If you’re a teenager or a young adult the working world may seem a long ways off. You may still be in school or even going to college but it is never too early to plan for your career goals. It’s truly never to late to find a new career and figuring out what you need to do today to make you ready for tomorrow is the first step.
You can't build a reputation on what you're going to do.Confucius
Popular Career Planning Guides
What is Career Planning?
The term “career planning” is more than a definition, its a process. There are several steps you must take before you can make a decision on what careers best suits you as an individual. You will be taking a deep dive into your own aspirations, culture, finances, skills and even interests to identify career opportunities that suit you.
The end goal is to find a career, or a few careers, that meet all of your “career planning checklist”. Essentially, you will focus on the following during your career planning process:
- Identify what you’re good at.
- Understand what skills, talents, values and interests you can translate into a career.
- Figure out how to match the above to a job or career.
- Figure out how to match a career to your financial goals.
- Figure out how to match your career to your educational needs.
- Figure out how much time you need to meet your educational, financial and career goals.
What is the importance of career planning?
A career plan is important as it helps you managed the direction of your career, job skills, education and even finances. If you’re detailed with your career plan it will help you understand what gaps you may have in your education or skills and how to get them so you can secure the career, or job, you desire.
Career planning is very intimidating but it doesn’t have to be. The key is to remember that you can always change your career and it is really meant as a way for you to “get what you want out of life”. A career plan should be fluid and flexible allowing you to make changes as your ambitions and goals shift.
Is there a difference between a job and a career?
A job is the occupation that you have at any given point in time. A career is your working life over time. A career can include a single job that you stay in for several years or a series of successive jobs within the same field.
The difference shows with examples. A career typically means you’re changing roles, taking promotions and shifting types of jobs. For example, lets say you wanted to work in healthcare as a career. This means you could have started out as an aide and then moved to a lab technician and then, with schooling, moved up to being a registered nurse. This is a sign of you choose a career in healthcare. The jobs you held were aide, lab tech and registered nurse.
How do I make a career plan?
The thing to keep in mind is that each person’s career plan is different. There is no “one size fits all” approach to finding your career or achieving your goals. To some they may have a very structured approach full of specific details on when and what should happen. Others may find that being more fluid is the right approach and only require a few notes and figure out the rest later on.
You can use these five basic steps to generate a career plan:
- Conduct a self-assessment to detail goals, interests, preferences, strengths and weaknesses.
- Identify types of jobs and companies that fit your self-assessment.
- Identify your career, education and financial goals to achieve within 5-10 years.
- Identify what you need to do to achieve those goals defined in Step 3.
- Formalize and finalize a step plan with several reviews to adjust your strategy and approach.
The above step list can be broken down further into three major categories: Self-Exploration, Occupational Exploration and Educational & Career Planning.
The sole purpose of self-exploration is for you to take a deep dive into who you are. You’ll answer questions that range from “What am I good at?” all the way to “What do I want out of life?”. The way you answer these questions will help you make better decisions about what your future career goals are.
Not only will it help you make better decisions but it will help you understand your educational and experience needs to reach these goals. The key to selecting a career that makes sense is to have a clear defined path and the more time you spend during self-exploration will only motivate you to find the right fit.
As you start to work through your self-exploration phase you’ll want to focus on a few key areas:
What have I already done?
You’d be surprised at how much you know even without having any formal training or paid work experience. You should be looking at some of the accomplishments you’ve made in your personal life.
For example, if you were in the Boy Scouts and you were the Senior Patrol Leader that means you have experience leading and managing teams of individuals. If you’ve led any classes to teach other scouts a merit badge – that’s teaching and mentoring.
Have you ever helped your parents with odd jobs around the house? Painting? Landscaping? You guessed it – that’s experience too.
Take this time to evaluate all of the things you’ve done in your life and start to build lists of things that interest you. At this point you should be identifying key skills you’re either already good at or want to pursue.
What skills do I have?
Based on your previous work, looking at what you’ve done and accomplished in life so far, you should start to build skill sets.
You’ll want to bucket these skills into a few broad categories:
- Business & Sales
- Management & Self-Management
- Creative & Artistic
As you start to bucket your skills into some of the categories above you’ll start to understand where you spend most of your time learning and growing. Not only is this a good indicator of the type of career you may want it also shows you areas where you’re weak and need to build more skill.
For example, if you lack communication skills then it might be time to pick up a course on public speaking or something similar to build on that skill.
Do I have job values?
Now that you know what skills you might have and how to apply them to the career search, it’s time to figure out what you truly want out of a career. This is different for everyone and there is no “one size fits all” approach. It can be as simple as a high salary or as difficult as finding a remote workplace.
It’s important to select the right ideals that will make you happy and enjoy the work you’re doing. If you know these ideals you will have a much easier time picking a career and finding careers that match those.
Do I have interests?
At this point you should already know your skills and accomplishments and have a rough idea of what you want out of a career. It’s time to map those skills and career values into your interests. In many cases your skills you’ve picked up will cater heavily to your interests.
For instance, if you’re really into computers and have spent some time building them you probably already have quite a few technical skills built up but you might lack in another area, like business and sales.
Use the skills you’ve identified along with any other interests that you have to build a list of things you would want to work on or with. Following the example above, if computers is a big interest for you then you should list it as a career area you want to explore in the next steps.
In this step you’re going to learn all about the jobs and careers that you think might interest you. You should be looking at key areas as it relates to your job and future, such as:
- Earnings (Salary)
- Types of Jobs
- Typical Tasks of Employees
- Types of Working Conditions
You’ll want to step through each of the above and make sure it still aligns with your goals
For example, if the career you like requires several years of training and education, does that meet the goals you have in other areas like personal finance?
Not only do you have to balance education but you want to make sure that whatever your salary is after the education fits your goals. You’ll most likely have to pay for any training or education and that can leave some people in debt with student loans. You’ll have to factor all of this in before making a decision on a career.
How to find information on careers?
There are many ways to find information online about your chosen careers. These include:
- Social Media (LinkedIn)
- Career Fairs
- Company Tours
If you know what career you want to pursue you can typically throw in a few different keywords into Google, or another search, and find relevant websites to peruse.
For instance, if you’re wanting to find out what an elementary school teacher does you’d search something like “what does a 2nd grade teacher do” and then review the sites provided.
In some cases you can find this information on social media, tutorial videos or even just by talking to the experts! There is a lot on YouTube and other video hosting platforms that you can search through as well. Depending on the type of career you’re looking for it might be wise to watch videos on professionals doing that kind of work before making your final decision.
Educational Planning & Career Planning
After you’ve worked out the careers you want and you understand some of the education and training needed to succeed, it’s time to really dive in and understand what that means.
Typically a job will require any of the following: no training, a certificate, an associate’s degree or a bachelor’s degree.
A certificate program varies in length but usually goes for about 1 year. It’s the fastest route to building experience and credentials in a certain industry. This is essentially the equivalent of taking around 6-8 classes at a college. The perk of getting a certificate is that you’re taking only the classes that pertain to your chosen field and you won’t be forced to take extra curricular courses. The downside is that certificates aren’t widely accepted as legitimate forms of education and it varies by career and field.
An associate’s degree will take someone around 2-3 years to complete and is often the starting point for many.
A bachelor’s degree will take someone around 4-6 years to complete and is usually the standard degree most careers will look for. If you’re not able to get scholarships or pay cash for your schooling you’ll want to shop around colleges and universities to find the best path for you. The average student loan debt sits around $30,000 once they leave school and is higher depending on what field you’re in and how long you have to go.