportunity will help you reach your goals before committing to it.
STEP 6: Review regularly
Set a date to review your CDP and evaluate your progress (e.g., every quarter, every 6 months). Look at what is and is not working for you. Remember, be prepared to ‘recalculate’ the route to your destination so that you can skirt obstacles and take advantage of unexpected opportunities without getting off track. Always keep your eye on your destination.
When you review your plan, also take some time to revisit your goals. Are they still in line with what you want in life? People change, the world around us changes so it’s ok to make adjustments if you’re sure that’s what you want.
Keys to successful career planning
- Don’t be overwhelmed by all the analysis and decisions. Break everything down into steps, even the process of creating your CDP!
- Network, talk to others.
- Use SMART goals.
- Be strategic – use your plan to assess opportunities.
- Be flexible – keep your eye on your goal, it’s ok if the route needs to change.
- Revisit and reassess your plan.