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Career Planning

Career Planning Step-by-Step

Follow this guide for career planning step-by-step.

James Gonyea

September 03, 2008

Career Planning Step-by-Step

After much thought and consideration, you've finally selected a specific occupation as a career goal. Congratulations! If you're like most people, you didn't determine a career direction overnight. You probably made your decision only after a great deal of careful thinking and (hopefully) research into occupations that best match your personality. But despite all your efforts, you're probably still asking yourself, "OK, now what do I do? How do I actually reach my career goal?"

Deciding on a particular profession or job is only half the task. Now you must determine the steps you should take from this point forward, and then take those steps to actually realize your goal. More simply put, it is time to develop a step-by-step plan.

From 30 years of experience as a career counselor, I can confidently say many people do not properly develop a career plan and, as a consequence, do not reach their career goal. They often approach life in an unplanned, willy-nilly manner, taking each day as it comes and hoping that all will end well and as desired. This laissez-faire approach to life — and your career — seldom works and can often leave you feeling that you've failed to reach your true potential.

Essentially, a good career plan can be built by first answering the following four questions:

What are the common steps (i.e., decisions and actions) that other people have taken to prepare for and to enter the occupation I have chosen?

To answer this question, read occupational literature, such as the Occupational Outlook Handbook published by the U.S. Department of Labor. You should also talk to human resources personnel and employment recruiters who hire people in your chosen field, as well as people who have or are now working in your occupation, to identify the common steps.

What obstacles might I encounter as I attempt to reach my career goal, and what resources can I call upon to overcome each obstacle?

The best people to ask for answers to this question are individuals who have actually worked in or are currently working in your chosen field. Also, academic and career counselors are a good source of information as they have assisted others in dealing with career obstacles and understand what resources are available to resolve problems. The same occupational literature you use to answer the first question can also be very useful here.

How long should it take me to complete each step I identify in the first question?

Again, look to those who have or are currently working in the occupation you're interested in. They've taken the steps, so they know how long each can take. Assigning a starting and ending date to each step in your plan is critical to its success in order to provide you with a barometer to measure your progress.

What step should I take first, second, third and so on to reach my ultimate career goal — to land a position in my chosen field?

If these steps are not obvious to you after answering the first question, then speaking with a career planner or academic/career counselor can help you determine the order in which you pursue your career plan.

Career planning is neither difficult nor time-consuming if done properly. The above steps can be completed in a matter of a few days or weeks of part-time work. Whatever work is required, the end result of careful career planning can be finding a spot in your dream career.

This article originally appeared on

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