By Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D.
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.
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 extrovert 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.
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 analysis 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
If you have been examining multiple career paths, now is the time to narrow down the choices and focus on one or two careers.
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, and research job descriptions.
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.
It also 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.
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.