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.
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
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).
- 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
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.
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?”
Think carefully about what works best for you and what you're passionate about, and then plan accordingly.
We've included a Career Planning Worksheet to
help out. See the eBook for more detail about career planning and information about career development.