Its best to think of a career plan as a continually evolving structure. Our perspective and goals change as we gain experience over time. We need to continually evaluate our values and skills. Developing a career plan every couple of years is a way to explore available options and make desirable life changes.
The following is a summary of the five main components of a career plan.
1. A self-assessment
We need to learn about ourselves and the ways in which we have changed over time. Developing a new career plan allows for this by beginning with a self-assessment. Answer questions such as:
- Which aspects of dietetics/nutrition interest me the most?
- What skills have I acquired over the past few years?
- What do I value most in my life?
- How could my career address my top values?
2. Determining career goals
At this step, we will determine 2 to 4 career goals. This is an extension of our self-assessment and includes visualizing the future. Where do we want to be in 2 years from now? 5 years from now? and 10 years from now?
One easy way to do this is to imagine a typical day in our future.
- How will I describe to friends and family what I do for a living?
- Who will I work with?
- How much time will I spend working?
- What will my role be at work? (Will I be an administrator or an employee, a leader or a follower, overseeing or enacting?)
- What will I love about my job?
- How much money will I earn? (What kind of lifestyle will I be able to afford?)
- How much responsibility will I have? (A lot, moderate amounts, or very little?)
Completing a small job search is helpful in expanding our perspective. Even if we are not currently looking for a job, this kind of search helps us recognize unique opportunities. After contemplation about the information we collected, we can develop our career goals. Here are some examples:
· Career Goal 1: My career will allow for work-life balance in that I will never work more than 40 hours per week, have flexibility to tend to family, have all major holidays off, and have 4 or more weeks of paid vacation per year.
· Career Goal 2: I will specialize in diabetes management.
3. A gap analysis
After we determine our goals, we need to determine the gap between ‘where we are’ and ‘where we want to be.’ This will help us determine education, experience, and skills needed to meet our goals.
- Complete an online search and interview a few role models to determine the education, experience, and skill criteria needed to meet your goals.
- Rate your current level for each of these criteria.
Here is an example: I want to be an expert in diabetes management.
a. I need formal/certification training, 1500 hours of experience working with patients with diabetes, and honed nutrition counseling skills.
b. I do not have formal training (CDE). I have ~50 hours of experience. I am new to nutrition counseling and would rate my skills as low.
4. Identifying needs
Apply the results from the gap analysis to identify training and experience needs. We may need more exposure to a particular clientele. We may need more education. We may need more leadership experience or to hone our communication skills. Review your gap analysis and identify at least 3 needs to work on.
Remember that we need support in order to grow. Some of our needs will include time, monetary support, and social support. Always ask employers for assistance to improve your professional expertise. Presenting them with a plan and a list of ways in which they will benefit are useful negotiating tactics.
5. Developing a plan
Finally, we will use all the gathered information to develop a plan of action. Now that we know our needs, we will find ways to meet those needs. We will research the steps it takes, the resources, and the pathway that is best suited for us.
Answer the following questions to help develop a plan.
- How do I get certified as a diabetes educator?
- How much does it cost? How much time does it take? What steps are required?
- Where can I find the time, money, and self-guided experience to complete the certification?
- Who will support me during my growth period?
- How can I include this in my CDR Personal Development Plan?
Start planning today to obtain your dream career tomorrow!
Devon L. Golem, PhD, RD is the founder of the Institute of Continuing Education for Nutrition Professionals. She has spent over a decade providing education and career guidance to nutrition students, interns, and professionals.
Connect with Devon on LinkedIn and ask her for a career plan template.