What Is the Career Planning Process?

Male student discussing career options with his counselor

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The Career Planning Process encompasses the stages involved in discovering a career path. This process includes self-assessment, research, experimentation, decision making, job searching, and accepting a job offer.

Self-Assessment Career Planning

Careful evaluation of your individual strengths, lifestyle preferences, passions, work style, and financial needs is a vital and often overlooked step in planning your various potential career paths.

In order to evaluate the suitability of work options, it is important to know both who you are as a person and who you desire to become a professional. This involves taking a careful inventory of your current career values, interests, skills, and personal qualities.

A career counselor can help you with this process through individualized counseling, exercises, and interest/personality inventories. This sort of counseling is typically provided by high school guidance counselors, university career centers, and local American Job Centers or job training programs.


Once you have articulated a sense of the satisfaction you would like to derive from your work and the skills you have to offer employers, you can begin your research. This stage involves brainstorming possible job options and investigating them thoroughly. During your career research, you will learn about the descriptions and qualifications for various positions, typical entry points and advancement opportunities, satisfactions, frustrations, and other important facts in order to determine if a particular career would be a good fit for you.

Online resources are available to help you with your preliminary information gathering. The next step will be to speak with as many people as possible that are involved in work that is of interest to you. By interviewing these individuals for information and advice about their work, you will be getting an insider’s perspective about the realities of the field and the recommended preparation for it, including continuing education requirements or graduate study.


Internships and part-time jobs are an excellent way to sample a field of interest. They provide the opportunity to perform some of the job functions, observe other's work, and evaluate the “real world” workplace environment.

Some individuals observe professionals in various fields for a shorter period of time than an internship. These “job shadowing” experiences, or externships, can last from one morning to several weeks and are an excellent way to get a feel for what your responsibilities would be in a given work role.

Taking on-campus roles related to potential job functions of interest is another way to test out your prowess. For example, if you are considering a journalism career, you might work for a campus magazine or newspaper. If you are interested in finance, you might volunteer for the student credit union.

Selecting project-oriented courses related to possible career targets can help you to test those processes. For example, if you are considering product management as a career, you might select a marketing course where you will formulate a branding campaign for a product as a project, or choosing a course where you will conduct an analysis of options for welfare reform if you are considering a career in public policy.


This stage involves an evaluation of the pros and cons of the career options you have been researching. It also involves prioritizing and, for some people, risk-taking. During this stage in the career planning process, you’ll have to make decisions regarding issues like relocation (are you willing to move in order to land your dream job?) and cost analysis (can you afford to do a poorly-compensated job you love, or will it be necessary to find personally unfulfilling work that provides a great salary and healthcare benefits?). 

Since the landscape of the world-of-work is constantly changing, it may be unrealistic to aim for decisions based on absolute certainty. Adaptability, the ability to manage several options at once, and the ability to maintain a positive attitude when faced with uncertainty may be easy for some; others may find these traits a stretch. Self-awareness, occupational awareness, and intuition can all play a part in your decision-making process.

Job Search

Once you have identified a work aspiration, you can begin your job search. Most people engaged in an active job search will be involved with activities such as professional networking, identifying prospective employers, writing cover letters and resumes, and interviewing.


Finally, after this lengthy process of self-evaluation, research, application, and interviewing, you will be offered a job and accept employment. Ideally, this will mark the beginning, or at least a milestone, in your exciting and varied career.