Establishing a Career Development Plan as a Contractor

Career development is a huge aspect of the modern workplace. Having a definable and comprehensible career development scheme in place, for many employers, is a tactic employed to attract and retain the best talent. This is particularly true of younger workers, known as millennials, as they are likely to leave a companyif they do not believe that their career is developing.

So, in a workforce craving development, how does this translate to the contractual worker? You may never spend more than six months with one particular company, does this make a career development plan impossible?


Who is Responsible?

As a contractor, the question of who is responsible for your career development can be a blurry line to make out. For the most part, whether you like it or not, the responsibility of your development falls largely on your own shoulders. To further your own development you may choose to take a few different contracts across industries, exploring new niches with every new contract. This broadens your skill set and can make you a more attractive hire.

Many employers put a development plan in place for permanent employees as they wish to develop their skills and eventually promote them. However, there is an expectation of contractors to already be experts in their field. As such, development may be overlooked when it comes to contractual employees in most cases.

Your contractual employer may not be responsible in words for career development, but through good will, they may extend some learning opportunities to you whilst under contract with them. This is because developing your skills is good for their bottom line, as it is with their more permanent staff members.

Note: the length of your contract will have an impact on development opportunities. Short contracts will likely come with no such benefits. But, the early stages of a long contract could be potentially the best time to ask the development question. As the more training you have from day one, the better work and future relationship your employer is bound to receive in return.

So, the responsibility for your career development falls largely on your own shoulders. But, that does not mean that you can expect no help from your contractual employers. Don’t be afraid to ask at the very least, as you never know the opportunities that might present themselves!


Creating a Plan

If you are serious about your career development plan, then it is always possible to create your own plan to set down in writing your goals for the next six months or full year.

The best way to figure out your career development plan is to figure out where currently are and then where you would like to be in the near future. It’s simple but effective for helping to figure out your career goals. Here are some questions that can help with this:

  • Where do you want to be in two years? Not your career, you. Whether it is owning a house, a dog or simply going on holiday more, don’t forget to factor your life into your plans.

  • Where do you want your career to be in two years? This is where you need to think about your career specifically and want you actually want from it.

  • Why are these goals important to you? Working out why you want something, outside of simply wanting it, can be extremely difficult. Why does anyone want to be successful in their career? But, it can be a great way to make your career plan into a much more personal project rather than a mandatory document.

These questions help you to set up a goal - sometimes it can be as simple as adding ‘senior’ to your job title - whilst giving you a reason to do so. Having a goal for the sake of having a goal is pointless, as you are not likely to actively work towards it or want it. Make sure that where you want to be has a definitive answer for why. Sometimes finding your why can be the hardest part of creating your very own career development plan.

Part of establishing a good career development plan is to analyse your gaps. What needs to be filled in the space between where you are now and where you want to be? It may be a qualification, a particular type of work experience or changing your work ethic to be more efficient. Find a job description for your perfect job and rate how well you compare to it. The skills you lack to apply to the job now can be the goal markers to work towards in your plan.

Your goals could even be more business orientated and be as simple as making sure you have the right contractors insurance, having your taxes in order and even having contracts set up to stop long gaps between employment.

Not only does a career development plan ensure you are constantly improving but it also allows you to measure your growing skills against your rates and contract particulars. It can be a good way to gauge whether or not you are charging correctly, or even if you are seeking the right types of contracts in the first place.


Actionable Steps

Once you know where you want to go, the skills you need to learn to do so, then the next step is to put down the steps needed to get there. These actionable points are how you get from A to B in your career, so they should be achievable and changeable depending on your needs.

Examples of good action points include:

  • Step into more challenging projects, particularly ones where you feel you may be able to develop more skills. Involving yourself in such projects may seem intimidating but can often help you grow much faster than the same-old work day in, day out.

  • Taking the step to ask about development training from your employer. You may be a contractual employee, but it never hurts to ask if there are opportunities available to you!

  • Read up on industry trends. Reading is not only a great way to learn, but it can help to stay on top of the latest curves your work is taking and stay ahead of them. A new program is set to take the IT industry by storm? Make sure you know about it and have begun to get a grasp of it before anyone else.

  • Share your expertise! Sometimes development can come from simply writing down your knowledge and sharing it with others. Guest posting on authoritative sites can help you to establish yourself as knowledgeable in your industry, consolidate your knowledge and could even be a route to more contracts in the future.

  • Speak at industry events. Similar to posting, it helps set you as an authority and opens doors.

  • Join associations that are connected with your industry. This can be a great way to network with fellow professionals, learn about training courses that could be relevant to you and even a way to find new contracts. The bigger your network, the more opportunities you will find for your career development.

  • Read resources for personal career development (like this one!). There’s nothing wrong with being aware of new trends and techniques that may help your career, so take some time to read up on career development before you set anything in stone.


Career Counselling

If you are completely unsure where you want your career to go, nor can you confidently speak to your current employer about it, then seeking a professional ear may be one way to gain new insights into your career. A counsellor may be the key to helping you discover your career needs and wanted outcomes, making your career goals that much clearer.

A career counsellor can be a great way to help your career development plan reach the next level.



Finally - and perhaps most importantly - is developing the ability to hold yourself accountable. Set firm dates, ask yourself why you haven’t achieved something and assess your own performance regularly.

At the very least, give yourself a ‘start’ date. Depending on what you wish to achieve, it may be difficult to decide on a ‘completion’ date, but when you will begin the work towards your goals is much more definable. Don’t let yourself fail by never starting in the first place.

In the same way, you must keep track of your goals and achievements to determine how far you have come and have left to go. It can be uplifting to see your career development as a contractor or motivating if perhaps you have not gotten quite where you wish to go just yet. Sometimes taking stock of your progress can be the best way to motivate yourself to do better.

Ultimately, your career development plan is something that you have to create, change, evaluate and then perhaps create all over again. It is a forever evolving document which should be as agile and changeable as your career. After all, as a contractor, you have a freedom that most people don’t. So, do not be a passive observer of your own career, choose directly influence where your career moves; take full advantage of your unique position as a contractor through a comprehensive career development plan!

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