The Career Planning Process

4 Steps to Choosing a Career

A career counselor and client
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Choosing a career is a big deal. It's about so much more than deciding what to do to make a living. When you think about the amount of time you will spend at work, it will become clear why this decision is such a big deal. Expect to be on the job approximately 71% of every year. Over your lifetime, this comes out to roughly 31 1/2 years out of the 45 years you will probably spend working, from the beginning of your career until retirement. Do not underestimate the importance of selecting a career that is a good fit for you.

To increase your chances of finding a satisfying career, follow, in order, these four steps of the career planning process:

Step 1. Self Assessment

During this first step, you will use a variety of tools to gather information about yourself. Learn about your:

  • Interests: The things you enjoy doing
  • Work-related Values: The ideas and beliefs that are important to you and guide your actions
  • Personality Type: Your social traits, motivations, strengths and weaknesses, and attitudes
  • Aptitudes: A natural talent or an ability learned through training and education
  • Preferred Work Environments: The type of workplaces you prefer, for example, indoors or outdoors, office or factory, and noisy or quiet
  • Developmental Needs: Your cognitive abilities that have an impact on the type of training or education you can complete and what kind of work you can do
  • Realities: Circumstances that may influence your ability to train for an occupation or work in it

You will identify careers that might be a good fit for you during the self assessment, but you will need more information before you can make a final decision. Step 2 will help you do that.

Step 2. Career Exploration

Career exploration focuses on learning about the occupations that seem to be a good fit based on the results of your self assessment and any other professions that interest you. Use online and print resources to get a job description; learn about specific job duties; and gather labor market information including median salaries and job outlooks.

After completing this preliminary research, you can start eliminating professions that don't appeal to you and get more details about those that do. This is an ideal time to conduct informational interviews and arrange job shadowing opportunities. During an informational interview, you will ask people who work in an occupation that interests you questions about their jobs. Job shadowing involves following someone around at work in order to learn more about what they do.

Step 3. Match

Finally it's time to make a match! During Step 3, you will decide which occupation is the best fit for you based on what you learned during Steps 1 and 2—self assessment and career exploration.

  • Identify the occupation in which you are most interested and one or two alternatives on which to fall back if, for any reason, you can't pursue your first choice.
  • Give serious thought to how you will prepare to enter your chosen career, the costs associated with education and training, and whether you will face any barriers, which are the realities discussed during the step 1.
  • Go back to Step 2 if you find you need to explore your options further before making a decision. 

Once you have chosen a career, you can go on to Step 4, which will lead you toward your first job in your new career.

Step 4. Action

During this step, you will write a career action plan. It will serve as a guide to reaching your ultimate goal of getting a job in the career you deemed to be a good match during Step 3. Identify what long-term and short-term goals you will have to reach to get to the ultimate one.

Start investigating appropriate education and training programs, for example, collegesgraduate schools, or apprenticeship programs. Then start preparing for required entrance examinations or applying for admission.

If you are ready to seek employment, develop a job search strategy. Identify and learn about potential employers. Write your resume and cover letters. Begin to prepare for job interviews.

What Else You Should Know About the Career Planning Process

It is important to note that the career planning process never ends. At various points in your career, you may have to go back to the beginning, or to any phase as you redefine yourself and your goals. For example, you may decide to change your career or you may have to figure out how to pursue better options in your current one.

You can attempt to go through the career planning process on your own, or you can hire a career development professional who will help facilitate your journey. The way you decide to undertake this process—with or without assistance—is less important than the amount of thought and energy you put into it.