The 6-Step Career-Planning Process

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated July 23, 2021 | Published December 12, 2019

Updated July 23, 2021

Published December 12, 2019

The career-planning process allows you to identify your strengths and interests so you can discover professional opportunities you’re likely to enjoy and excel in. This process includes a series of simple steps and can be reused throughout your career path to ensure you’re working toward goals that still satisfy you. In this article, we explore common stages involved in the career-planning process and how to complete each stage.

What is career planning?

Career planning is the process of discovering educational, training and professional opportunities that suit your interests, passions and goals. Before searching for jobs, you should set achievable long-term goals that identify what you want to be doing along your career path at five, 10, 15, 20 years and so on. Then, you can set short-term goals between each stage to ensure you have clear, actionable steps you can take to reach your long-term goals. Career planning allows you to outline your goals and reevaluate them as you progress.

Steps of the career-planning process

Depending on your path, you may complete each step just once, or you may revisit the process to change direction and discover new career options. Here are the chronological stages of the career-planning process:

  1. Self-exploration and assessment

  2. Career research

  3. Exploration and experimentation

  4. Decision-making and career selection

  5. Final planning and action

  6. Job search and acceptance

1. Self-exploration and assessment

You first need to understand your needs, strengths, personality, skills, talents and interests to make informed academic and career decisions. You can determine these items on your own by making a series of lists or through a variety of tests, including:

  • Value evaluations, which include factors such as the salary level you desire, whether you prefer frequent interactions with other people or solitude in the workplace, how much you want your work to contribute to society as a whole and how important prestige is to your work and the rest of your life.

  • Interest evaluations, which gather data about your likes and dislikes regarding a wide array of activities, people and objects. Many interest profilers, including the Strong-Campbell Interest Inventory, match your interests with six types: realistic, investigative, artistic, social, enterprising and conventional. Then, these types are matched with the occupations that fit them best.

  • Personality evaluations, which often use online surveys like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. This test categorizes people into 16 personality types based on the following characteristics: Introversion or Extroversion, Sensing or Intuition, Thinking or Feeling, or Judging or Perceiving. People with some personality types do better in certain occupations than others. For example, an introvert might not enjoy working with other people all day.

  • Aptitude evaluations, which test your abilities and strengths. They can let you know if you need more education or training and can also help you decide if you want to spend the time, money and effort needed to start a brand-new career.

You can also consider meeting with a career counselor. A career counselor specializes in helping professionals understand elements that can influence career decisions and identify possibilities they may not have considered. A career counselor might use skill identification exercises, interest inventories, communication and learning styles, and other methods to help you understand yourself better.

2. Career research

After you determine your qualities and aptitudes, you can decide which types of careers you are interested in with research. Start with a list of roles and industries provided by your assessments or compile a list of characteristics in the work environment, responsibilities and advancement opportunities you want in your career. Using those characteristics, determine more roles and industries you may want to consider.

Start further research by gathering basic information about each of the careers on your list. Look at the general description of each profession, along with general labor market information, such as median salary, common benefits, educational and training requirements and the likelihood of being hired after meeting all the requirements.

Continue narrowing down your list of possible careers by learning what working in different fields is really like. Consider using your professional network to find people already in those roles and industries, or reach out to current professionals on career-focused social media platforms. You can also read company reviews for specific roles to find out as much as you can about the advantages and disadvantages of the field. Reading first-person perspectives could be invaluable when it is time to make a choice.

3. Career exploration and experimentation

After you have narrowed down your list of possible careers, find ways to experience each career in person. Here are some ways you can get a first-hand look at what a role entails:

  • Informational interviews: Consider asking a professional in your desired field to sit down with you to answer questions. You can discover the education, training, entry-level roles and other aspects they followed along their career path. An informational interview can also help you build your professional network within your intended industry, which may help your job search process in the future.

  • Job shadowing: This activity involves spending a day, a week or another short period observing a professional on the job. You may accompany them to meetings or watch them demonstrate how they complete their typical daily work. You can also ask them questions throughout your time with them to better understand their career path.

  • Volunteering: Some organizations may allow you to volunteer for tasks that your ideal role would handle to gain more hands-on experience. This can also help you determine whether you can enjoy working in that role, industry or type of workplace.

  • Internships: Consider an internship for more direct field experience. These opportunities are likely to give tasks more relevant to your intended role.

  • Part-time work: Part-time versions of many jobs may be available with fewer entry-level requirements. You can find them in specific companies that you might consider working for and in assistant-type roles that directly interact with your intended role.

  • Find a mentor in the industry: Watching an experienced mentor and listening to them talk about the realities of a career can be very informative. You can consider applying their career path choices to your own planning to identify steps that may also work for you.

  • Courses: If you pursue any form of higher education, consider choosing courses related to possible career choices. These classes can provide you foundational information and training through projects and essays, which can help you understand some of the basics of a career.

4. Decision-making and career selection

Weigh the advantages and disadvantages of all of your options. You will need to consider many factors, including the possible balances between pay and enjoyment, the pros and cons of relocation, and the work-life balance.

Go over all of your previous research as well as any related experiences very carefully, and organize them by preference from highest to lowest. This strategy helps you rank certain factors and roles over others to identify your top choice. Consider also identifying alternative yet similar options should your desires change as you progress or your job search does not lead to that role.

5. Final planning and action

Gather all the information you have learned and determine an action plan. This plan should include background information, such as your employment history, education, level of training, volunteer and other unpaid experience. It should also include your professional licenses or certifications, the results of the self-evaluations mentioned in the first section, and career counselor advice you have received.

Create detailed lists of short- and long-term goals you will need to achieve before you reach your final career goal. These lists should include all of the occupational, educational and training goals required to pursue your chosen career path. You should also consider the barriers to reaching those goals and how you plan to overcome them. These barriers could be financial, educational, vocational or personal, such as the cost of college, family obligations, or the need for tools and supplies for your chosen career.

Consider writing out each step for your intended career path, including the steps you’ve already taken to see the progress you’ve already made. You can also do this for your alternative options to ensure you are prepared to follow them should your ideal option not work out.

6. Job search and acceptance

Use your career plan to begin your job search. Identify specific roles and companies you’re interested in applying to, and compare those preferences and requirements to your career plan. See if there are steps you still need to take or if you’re qualified to apply.

You can also use your goal-setting strategy and career plan to write an effective cover letter that demonstrates your passion for the role, field and employer. You can use your career plan to identify the steps you’ve taken on your path thus far and highlight your goal-setting skills and dedication. You can also apply these items during the interview process to prove your interest and qualification to prospective employers.

If you receive a job offer, determine whether the salary, benefits, location, work-life balance and responsibilities match your self-assessment and action plan.

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