How to Build a Career Development Plan

While most people understand that that a proactive and engaged approach to career development is important, it’s not something that people intuitively come to understand or grasp, especially without training or guidance. The topic of career development can also be overwhelming, especially if you aren’t quite sure of what you want to do, or where you want to go.  

Ideally, organizations would do more to foster career development – teach their employees how to build career development plans,  develop clear performance criteria, provide resources for learning and development, etc. The reality is that the bigger burden is on employees.

The Reality: You Own Your Career

What this means is that at the end of the day, you and only you are responsible for managing your career, and ensuring that you are getting what you want out of your career. This does not mean that you are the only one who can control your career, you’ll certainly need to rely on the help of others to achieve success, but what it does mean is that you are solely responsible for articulating what you are looking for.


Knowing where to start with career development is not always easy. In fact, trying to answer the question “what are your career goals?” can be fairly paralyzing, but over the years, I’ve refined my own method for doing career development planning, and have identified a number of actions and steps that are helpful to articulating goals and aspirations, which then can be used to build a plan for action. Here are some of them:


Step 1: Understand The Measurements and Metrics You’re Evaluated On

First and foremost, you need to understand how you currently are progressing in your role, and to do that, it helps to know what you are being measured against. Understand what you’re evaluated on. What does success look like in your position? What are your job goals and success metrics?


It’s best to identify these with your manager, but if that’s not happening, then write down what you understand the goals and measures to be, and take the time to align with your manager to get feedback. This will help you understand if you are progressing on the right path.  


Another evaluation tactic is to review your job description, or a job description that is similar to your current role. Doing this helps in a number of ways. First, it helps you see how your current projects and responsibilities map to the job you are being asked to do. If you see any gaps, or see anything that’s missing, write them down, and bring them up with your manager just to confirm that you are focusing on the right skills and projects.

Second, it also helps you understand if you actually want to keep progressing in this role. If you take a look at the job description and realize that what you are doing is not aligned with what you actually want to do, then it serves as a starting point to finding another opportunity that is more aligned with your interests.


Step 2: Write down your key projects, and identify your breakthroughs

This sounds (and is) really basic but you might be surprised at what you forget you did amidst all the busyness of trying to get things done. Take the time to write down everything you worked on in the last month/quarter/year to get a complete list of everything you worked on.

From there, start to identify the metrics behind each of those projects, and identify the ones where you had the most enjoyment as well as the most impact. The simple exercise of writing down on paper what you’ve done and quantifying where you’ve made an impact in your job can be very helpful to understanding what other goals you want to achieve.


“People who focus on their strengths every day are 6 times more likely to be engaged in their jobs, more productive and more likely to say they have an excellent quality of life.” – Gallup


Step 3: Identify the skills you used that you really enjoy

Research suggest that when we use our strengths at work we become more fulfilled, engaged, and productive, so identifying those strengths will be a really great place to start when thinking about how to define your role moving forward. For those projects you identified that you really enjoyed, start writing down the skills that you used to make that project successful.


These skills will be a good basis to both understanding your own strengths, as well as how you can find other projects that use those skills in your role. For example, if you recently worked on a project where you enjoyed leading the team and handling the project management aspects of the project, identify other opportunities where you can flex your project management skills. Or, if you just helped re-launch your company’s website, and you helped re-write the copy for the webpages, try finding other projects where you can use your written communication skills.

Note: I know sometimes that trying to answer “what are my strengths?” is actually a little harder than it sounds. If you need some help, I highly recommend Business Chemistry by Deloitte as a good place to start. I’ve used this with hundreds of practitioners in a previous job and it’s a good way to do a self-assessment and understand not only your style but what makes you tick.


Also, if you’re still struggling to figure out what your strengths are, ask for feedback. Find 3-4 peers, and ask them the following questions

  • What are my strengths, and where are examples of when I’ve used them?
  • If we were to work on a team together, what role would you want me to play?
  • What’s a unique skill I have that you don’t see in other people?


Step 4: Set Some Goals

Now that you have a good sense of how you are performing, the things you like doing, it’s time to build out some measurable goals for how you want to develop in your career. It can be easy to anchor in on a specific job description or role (ex: Move from Associate Product Manager to Product Manager) but another way to look at goals is around specific skills, experiences, or opportunities that you want to have, such as publishing a paper, speaking at a conference, or leading the strategic planning process for your department. Sketch out a general timeline of goals that you have for yourself, and make sure that they can be measured (see Smart Goals for more details).


Step 5: Do a Gap Analysis

A gap analysis is where you figure out the differences in the qualifications between where you are right now and your goals/next steps. It’s also a way to identify what you need to work on in order to achieve your goals. One way to do this is by anchoring your goal around a specific job or title. Take out a job/role description of a job you want in the next year or two, and assess your current candidacy for that job, with special emphasis of where you are lacking. Use this as a means to figure out what skills or experiences you need to build in order to make you qualified to have this role.

Once you have done this, identify all of the items where there is anywhere from a fair amount to of development needed. Look for commonalities and clump those together as a category. This is the basis for your career development plan. This is also a good place to do a sanity check. For example, if you’re dead set on becoming a product manager in 2 years, but when you do your gap analysis you realize you don’t have enough of the qualifications or experiences to achieve that goal, it allows you to reflect and examine the goals you’re setting and if they are realistic.


Note: If you aren’t quite sure what role you want in the next 1-2 years, this exercise is still valuable. Instead of using a job description, start sketching out the skills or experiences you want to have in 1-2 years, and then identify where you are today against those specific skills or experiences.


Step 6: Build Your Learning & Development Plan

Now that you know where you are today, what you are good at/interested in, where you want to go in the future in terms of career goals, and what’s currently lacking, you now have all the ingredients to build out a holistic action plan. The key is to ensure that you for each of your goals, you’re putting together some sort of specific and measurable set of actions that you can take that will help you make progress towards achieving that goal.


Those actions can be a combination of experiences and projects that are in your job, learning opportunities such as online classes, or e-learnings to help bring you up to speed, or perhaps even “side projects” that will help you build competency in skills you need to achieve those desired goals. As time progresses, you can revisit this plan and your goals to see how you are progressing, and make adjustments as needed. You can also use it as a way to leverage more experiences/projects in your day to day role that align to your career goals. For example, if one of your goals calls for more strategic work, highlighting that with your manager is a great way to identify more opportunities in your current job that will allow you to develop your strategic thinking skills.


Step 7: Find Some Advisors

While each individual is inevitably responsible for their own career development, you’ll eventually have to rely on many other people in the process to help you get to where you want to go. Other people include your manager, mentors, sponsors, or other colleagues at your level. As you start to build your own career development plan, or articulate your goals, take the time to speak to others to get feedback.


Peers you can trust can be helpful in providing feedback based on knowing you and your own skills, strengths and personal interests.


Managers can be helpful to providing feedback about how you can go about achieving some of those goals, especially as it relates to crafting your current job with projects and experiences to help you achieve those goals.


Mentors are critical to providing you with an honest and objective voice into your plan, as well as giving you practical advice as to how to achieve it.


And Sponsors can be helpful to identifying and providing you with opportunities that you need to achieve your goals that you may not have access to.


The most important thing is that you take the time to define what career success looks like for yourself. This is especially important in large organizations, where it can be easy to go along with what the majority of people are doing because it feels like we have to do that. Furthermore


Where do you stand when it comes to your career? Are you ready to make a change, or start your journey, today? Whether you’re just beginning on your career journey, or you’re considering changing career paths or jobs, developing an effective career plan will help you get to where you need to go. Reflect, set goals and make your decision, and you’ll find yourself on the right path.

From Movie Sets to Enterprise Software, The Journey To Becoming a Product Marketer

As a Product Marketer, Jodi Innerfield spends her days trying to understand what CIOs and Business Executives need to transform their business, but that wasn’t always the case. After graduating from Columbia University, Jodi Innerfield started her career as a Production Designer Assistant on the movie “Wall Street 2.” With stints in HR, startups, and business school, the journey to becoming a PMM was not always linear, but in hindsight, it’s where she wanted to be. Jodi shared with us her career journey to becoming a product marketer, how she connected her experiences together to find her interest in product marketing, and her advice for professionals who are interested in a career in product marketing.

CareerSchooled: We know you are a PMM now, but looking back for a second, what was your first job, and what does it have in common with what you do now?

At first glance, my first job out of college had nothing to do with Product Marketing–I started my career in film production as a Production Designer’s Assistant on the movie “Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps.” Part of my job was working with the art department of the film on everything from researching art and graphics that should be used in the film, working with licensing to get the rights, naming fictitious companies and designing their logos–it was a lot of fun to see something you worked on on the big screen! The other part of my job was as a personal assistant. I drove my boss everywhere, went with her to meetings, made sure she had the exact type of tea and chocolate she needed to keep going. That was, quite obviously, the part of the job I liked least, but it gave me such great exposure to people I never would have met, and it taught me how important things like anticipating someone’s needs are.


While it wasn’t technically in my job description, I spent a lot of time on set because I loved seeing how all the pieces of a film come together. I would stick around on night shoots just so I could experience the magical chaos. I raised my hand to help anywhere I could so I could be close to the action. And you know what? That film experience has definitely been valuable in Product Marketing, where I’ve worked on a number of customer films.

CareerSchooled: You went to business school prior to moving into PMM roles. What were you doing prior to business school, and how did an MBA help you move into PMM?


I left film production because that life wasn’t sustainable–80 hour weeks with no benefits and no overtime–and got an internship in HR. I was a psychology major in college, and had interest in business and law, and after talking to a number of people I thought HR might be a nice blend of the three. While I liked being in HR at a startup–it was fast paced, I got to put a lot of processes and programs into place from the start–I had an itch to do more, but I wasn’t quite sure what “more” was.

I applied to business school initially thinking an MBA would help me grow within HR, since I realized to be successful in senior leadership you needed to have a well-rounded understanding of all aspects of the business. But soon after starting school I realized I didn’t want to stay in HR, and that now was the time to make a move.

Business school gave me that foundational, well-rounded understanding of business which is just as valuable as a PMM as it is in any other role. Besides the marketing courses which are an obvious help when you’re trying to transition into a marketing role, we had a lot of opportunities to work on presentation skills that I’ve found infinitely valuable. Michigan is known for its Action Based Learning, and one experience–the Leadership Crisis Challenge–was particularly impactful for me.


You’re thrown into a mock crisis as the leadership of a company and have to put together a response. My team made it to the final round where you’re grilled in a press conference by actual journalists, and that experience–getting on stage, presenting on a topic I’m not entirely an expert on but need to be as prepared as possible to talk about–that’s pretty much what I do every day.

CareerSchooled: You’ve worked in PMM roles at large companies and at startups. What are some of the similarities/differences, and how do you know which is best for you?

At a startup I got to experience the full spectrum of Product Marketing. I always said my job was 50% working on product (go-to-market launches, product announcements to customers, building demos, writing datasheets, running trainings), and 50% sales facing (first call decks, customer-facing content, sales enablement, customer stories).

Startups are a great way to get started in Product Marketing if you like to do a little bit of everything before you figure out what aspect of PMM you really enjoy. Moving to a much larger company, I knew I would have to pick a “specialty” and become a subject matter expert in a specific area, but that if and when I wanted to try something different, the huge benefit would be that I can make a change within the same company, or even within the same team. And I’ve already done just that–I started as a content and campaigns PMM, and recently switched to solutions marketing, focusing on messaging and positioning and more sales-facing work.


Whether or not you want to be a PMM at a startup or a large company really depends on what you value and where you are in your career, in my opinion. Startups are great for learning the full breadth of PMM, while large companies let you develop depth of experience in a specific area. Growth happens differently at startups (where you grow based on what the company’s needs are and how fast the company is growing) vs larger companies (where there are many more openings and areas for you to potentially move into).


CareerSchooled: You interview and have hired PMMs. What do you look for in a PMM candidate?

I think the number one thing that differentiates a PMM from other roles in marketing is storytelling. Storytelling requires you to fully understand and empathize with your customer/buyer, know their pains, how your product benefits the customer. And being a great storyteller means you also have the ability to, well, tell the story–whether the medium is writing, a slide deck, or a presentation.

So storytelling, for me at least, is a key skill that encompases a lot of other skills a PMM needs in order to be successful. There’s a lot you can teach someone as long as they are an eager, quick learner, but storytelling is a muscle and an art that it’s really valuable to start out with.


CareerSchooled: How do you describe PMM, and what a PMM does?

Product marketing sits at the intersection between the product and the customer. You need to understand the product, communicate what it is, what it does, how to use it, what’s different about it; and then you need to understand the customer, who they are, what they care about, how and where to talk to them. As a product marketer, your responsibility is to be the bridge between the two.

That might mean creating the message that clearly articulates the value of the product to the customer, and how that message translates across slide decks, the website, and paid media. It might mean crafting content for sales to understand the product, or for sales to understand the customer. And sometimes it involves working with analysts and press to make sure the world knows about why your product best meets the needs of your customer, and why it’s the best one out there that does that.


CareerSchooled: What’s your favorite part of being a PMM?

I love that Product Marketing lets me flex my creative and analytical muscles in one role. Some days I’m working with our creative team on the graphics for an ad campaign, and other days I’m diving into how successful that campaign was according to responses and revenue. Being in a role that lets me do both was really important to me since I’ve had roles where I wasn’t as creative, and I would get so bored looking at data and spreadsheets all day. I look for any excuse to be on stage, so the fact that that is part of my job description is pretty great. I also love really diving into the mind of a customer to understand who they are, what makes them tick. That’s when I feel like I’m finally putting my psychology degree to good use!

CareerSchooled: What advice do you have to someone who isn’t in PMM but wants to transition into a career into PMM?

Understand what transferable skills you already have and make sure to highlight those on an application, and figure out what skills you still need to develop and work on developing them. One way I made my life easier transitioning into PMM from HR was I positioned myself for PMM roles in the HR tech space. I made it very clear that I fully understood their customer because I was their customer, and my knowledge of the buyer and the industry was invaluable.

I knew I needed to learn the actual product marketing skills still, but having industry and customer knowledge meant I had tackled half the battle already. So if you can find a role at a company that you have some sort of experience with–you’ve been the buyer, you already work in the industry–that’s a tremendous help since PMMs need to eat, sleep, and breathe their customer.

Forging a Career in Tech requires both patience and risk

After graduating from college, Alex de Leon started his career as a management consultant at Deloitte, but 6 months in, left to take a role at Google. It was a bit of risk, but it opened the door to a career in tech with a stint in Business School and now leads product marketing for Instagram Asia. Along the way, Alex worked in sales, account management, and now product marketing, and has learned great career lessons working alongside smart and hard-working people. He shared with us some of his thoughts on taking career risks, being patient, and what he’s learned along the way developing his career.

CareerSchooled: You started your career as a consultant, but quickly jumped to a role at Google. What led you to decide to make a move so quickly, and with the benefit of hindsight, what did you learn from taking that leap?


This stands out as one of the toughest decisions I’ve made in my career. I had just joined the firm and loved the people I was working with. Out of the blue, I received a call from Google and somehow made it through the hiring process to join a new team they were forming. Given that I was only six months into my Deloitte tenure, a lot of people said that it would make me look ‘flighty’ and that that perception would follow me around for some time. I was fresh out of college and wasn’t quite prepared for the burden of making a decision like this.


Looking back, joining Google changed my life trajectory entirely. Although I consider myself hyper-rational, especially when it comes to my career path, I learned that every so often you just need to take the plunge. There’s a quote from Sheryl Sandberg that I love where she said, “If you’re offered a seat on a rocketship, don’t ask what seat. Just get on”

CareerSchooled: What were some of the most important lessons and experiences you took away from your time at Google?

Five years at Google gave me the strongest foundation I could have imagined. When you’re working with the smartest people in the world, you need to be the best version of yourself as often as possible. Convincing high achievers to support an idea means that you have to be able to stand up to immense scrutiny. Did you do extensive due diligence? What does the data tell us? What’s been done before and why will this work differently? What tangible metric will we be driving?


One other important life hack I learned was ‘the meeting before the meeting’.  Let’s say you’re proposing a new strategy or project to a senior audience. Instead of showing up the day of the presentation and hoping for buy-in, you schedule individual discussions beforehand with each stakeholder.

At best, by the time that you present it’ll be smooth sailing because everyone will have already pre-committed, and at worst, you’ll be better prepared for objection handling.


CareerSchooled: After spending a few years at Google, you also decided to go get your MBA. What led you to this, and what was your experience like in business school?


I think a lot of the decision to go to business school stemmed from my personal insecurity. I was a liberal arts major working in tech and often felt that I was overlooked for more senior job opportunities due to a lack of credentials.


Studying at INSEAD was an absolutely amazing experience. Given the international focus of my career, INSEAD was really the perfect environment for me. Nearly every student is ‘international’, and everyone I met had incredibly diverse backgrounds like ethnically Chinese but born and raised in Kenya, studied in Europe and worked in oil and gas in Latin America. I think this global focus manifests in other ways – all students need to be conversational in at least three languages in order to graduate, case studies are written about companies outside the US, and every weekend there are immersion trips (both school-planned and those hosted by students inviting us to their home countries).


CareerSchooled: After business school, you transitioned into Product Marketing. What led you to make the move into Product Marketing?


It was actually by accident, if I’m being honest. Whenever I meet with students, I always say that it’s important to segment your career into industry and function. In my case, I knew that I loved tech and was definitely in the right industry. However in terms of job function, I had sort of bounced around between partnerships, sales, and account management without really settling anywhere. After business school, I felt strongly that I wanted to work at Facebook but didn’t want to do sales again, fearing that it would be too repetitive from my time at Google. Out of the non-sales roles available, I saw an opening for a Regional Product Marketing Manager for Southeast Asia. On the product side, I definitely didn’t have sufficient relevant experience but I applied hoping that my background in Southeast Asia would make up for it.


After going through the full interview process, my application was put on hold for a couple of months. I’ve heard rumors that I wasn’t the first choice candidate for the role, but everything worked out 🙂


CareerSchooled: You’ve spent a few years working overseas and working for large technology companies serving APAC markets. What do you enjoy about working in Asia, and what are some of the similarities/differences between working in region versus working at Company Headquarters?


In a lot of ways, Asia is a completely different world. Several years ago, Google coined the term ‘The Next Billion’ as a way of describing the next billion people that would be coming online for the very first time, particularly through a mobile device. From a product perspective, that also begs the question – how do you build for these unique consumers? How do you run an e-commerce business when credit card penetration is as low as 5% in some developing countries? How do you improve watch time on video services when mobile data is expensive and users need to pay per kilobyte? There are no easy answers and that’s what I love most about Asia.


Internally, it can sometimes be difficult being physically so far away from the people that actually build the products. Living and working in Asia means that it’s incredibly easy to underestimate how well the local nuances and insights are understood by the the product teams.

Given how essential both consumer insights and feedback are to understanding product-market fit, trying to figure this out at a global scale is a challenge I think about almost every single day.                                                                             

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CareerSchooled: You’ve made a number of big career decisions in your career thus far. What advice do you have for others who are pondering large career decisions?

My biggest piece of advice is to plan your career and then work the plan. It sounds fairly straightforward, but I’ve met so many people that haven’t created long term visions for their professional life. When you’re imagining an ideal job, think about what your priorities are – normally, it’s some combination of location, industry, and role. From there, start thinking through how you’ll drive each one, beginning with the highest priority.


In 2013, I was really eager to pivot to Asia. However, when I began the search, I couldn’t find a role that would be even a lateral move in terms of scope. Eventually the only opportunity was doing direct sales in a really tiny office Google was launching in the Philippines. The role definitely wasn’t what I wanted in the long term, but it was also the clearest way for me to get to Asia.

After satisfying my location priority, I then focused on developing the other aspects of my career. Six years later, I’m still in Asia, working on products for a large tech company. It took a little longer than I hoped, but I’d like to think this was all (mostly) part of the plan.


CareerSchooled: What’s the most important lessons you’ve learned in your career?


Patience. In the early part of my career, I often fell victim to being overly ambitious, always eager for the next best thing. In any role, I would say it’s at least six months before you have any idea what’s happening and typically a year before you’re making any meaningful contributions.

At Google, I prematurely transferred to another internal team on two different occasions. In both cases, I still had a lot more than I could have learned if I stuck around a bit longer and was more patient.


CareerSchooled: As you think about growing and building your career, what are some goals or aspirations you have that you want to achieve?


I’m at an incredibly fortunate place right now because this is mostly where I wanted to end up when I was creating my five year plan in 2013. I just joined Instagram, leading our product marketing efforts for Asia and am still trying to figure out what my big bets will be.

I identify deeply with Instagram’s mission of connecting you to the things and people that you love. Consequently, I think my next set of career goals will be thinking through the small part I can play in enabling that mission.