If you’re unsure where you want your career to be in five years, you’re not alone. Half of the respondents to a recent Monster Twitter poll said they, too, had no idea.
Not planning for the next half decade doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll fail at your career, says Cheryl Palmer, owner of Call to Career, a career coaching business based in Washington, D.C. "But It may very well mean that you will drift and allow other people to set your direction," she says.
Planning assures you’re on track to achieve what you want to, and it may pay off in financial ways as well; you may be able to get bigger and more frequent raises since you’ll always have your eye on the prize. So rather than letting your boat go adrift, use these four steps to chart a proper five-year career course.
Your career goals could include changes in titles, job responsibilities, pay, or even locations. The first step is figuring out what exactly it is about your career that you want to change.
For example, maybe you’re a non-manager and you want to be ready to manage a small team in five years. Maybe you’re a director and you want to become a vice president. Maybe you just want to add some new skills to your portfolio or take home a coveted industry award you’ve had your eye on.
"Specificity is crucial in this step," says Myles Miller, founder of LeadUp.biz, a Harrisburg, Pennsylvania–based professional training and development company for businesses. "Strokes that are too broad will almost assure the unlikelihood of it actually happening."
But you can also set yourself up for success by keeping the number of changes you’re looking to make manageable, says Miller. "Three to five is realistic."
Think about where you imagine you’ll be as you try to reach these goals: "You may want to plan for career progression via promotion within a current company or, if options are limited where you currently work, look at growth opportunities at other organizations," says Tiffani Murray, Atlanta-based author of Stuck on Stupid: A Guide for Today’s Professional Stuck in a Rut.
Once you’ve set a few goals for yourself, move on to step No. 2.
Once you know where you’re headed, you need to figure out a path to getting there. If you were going to visit someone you’d never visited before, you’d use a map to get directions. So it stands to reason that you need to find a map when it comes to your career.
The best directional help can come from those who are already at the point in their careers where you’d like to be. Try to find people in your network you can use as role models. Ask them out for coffee and make them tell you how they got from where you are now to where they are now. Ask them what they’d do if they were you.
Don’t know anyone who has your dream role? See if your industry group or employer has a formal mentoring program to partner you with someone who can provide you with a roadmap.
Be aware, says career coach Palmer, that climbing to your self-imposed new heights might require you to put in some work outside of work. "Perhaps it’s more education, intense networking, or expanding your skill set," she says.
It’s time to start charting the course. Let’s assume there are a few jumps you’ll need to make between now and 2020. Take a piece of paper and write the number "60" somewhere at the top. Now, draw a line down the center. On the left side, list all the goals you want to hit in chronological order. (Your last goal should be the one you’ve set for yourself five years from now). On the right side, write down the number of months you think it will take to reach that goal you’ve listed on the left. Every time you do this for one of your goals, subtract that number from the number 60 at the top. Your right column must add up to 60—the number of months in five years.
"Taking the time to actually write out your end goal as well as the steps that you need to take to get there improves the likelihood that you will actually achieve your goal," says Palmer.
Things may change as you go, and you may discover new, unexpected opportunities, so allow yourself some wiggle room with your career plan and timeline, but don’t abandon it altogether. Use this exercise as your guide.
"You can be flexible within your strategy for the future, but you should still have a strategy," Murray says.
If you’re serious about accomplishing your goals, an accountability partner can help keep you on track, says Palmer. "Find someone, either a friend or career coach who you can share your goals with. Then check in with that person periodically throughout the year so that you can update the person on the progress that you have made."
Keep your written goals timeline near so you can regularly check on yourself and know if and when you need to make adjustments.
"Take a small step each day towards the goals you have, and in five years or less you will achieve them," Miller says. "Don’t stop there. Around year three or so, start making another five-year plan so you have it ready to go when the first five-year plan ends, so your growth and potential continue to evolve year after year."
This article originally appeared on Monster and is reprinted with permission.