Career Planning Tips
Updated 27 November 2020
Whether you are a school leaver, a recent graduate or already employed, having a plan for your future career can make the difference between drifting from job to job or following a well-considered path that consistently leads you along your desired career progression.
Career planning can be advantageous for everyone, whether remaining in one industry or changing career paths at different stages in your life.
What Is Career Planning and Why Is It Important?
Career planning is an ongoing process whereby you assess:
- What you have achieved up to this point
- How you would like your career to progress
- The steps you can take to make that happen
Career planning puts you in control of your career. It enables you to regularly check that any steps you take, including job moves, progress you towards your career goals.
More than that, career planning allows you to consider life changes that may cause you to reconsider your career goals.
It is a flexible framework to ensure you are on a career path that is right for you at any stage in your life.
10 Key Tips for Career Planning
Now you know the ‘why’ of planning out your future career, let’s look at the ‘how’ with 10 key tips.
1. Do Your Research
Research is one of the most important tools you have when it comes to career planning.
Career planning research will include finding the answers to the following questions:
What career is a good fit for your skillset and personality? For instance, would your knowledge of art be better suited to a career as a graphic designer or as an art gallery owner?
Do you really know what a job entails? It might sound glamorous to work as an architect and the high salary might appeal to you. However, do you have the skills to handle the engineering side of the role as well as the design side?
What entry qualifications are needed for your intended career and what in-job qualifications will be needed further down the line?
What is the salary range for the job, and can you support yourself on that salary?
What is the typical progression for your intended career path? For instance, entry-level investment banking roles generally begin as an analyst, before progressing to associate, director and then, if you stay in the role long enough, managing director.
What is currently happening within that industry and what are likely future developments? Any of these may affect your intended career path.
Which employers are thriving in the current economy? Which employers are likely to close or be bought out?
Which companies have an ongoing record of treating their employees well?
Which companies have a culture that fits with your own attitudes?
Will your intended career change due to developments in the related industry? For instance, a computer programmer cannot rely on only using existing programming languages for the rest of their career. New programming languages are constantly being developed to match new applications of technology.
2. Look at What You Have Already Achieved
This can be broken down into:
- Work experience
- Education and qualifications; for instance, high school diploma, bachelor’s degree, professional degree, master's degree, vocational qualification
- In-job qualifications; such as health and safety or first aid
- Work performance; for instance, meeting or exceeding targets
- Accomplishments outside work; such as organizing a fundraiser for a local charity
Looking back at what you have achieved can greatly increase your self-confidence, but it can also indicate whether you are already on the right career path, have met any of your career goals, or point to a completely new career path to follow.
Listing your achievements can also provide you with a database of information to match with future career choices.
3. Set Your Career Goals
Once you know what career you want to follow, the next step is to set yourself some career goals.
Short-term goals, to be accomplished within the next year, could include achieving a related qualification or improving your work performance.
Long-term goals, to be accomplished over several years, perhaps three or five, could include a promotion or achieving professional certification.
Remember to make your goals SMART:
You might find it helpful to read Interview Questions on Career Motivation & Career Goals for more information on this topic.
4. Assess Your Likes and Dislikes
This might not seem like an obvious issue to think about when planning your career, but it is important to assess how your personality, likes, dislikes, work-ethic and general approach to life may affect your chosen career path.
Are you an introvert or an extrovert? This will affect whether you work well in a team, thrive at making big presentations or excel in more intimate work environments.
Do you value a level of autonomy at work or are you happy to work to a strict set of rules and routines?
Do you want to find a green job that puts measures in place to support the environment or utilizes green energy?
Would you prefer to work flexibly, either in being able to choose the hours you work or taking part of the week to work from home?
Do you value job security over the chance to earn a high salary based on commission?
Assessing your likes and dislikes will provide an important insight into the right career path for you.
5. Identify Your Transferable Skills
You have already considered your work experience, qualifications and achievements. Next, look at your skills and how those might serve your chosen career.
For instance, you are a high school leaver who has successfully attained your high school diploma. You want an entry-level marketing role in the charity sector.
Your transferable skills could include:
- Fundraising – From your involvement in your school’s fundraising events
- Copywriting – From your time writing articles for the school newspaper
- Teamwork – As a member of the school’s soccer team
6. Learn Something New
Once you have researched your chosen career path, the next step is to discover whether there are any gaps between what you have (experience, qualifications, etc.) and what you need to land that job.
It may be that you need additional qualifications, for instance, a bachelor’s degree, or to hold professional certification, such as an accountant.
Alternatively, it may be that you need to take a work-related course, perhaps in health and safety or management.
Where there is a gap in the work experience required for a role, can you obtain this experience through a volunteer role, a hobby or an internship?
7. Build Your Contacts
Having a range of contacts to interact with and learn from can prove invaluable when planning your future career path.
The best way to build your contacts is through networking.
Networking can include physical face-to-face meetings, online groups or social media interaction.
Physical networking could include:
- Careers fairs and other employer recruitment events
- Local business events
- Industry and professional body events
- Training conferences
- Conferences organized by your employer
Online networking groups can be found via professional bodies, local business groups or on social media platforms.
LinkedIn is the ideal social media platform for business networking. Use it to:
- Make connections with people in your industry, managers at companies you would like to work for and recruiters
- Keep up to date with developments in your industry
- Find job vacancies
8. Keep Your Resume Up To Date
Every time you carry out a career planning assessment, check that your resume reflects any changes that have happened. This might be:
New work experience, either from an external job move, promotion or taking on additional responsibilities in your current role
Work-related achievements; for instance, receiving an award for your performance or completing a workplace course
Changes to your resume objective; for example, the previous objective stated that you were a graduate looking for an entry-level position, but since then you have gained employment
Having an up-to-date resume to hand means that as soon as you become aware of a suitable vacancy, you can apply.
9. Stay Motivated
As with any personal plan, a level of self-motivation and perseverance is necessary.
To avoid distraction and maintain your levels of motivation, try these tips:
Remember the why. Why are you taking these steps and following your career plan? The answer will generally be to attain that dream role or career progression; but equally, it may be more complicated than that. Perhaps you want to earn enough to buy your own home, for instance. Dig down to the why and keep it in mind.
Utilize the power of visualization. Create a clear vision of what you want to achieve. This could be the result, a step along the way or a result of your achievement. How does that experience feel? What will happen when you succeed? What will it look like?
Make your plan real by writing or typing it down. First, this gives you a document to check back on and tick off items achieved. Second, it makes your plan feel much more concrete and obtainable.
Remind yourself of your plan. Do not become so drawn into the day-to-day routine that you forget what you are working towards. There are lots of ways to do this. You could use the actual phrase, ‘career plan’ or the job title that you would like to land. You might use a motivational word such as ‘persevere’ or an image of the prized item you will be able to afford. Whatever it is, leave it somewhere that you will see it regularly. It might be the screensaver or wallpaper on your mobile phone or computer. It might simply be a sticky note on your desk.
10. Repeat Annually
Around the same time each year, block out some time to set up a new career plan for the year ahead.
Take this seriously by making a career planning appointment with yourself. Book it in on the calendar on your phone, your diary or your wall calendar.
The first step is to assess your career plan for the previous year and ask yourself:
- Which of your career plan steps did you achieve?
- Which steps did you fail to achieve and why?
- Was it a realistic plan?
The next step is to look at what has changed over the last year? Have you moved jobs? Do you have new qualifications? Have your requirements changed?
Taking all of this into account, ask yourself whether you are still happy with the same career goals? For instance, last year’s aim was to progress through an investment banking career to land a director role within eight years. Is that still what you want to achieve?
An annual check-in and assessment will mean that you are following an up-to-date, realistic career plan that suits your current needs and wishes.
What Does a Career Plan Include?
Your career plan will of course be personal to you, but you might find it helpful to include:
- A brief statement outlining your current situation, your skills and interests, and what you want to achieve
- Your education and qualifications
- Work experience history
- Short-term and long-term goals
- Your current skills
- What qualifications and experience you will need to obtain
- The steps you will take to progress your career over the following twelve months
Career planning is ultimately about taking charge of your future.
With a little thought and research, you can ensure that each step you take leads you in the right direction and that you are in control of your career progression.