How to Make a 5-Year Career Plan

Ready to start or move up in your career but unsure where to start? We’ve got you covered. Every career is a journey, and it’s important to know which road you need to take to get there. Start with this five-year plan so you can concrete on goals for yourself and track your progress along the way.

1. Chose a field.

If you’re not sure what line of work to pursue, there are a few ways to figure it out without investing too much of your time.

  • Job shadowing: Get experience while you spend a day in someone else’s shoes (or close to it). You’ll get to see the ins and outs of that person’s everyday life and typical responsibilities.
  • Internships: Paid or unpaid internships are a more long-term version of a job shadow. While you will be required to accomplish more work than just observe, the responsibility will be less than a full-time employee.
  • Network: Find someone to talk to about their career path and the field they work in. This person may be a friend of a friend or someone who works for a company you admire. Regardless of how you connect with them, come up with questions and listen intently.

2. Plan backwards.

Once you have a vocation in mind, start your career plan with Year 5. What’s your end goal? Is it management? Higher wages? A job in a different department? Take the time to write out the things that are important to you now and how they could manifest themselves in a future role. Make sure it’s something that could realistically happen within five years, as many jobs require specific years of experience. You want to aspire to something great but also attainable.

Once you have your five-year goals in mind, start to fill in the gaps in between with a plan. Consider all the things you can do in Year 2 that will prepare you for the next year, the year after and so on. When you look at Year 5 goals, they may seem out of your reach, but if you break it down into smaller steps in between, it will help you to see the light at the end of the tunnel and maintain your motivation.

Below is an example chart to help you get started:

3. Don’t skip steps.

You can’t expect to rise from janitor to CEO without holding down any jobs in between. Since this is the planning stage of your career, make sure you don’t skip any intermediate steps on the path. One of the greatest assets you can have in your professional portfolio is your experience and expertise. Take the time in and out of work to expand your knowledge base and connections with like-minded colleagues. At times, this may feel like you’re not progressing further. Don’t think of it as a race, but rather a time to bulk up your foundation so, when you begin to build on it and move up, you will stand firm in the skills and connections you’ve built along the way.

4. Learn new skills.

Your plan so far might be a list of job titles or salaries between now and Year 5. Now comes the most important step of all: acquiring the skills to take you from one job to another. Does the role you’re pursuing require a specific education, skill set or amount of experience? Plan out how and when you will attain all this knowledge. Perhaps in Year 1 you could take a few courses at the university. In Year 2 you could focus on volunteering to gain additional experience. But this step could also be as simple as borrowing a book from the library to learn about new computer software. Whatever your career path requires, it’s time to write out your personal curriculum. Refer back to the plan you created in step two and see where you can benefit from additional education and training.

Here is our example from before with skill expansion considered:


Be sure to review your five-year plan every six months or so to make sure you’re staying on track. If you’ve veered off in a different direction, make the necessary adjustments to your goals and keep at it. If you’re in a rut, consider getting feedback from your peers and managers or from someone who’s career path you look up to.

If you’re ready to really plan ahead and look even further into the future, take a look at our 10-year plan.


Babs is a content writer at Enova International, Inc. with a Bachelors in Cinema Studies and English from the University of Illinois (ILL-INI!). She loves binge watching musicals, reading in the (sporadic) Chicago sunshine and discovering great new places to eat. Accio, tacos! Find out more about her on Google+.


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