Creating your Five Year Plan

Career planning is an essential part of your career development. By coming up with a career plan, you can start to orchestrate what you need to meet both your short- and long-term career goals. Not sure what to major in? Maybe you should plan to take a class in the subject, or participate in a research project related to that major. Through taking a large plan and breaking it apart into smaller, more manageable chunks, you will start to see the benefits of incorporating planning into your career development.

You may be struggling with what you are planning to do this weekend, or even this evening, but don’t put off the process of planning. Planning will help you identify some of the steps you may need to take to be successful. And it is never too soon to start to develop a goal and a strategy to help give you a sense of direction.

Your Five-Year Resume

Based on this career planning exercise, I want to help you find a way to develop your career goals and purposefully moving towards them. The idea is fairly simple, but it will require work and collaboration with others over six steps for you to see the most benefit from the exercise. Note that one of your collaborators on your career journey at MIT is CAPD—so don’t be shy to schedule an appointment with us as you work towards your career goals.

Step 1: Your current resume

This should hopefully be the easiest step of them all, but start with your current (or most recently updated resume). If it’s been awhile since you have updated your resume, no worries, you can certainly check out our resume resources or schedule an appointment with us to get tailored advice. At a minimum, your resume for this exercise should provide a current snapshot of where you are in terms of your education, experience, and skills.

Do not worry if you do not have a lot on your resume, yet. This resume is simply your starting point!

Step 2: Your five-year resume

Now, imagine you are five years into the future. What has changed? What have you learned? How have you developed? What are you most proud of? This is an opportunity to craft a version of you that you aspire to be—so allow your personal ambitions to help drive you as you write this resume. As you build this new resume, review each of the different sections of your resume and ask yourself:

Header/Contact Information

  • Where do you live now?
  • Where can people find more about you (e.g. LinkedIn, e-portfolio)?
  • How has your professional identity changed?


  • What schools have you attended? Graduated from?
  • What degree have you obtained?
  • What subjects have you majored or minored in?
  • What courses have you taken?
  • Who have you studied with?
  • What certifications or professional designations have you earned?


  • What industries and employers have you worked for?
  • What titles have you had?
  • What positions (jobs, internships, research, etc.) have you had?
  • What experiences have you had and what were the outcomes?
  • What accomplishments and results have you achieved?
  • What have you learned from these experiences?


  • What activities have you engaged in?
  • What role did you play in these activities?
  • What were the results of your involvement?
  • What specific accomplishments or successes have you had?


  • What skills do you have now?
  • What languages are you now fluent in?
  • What tools/software/technology are you able to use now?
  • What is your proficiency level?


  • What honors and awards have you earned?
  • What publications have you published in?
  • What patents have you received?


  • What are you interested in now?
  • What are your hobbies?


  • Who are your personal and professional connections?

You should not create this document in a vacuum, however. Look around you. Inspiration may come from a variety of sources and in multiple forms. As you are conceptualizing your future self, consider the following resources:

  • Job Boards – By reviewing job descriptions on platforms like Handshake, you may find some ideas about what you will need to develop to qualify for different occupations. Take a look at the qualifications to learn about attributes you may want to have by the time you graduate. Some positions may require advanced degrees, and you can factor that into your five year resume.
  • Online Profiles – With social media platforms like LinkedIn and MIT platforms like Advisors Hub, you can learn more about what alumni and other professionals have in their education, experiences, skills. You may also see how they have progressed in their career over the years since graduating so you can determine what opportunities might be achievable for you.
  • News & Research – Since technology is moving so quickly now, I recommend you also see what are current developments in sector or industry you are considering. Even looking back just a few years, you will see a variety of successes (and failures) that may offer you guidance as you plot your course forward.
  • People – Even though you could just look up their profiles on LinkedIn, connecting with people (including fellow students, faculty, alumni, and employers) using an informational interview might provide additional inspiration. Talking with people might give you not only a sense of where things have been, but also where things are going—so you can ride the future wave to an amazing career!

Step 3: Set goals

Now that you have both documents set, think of your current resume as a starting point and your five year resume as a destination point. What do you need to do over the next five years to make your five year resume your future reality?

You may feel overwhelmed by how much of a leap you are planning to take. But don’t sweat it! Afterall, you have some time ahead of you—just don’t lose the momentum! To make the most of those five years, it helps to set more proximal goals in addition to the more distal goals outlined in your five year resume.

Distal goals tend to be the culmination of the completion of several proximal goals. For example, you don’t wake up one day and “become an engineer”. You will need to take a couple of engineering classes, declare a major in engineering, and finish your engineering degree on your way to become one. By chunking your larger goals into smaller goals, you can act on them faster and feel the progress you are making towards your goals.

Determining how to break apart your distal goals into more manageable proximal goals is only the beginning. It will be helpful to turn each of your proximal goals into a SMART goal. Although there are different structures to the SMART acronym, for this exercise we will use:

  • Specific – the specific area you would like to improve or develop
  • Measurable – you can measure your progress to your goal
  • Achievable – this goal is something you can achieve realistically
  • Resourced – you can get the support you need to meet the goal
  • Time-bound – there is a time you would like to meet this goal

For example: I will reach out to alumni using Advisors Hub to conduct six informational interviews to learn how to prepare my resume for internships in finance during the month of February.

Now that you have a series of goals, it’s now time to put this into a framework that you can use and keep track of your progress.

Step 4: Create an action plan

Now that you have goals, write them down into your own career action plan. This can take many forms from journals to spreadsheets, but it’s good for you to keep track of your progress.

I want you to have fun with putting your plan together, so use whatever format works best for you. It could be in a journal or online, on a spreadsheet or in a document. You can even use something like a wayfinding map to show how different parts might flow together.

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If you are looking for something basic, you can use the following template to start to develop your personal five-year career plan.

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  1. Identify your “Five Year Goal”
  2. Indicate, using SMART goals, what you will accomplish each year to meet your Five-Year Goal
  3. Include any resources or support you may need to meet your annual goals
  4. Add a due date that is achievable for the goal you outlined

Add additional rows if you need additional steps in reaching your five-year goal. One benefit of planning things out is you can begin to identify any dependencies of future goals. For example, if you are looking to go to graduate school, you may want to develop research experiences through UROPs, develop your laboratory skills in a learning environment, and find researchers who may be able to write a letter of recommendation for you when you are getting ready to apply.

In some cases, you may need to revisit/revise your proximal goals as you progress through to your five-year goal. Don’t worry if you need to make changes as you go, this is all part of this process.

Step 5: Seek guidance

Again, this process is not something that occurs successfully in a vacuum—so I recommend that you talk about your plans with others. Think about them like an accountabili-buddy: someone who can guide you, cheer you on, or just give you some advice from time to time. Some people might only be able to offer you one-off tips or advice, while others may want to take a more mentorship approach. Be open to receiving guidance from multiple people as it may help provide different perspectives on what you need to do. Ultimately, this is your plan, and you will have the final say on the steps you think are best to take to meet your goal.

Step 6: Reflect and revisit

I think about the interview question: “where do you see yourself in five years” and I often struggle to think about how successfully I could have guessed where I am right now, five years ago. Over the course of navigating your career revisit these documents and revise as needed. Unless you etched or chiseled this, chances are it is not set in stone and you can adjust your plan as you need.

Moving Forward

The rapid pace of change in the world of career development is very fast. It may be challenging to see your plans suddenly have to change or adjust based on factors you might not be able to control. Career planning will take a bit of resiliency and self-compassion. Don’t feel bad if you missed a deadline, or your goals aren’t met based on the initial time you outlined. I encourage you to be flexible, continue to seek support and guidance, and know that CAPD is here to help. Schedule an appointment with us so we can support you.