by Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D.
How many times will you change careers in your lifetime? If you’re like most people, you’ll change careers at least several times over the course of your life. How successful you’ll be in making transitions among careers can at least be partially attributed to the amount of career planning and preparation you’ve done.
Every job-seeker needs to take the time to step way from the day-to-day grind of work and spend quality time reflecting on your career and developing some plans for your future. Whether you love your current job and employer or feel frustrated and confined by your job, career planning can help. Think of career planning as building bridges from your current job/career to your next job/career; without the bridge, you may easily stumble or lose your way, but with the bridge there is safety and direction.
This article provides you with some basic guidelines for both short-term and long-term career planning.
Short-Term Career Planning
A short-term career plan focuses on a timeframe ranging from the coming year to the next few years, depending on the job-seeker. The key characteristic of short-term career planning is developing realistic goals and objectives that you can accomplish in the near future.
As you begin your career planning, take the time to free yourself from all career barriers. What are career barriers? There are personal barriers (such as lack of motivation, apathy, laziness, or procrastination), family pressure (such as expectations to work in the family business, follow a certain career path, or avoidance of careers that are below your status/stature), and peer pressure. And while career planning and career decision-making is an important aspect of your life, do not put so much pressure on yourself that it paralyzes you from making any real choices, decisions, or plans. Finally, career planning is an ever-changing and evolving process — or journey — so take it slowly and easily.
To help you with your career planning, consider using the following exercises to their fullest potential.
Career Planning Exercises:
- Analyze your current/future lifestyle. Are you happy with your current lifestyle? Do you want to maintain it or change it? Be sure to identify the key characteristics of your ideal lifestyle. Does your current career path allow you the lifestyle you seek?
- Analyze your likes/dislikes. What kinds of activities — both at work and at play — do you enjoy? What kind of activities do you avoid? Make a list of both types of activities. Now take a close look at your current job and career path in terms of your list of likes and dislikes. Does your current job have more likes or dislikes?
- Analyze your passions. Reflect on the times and situations in which you feel most passionate, most energetic, most engaged – and see if you can develop a common profile of these situations. Develop a list of your passions. How many of these times occur while you are at work?
- Analyze your strengths and weaknesses. Step back and look at yourself from an employer’s perspective. What are your strengths? What are your weaknesses? Think in terms of work experience, education/training, skill development, talents and abilities, technical knowledge, and personal characteristics.
- Analyze your definition of success. Spend some time thinking about how you define success. What is success to you: wealth, power, control, contentment…
- Analyze your personality. Are you an extravert or an introvert? Do you like thinking or doing? Do you like routines or change? Do you like sitting behind the desk or being on the move? Take the time to analyze yourself first, then take one or more of these self-assessment tests.
- Analyze your dream job. Remember those papers you had to write as a kid about what you wanted to be when you grew up? Take the time to revert back to those idyllic times and brainstorm about your current dream job; be sure not to let any negative thoughts cloud your thinking. Look for ideas internally, but also make the effort to explore/research other careers/occupations that interest you.
- Analyze your current situation. Before you can even do any planning, clearly and realistically identify your starting point.
Once you’ve completed these exercises, the next step is to develop a picture of yourself and your career over the next few years. Once you’ve developed the mental picture, the final step is developing a plan for achieving your goal.
Career Planning Steps:
- Identify your next career move. If you have been examining multiple career paths, now is the time to narrow down the choices and focus on one or two careers.
- Conduct detailed career research and gather information on the careers that most interest you. Use the many resources we list in our Career Research Checklist.
- Pinpoint the qualifications you need to move to the next step in your career or to make the move to a new career path. If you’re not sure, search job postings and job ads, conduct informational interviews, research job descriptions.
- Compare your current profile with the qualifications developed in step 3. How far apart are the two profiles? If fairly well-matched, it may be time to switch to a job-search. If fairly far apart, can you realistically achieve the qualifications in the short-term? If yes, move to the next step; if no, consider returning to the first step.
- Develop a plan to get qualified. Make a list of the types of qualifications you need to enhance your standing for your next career move, such as receiving additional training, certification, or experience. Develop a timeline and action plans for achieving each type, being sure to set specific goals and priorities.
Long-Term Career Planning
Long-term career planning usually involves a planning window of five years or longer and involves a broader set of guidelines and preparation. Businesses, careers, and the workplace are rapidly changing, and the skills that you have or plan for today may not be in demand years from now. Long-range career planning should be more about identifying and developing core skills that employers will always value while developing your personal and career goals in broad strokes.
Core Workplace Skills: communications (verbal and written), critical and creative thinking, teamwork and team-building, listening, social, problem-solving, decision-making, interpersonal, project management, planning and organizing, computer/technology, and commitment to continuous/lifelong learning.
Identifying Career/Employment Trends: How can you prepare for future career changes and developments? The best way is to stay active in short-term career planning. By regularly scanning the environment and conducting research on careers, you’ll quickly become an expert on the career paths that interest you — and you’ll be better prepared for your next move.
Useful Tools/Resources for Career Planning
Follow the links below to some extremely useful tools and resources to enhance your career planning experiences.
- Career Assessment Tools. Here’s a collection of the best self-assessment tools, designed to give you a better idea of your attitudes and interests as they relate to possible career choices.
- Career Change Resources. Some tools and resources especially for established job-seekers contemplating a career change.
- Career Exploration Resources. Find some great resources designed to help you learn more about different jobs, careers, and career exploration.
- Career Research Checklist. Where you’ll find every imaginable resource you could use to learn more about careers and conduct career exploration.
- College Planning Resources. As you research potential career choices, you may find you require additional coursework, degrees, or training. Find all the educational resources you need right here.
- Graduate School Resources. If you find you need or desire a graduate degree to change careers, here’s where you’ll find everything you need to research graduate schools.
- Quintessential Careers Journaling Course. Taking the time to use a career journal is a fantastic way to conduct career planning on a regular basis.
- Tracking and Leveraging Accomplishments. A great article written to help you understand the importance of focusing on your work-related accomplishments.
- Transferable Skills. The concept of transferable skills is a vital job-search technique that all job-seekers should master, though the concept is especially important for career changers and college students.
- Using a Personal Mission Statement to Chart Your Career Course. A great article that guides you in the development of your personal mission statement, a useful tool for self-discovery and career planning.
- Using a SWOT Analysis in Your Career Planning. Learn how a key strategic planning tool can be successfully applied to marketing yourself and advancing your career.
- Workplace Values Assessment. Use this cool assessment tool to better understand the core values you want in a job, career, and employer.
Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker’s Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.
Dr. Randall S. Hansen is founder of Quintessential Careers, one of the oldest and most comprehensive career development sites on the Web, as well CEO of EmpoweringSites.com. He is also founder of MyCollegeSuccessStory.com and EnhanceMyVocabulary.com. He is publisher of Quintessential Careers Press, including the Quintessential Careers electronic newsletter, QuintZine. Dr. Hansen is also a published author, with several books, chapters in books, and hundreds of articles. He’s often quoted in the media and conducts empowering workshops around the country. Finally, Dr. Hansen is also an educator, having taught at the college level for more than 15 years. Visit his personal Website or reach him by email at randall(at)quintcareers.com. Check out Dr. Hansen on GooglePlus.