Career planning is the process of deciding who you are and where you want to go in the world.  Career planning helps to ensure that you end up in a “job” that meets your financial, intellectual and emotional needs.  Career planning is about knowing who you are, what you’re capable of, what you want, and how to get it.

There are 4 steps we usually talk about when we talk about the Career Planning Process.

1. Self-Evaluation
2. Career Exploration
3. Decision Making
4. Taking Action

Let’s break these down a little bit.

1. Self Evaluation

This can be a difficult step for many, especially when you don’t know where to start.  This is a process we like to call “asking the right questions.”  So, what are the right questions?

a) What are your interests?  What do you like?

b) What are your aptitudes?  What are you good at?

c) What are your values?  What kinds of things are important to you?

2. Career Exploration

Once you have decided what you like, what you’re good at, and what’s important to you, the next thing you’ll want to do is figure out which careers are a good “match” for who you are.  There are lots of places online that have information about different career fields—google can become your best friend here.  Don’t forget “alternative” information centers like YouTube, where you will likely be able to find videos by professionals in the job fields you’re considering!  Some things you’ll want to look at might include:

a) What kind of work is involved, and is it something that interests you?

b) What kind of skills are required, and do you already possess the     necessary skills?  Most likely, you don’t yet, and you’ll need to figure out where and how and how long it will take to acquire those skills.

c) Does this work align with your personal values?  This means considering how the job will meet your needs in terms of salary, personal enrichment, etc.


3. Decision Making

After you have researched your available career options, you’ll need to make a decision.  For some of us, this can be the most difficult step. Which is why doing thorough research is such a critically important step. The goal, of course, is to choose a career that you will find fulfilling and interesting for many years to come.  Some things you’ll want to consider when making your final decision might include:

a) What is the job outlook for this career?  Being a philosophy professor might be your ideal job, but what are the odds that you’ll be able to find a job in that field, versus the odds you’ll end up an under-employed, PhD-toting barista at Starbucks?

b) How much education is required?  Is it something you are both willing and able to complete?  This step requires you to be completely honest with yourself.  Do you have the willpower and determination to complete a seven-year degree? Do you struggle with subjects that will be necessary to complete it?

c) What is the average salary for this career, and will it support the kind of lifestyle you want to have?  This will also require a little realism.  We can’t all live in 20 million dollar houses and drive seven cars.  But if your dream is to live in a nice two-story suburban home or to have some land in the country with room for horses—these dreams are perfectly attainable with many careers.


4. Taking Action

The fourth and final step in the career planning process is taking action. This will look different depending on where you are in your life journey.  If you’re a freshman in high school, the types of actions you can take are going to be very different than if you’re looking for an encore career or consider yourself a mid-life career-changer.  They key here is to make sure you are completing the following steps:

a) Setting long-term goals.  For your education, career, and lifestyle.

b) Setting short-term goals.  Determining what you need to do to reach your long-term goals.

c) Planning your next steps.  These are smaller, bite-sized tasks that will constantly need to be updated.  If you are at point A your long-term goal is Z, and your major short-term goals are at G and P, your next steps might be B, C, D, E, and F. Once you have broken your long-term goals into smaller, achievable next steps, it’s much easier to move forward in actually achieving them.

Career planning can be an individual process or can be facilitated by a career counselor, depending on your level of independence and certainty.  We recommend career counseling for everyone anyway—it never hurts to have a sideline cheerleader there to remind you that you CAN get there, and you WILL!