Building a long-term career plan is an absolutely critical task for any professional (young or experienced), since it serves as a "guiding light" to keep you focused and on-track.

A full career plan should have:

1. A long-term vision and mission - the future state you want your career to be and how you achieve it, based on your professional values

2. A series of medium-term objectives in support of that vision - the 3 to 5 year milestones and goals that serve as the stepping stones to that vision

3. Short-term "plateaus" you can seek - skills, experiences, or accomplishments you can seek in the 1 to 1.5 year timeframe to help you achieve the medium-term objectives

Medium-term: Identify your Stepping Stones

Your long-term career vision should be broken down into a series of medium-term objectives. These are the 3 to 5 year milestones and goals that serve as the stepping stones to achieving your vision. A common mistake among young professionals is thinking they can jump to their long-term vision in one step; most likely, they are several steps away and need to understand and articulate the milestones in between. Use LinkedIn to find the people who have achieved what you're trying to achieve, and either reach out to them to understand the steps they took, or study their profiles to figure out their stepping stones.

For some, these medium term goals might include moving to a new industry to build experience, switching to a different company for more growth opportunities or a different environment, or trying out a new role to gain perspective. For example, if your objective is to be a CEO of an internet company, you might realize you need Product experience that you don't have, or to be a Sales leader, you need people management experience that you haven't had. For others, it could be a trip back to school for a graduate degree, or realizing you need to move to a city that has more opportunities where their interests are. The key concept is to understand the stepping stones to your long-term career vision and having a clear objectives in mind with each step.

Short-term: Find your Next Plateau

Once you've identified and started executing on your next medium-term (3 to 5 year) objective, you've probably landed into a new role, company, or set of responsibilities. What now?

If you were clear about your medium-term objectives, you can break thosedown into a series of 1 to 1.5 year "plateaus" - specific skills and experiences you'd like to acquire that build upon your collective skill set and make you a more valuable professional. The reason we call these as "plateaus" is because, for many people, your capabilities in a new area will initially expand rapidly, but your growth in that area will taper off after about a year - at that time, you should identify and start focusing on the next skill or experience you want to build.

If you've finished a year climbing a plateau and don't feel you've succeeded yet, go for another year. If you feel you've succeeded - find the next plateau. If you can't find your next plateau in your current situation, pull back and think about your next medium-term objective to guide your next move.

Hopefully these ideas help you connect the dots between your current situation and your long-term career plan. Ultimately, it's a matter of breaking down and understanding your long-term vision into the 3 to 5 year stepping stones, and always seeking the next 1 to 1.5 year "plateau" to build your skills and experience.

Source: Henry Hsu on LinkedIn