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Career Development

How to Make a Career Plan in 8 Steps

December 12, 2019

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An effective career plan can guide your professional life successfully, from finding your first job to enjoying a rewarding career. With careful career planning, you can take steps to evaluate your professional options and develop a strategic plan for achieving your goals. In this article, we discuss how to approach career planning and how to plot a successful professional path.

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What is career planning?

Career planning involves mapping the key steps of your professional future. From identifying fields you want to pursue to developing long-term objectives, this method can help you devise a strategy for career success.

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How to start planning your career path

Consider these steps when creating your career path:

1. Learn about potential career options

Start gaining knowledge about career options by asking friends, family and colleagues about their jobs. Find out what skills they use and what qualifications they have. Ask them what they like and dislike about their jobs, and what type of experience they earned before their current position.

Next, research top companies and seek out professionals in the field. Attend in-person or online networking events or set up informational interviews with experts. To gain hands-on experience in a potential profession, try pursuing volunteer opportunities, internships or job shadowing experiences.

2. Discover growing job markets

Growing job markets tend to offer the most professional potential. Try talking with experts in your field to learn about some of the most exciting opportunities they foresee. Read the top publications and online news sources for your field, and watch for emerging careers that interest you.

For a more comprehensive view of growing job markets, review data-based studies like the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics list of fastest-growing occupations. With a quick glance, you can identify which jobs have the greatest potential and offer the highest median pay.

3. Identify careers that match your skills

To choose a field that makes you feel confident and successful, consider the technical skills that you learned in school or at work. For example, you might know how to teach concepts to a class, operate heavy equipment or develop a media buying plan.

Next, think about your soft skills, which are behaviors and traits you have acquired. For example, you might know how to analyze an issue critically, or you might excel at communicating clearly. Match your list of technical and soft skills against career paths you are considering to see how well they fit.

Read more: Hard Skills vs. Soft Skills

4. Understand career qualifications

Begin by reviewing the degrees you will need to work in your field of choice. Identify whether you will need a bachelor’s degree in a specific subject, and determine whether you will need a graduate degree to pursue advanced positions.

Next, examine the professional certifications that could help you excel in your field and review the licensure requirements for your profession. Take note of the licensing process in your area to make sure you are legally qualified for the job.

5. Assess salaries and other benefits

To assess the earning potential in your field, try exploring salaries on Indeed or browsing careers by industry. Here, you can find the average annual salary for common occupations and identify factors that can increase your earning potential, such as acquiring an advanced degree.

As you review job listings, make note of the benefits each position offers, such as healthcare, vacation time and telecommuting opportunities. These benefits can reduce your expenses and improve your quality of life, making them essential to factor into your total compensation.

6. Compare possible career paths

After considering a few potential career paths, compare your options. One may require many more skills and an additional degree, which could be more time-consuming or expensive compared to the other options. Another may have substantially higher earning potential.

Next, compare how well each career path matches your core values. One may allow you to develop more of the personal qualities and relationships you aspire to have. Another may inspire you to produce your best professional work. Review your list of pros and cons to assess which professional path is most likely to help you achieve your goals.

Read more: Core Values: Overview and Examples

7. Establish SMART goals

Since pursuing a career path can take years, divide broader objectives into smaller goals you can track. Try setting SMART goals to guide you through the process:

  • Specific: Make your goal as precise as possible. If you aspire to be a teacher, set a specific goal, like securing a job teaching high school biology in your local school system.

  • Measurable: Quantify your progress. Set benchmarks like completing a bachelor’s degree in education or applying to 10 jobs that meet your requirements.

  • Attainable: Set goals that you can achieve. To confirm that your goal is attainable, think about the individual steps and consider how realistic they are.

  • Relevant: Any career-related goal you set should genuinely matter. Think about how important the goal is and whether it will help you reach your long-term objectives.

  • Time-based: Give your goals deadlines. You will have an easier time achieving the end result and motivating yourself to action if you have committed to a specific time frame.

8. Develop a career action plan

To create a map for your professional future, review action items from your SMART goals and chart the steps you will need to follow. Then, put them on a paper or digital calendar to establish your schedule. Keep your career action plan readily available so you can review it regularly. Check off each step as you complete it, and reward yourself for achievements both big and small. 

Revisit and revise your career action plan as necessary. New opportunities, technological advances, personal priorities and trends in the economy can all cause essential career planning changes.

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