Career Planning

Career planning is a structured process for understanding your skills and interests, setting career goals and devising strategies to achieve them. It creates a framework that adds focus to your job search. There are short- and long-term aspects to the career planning process. The most effective career plan will include both. It’s an on-going process that can include a variety of intermediate steps.

Short-Term Career Planning

Short-term career planning focuses on a near-term timeframe. It might concentrate on an immediate job search but could have a planning horizon of a few years. Short-term planning is often driven by a financial need, a lost job, or a desire to take on new responsibilities.

Long-Term Career Planning

Long-term career planning takes a more strategic approach. It entails a much longer planning window and usually includes a broader view of needs and preparation. It tends to be driven more by a desire for self-actualization, career advancement and/or job satisfaction.

Career Planning Steps

Six Career Planning Steps

To add some structure to the career planning process and to keep things fairly simple, we’ve broken career planning into six key steps, as follows:

Step 1: Knowing Yourself

In this context, getting to know yourself requires that you ask a lot of introspective questions. Think about your interests, values, skills, preferences and lifestyle. Are you happy with your current path? What are the key characteristics of your ideal lifestyle? How do you define your preferred work/life balance?

Take a close look at your most recent job and career path in terms of your likes and dislikes. Does your current path meet your needs? What are your strengths and weaknesses? What kind of organizational or management culture fits best with your personality? Are there things about your work experience, education/training, skills, talents and abilities that you wish were different? How would you define your dream job?

Answers to these and similar questions will help you identify your career planning starting point.

Step 2: Exploring Career Options

This step will help you understand your options and give you an idea of what you need to do next. You may find that you want to continue on your current path, but you may also discover that new options have far greater appeal.

An important part of this step is understanding where you are today in terms of skills, education, work experience, etc., and the relative fit with your career aspirations. It will help you hone in on the qualifications you need to move to the next step. Job postings, job ads, informational interviews, job descriptions and the like can help you better understand required qualifications.

It can also be helpful to identify career and employment trends. Doing so will help you prepare for future career changes and developments. You can then develop a plan to get an additional qualifications or certifications that may be needed to move toward your desired career.

Step 3: Making Decisions

Making a decision on what you want to do can be more challenging than it appears on the surface. You may find that achieving your career goals will require that you take multiple steps; some of which may be governed by financial, educational, experience and related concerns. These “predecessor” needs may be significant enough to warrant their own independent plans.

Some decisions may be easy and straight forward. However; the decision-making process could mean making a commitment that requires devoting significant time and resources to achieve your desired career aspirations.

Going through the career planning process will add clarity and focus to the path ahead. It will help guide you by creating a roadmap of the options available and the steps needed to get to your chosen destination.

Step 4: Setting Goals

Once you’ve made a decision about your chosen career path, it is wise to set realistic goals to make your targeted career a reality. You are likely to have more than one goal; some being short-term, and others being longer-term.

When developing your goals, it is helpful to make them S.M.A.R.T. (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-Bound). This entails:

  • Specific – goals and objectives should clearly state what is to be achieved.
  • Measurable – goals should be measurable so you know when they have been achieved.
  • Achievable – goals should be realistic given the circumstances and resources available.
  • Realistic – goal achievement should be possible given time and resources allocated.
  • Time-Bound – goals should be set with realistic time-frames in mind.

Step 5: Taking Action

Having a plan will be meaningless if you don’t follow through on the actions required to implement it. More often than not, achieving career goals takes a lot of time and hard work. This is where commitment and focus can serve you well. This can be especially so if your career planning points you in a new direction that will ultimately result in a more rewarding career.

While this website is primarily focused on helping you find a job, many of the tools are designed to help you understand your strengths and portray your background and skills in the most positive light. A good place start is to complete the Environmental Inventory and Skills Inventory Forms found under the Forms menu.

You’ll also find some extremely useful tools and resources for Company Research, Entrepreneurial Resources, and other career related resources under the Tools/Links and News menus. Many of these resources will help guide you in developing a personal marketing plan and taking action on your career plans.

Step 6: Making Adjustments

It probably goes without saying that plans are seldom static. Job markets, economic conditions, unexpected opportunities, personal interests and many more things will change over time. By continuously fine-tuning your career and personal development plans, you will be able to manage the changes in your life and the world of work.

Final Thoughts

I’m reminded of a story about two people having a discussion about career choices. One person told their friend that they had always wanted to go to law school, but it was out of the question now. After all, it takes three years to get through law school, and by then, they would be 45 years old. With a smile, the friend asked, “If you don’t go to law school, how old will you be in three years?”