How to Make a Career Plan in 5 Easy Steps

It’s no secret that the job market has become more and more competitive and challenging year by year. We’ve all grown accustomed to draconic work requirements that at the same time require years of experience for entry level positions.

If you’re just fresh out of college or just started dipping your toes with different jobs it’s normal to feel unsure of how to navigate this environment. Finding the position that you want might seem a hassle, but it can be easier than you think as long as you have a few things in mind.

Gone are the days of our parents or grandparents when someone would get their start on the job market at the same company they would retire from. Except for the lucky few, nowadays we find ourselves bouncing around different jobs with no direction until we take the time to think of a career. 

To help you with this, we’ve put together a few easy steps to jump-start your career planning so you’re on track from the start toward your goal.

Step 1: Understand Career Planning

Before you start your career plan you need to understand what it is and why it matters. The short version is that it’s the series of long-term actions you take to improve your professional knowledge, abilities, or qualifications to make certain jobs more accessible to you.

The important part here is long term. It won’t happen in a day and you need to set your expectations for an endurance run, not a sprint. And before you even start running, you’ll need to know how to walk toward a goal.

As we mentioned previously, up until a certain stage in our career, most of us sort of walk in a rough general direction, with no exact purpose in mind when it comes to our professional life. At most, we learn to provide a good general answer to the interview question “Where do you see yourself in 10 years?” but we don’t seriously consider it. 

There’s no such thing as being too young or starting too early when it comes to setting yourself up for success. The earlier you start to tackle what goes into planning your career and how even the most unattainable job can be yours if you’re simply consistent in your efforts the more time you’ll save. 

Step 2: Start Where You Are

Arthur Ashe’s quote “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.” heavily applies here. To start planning years in advance, you need to take a good honest look at yourself, at what skills, achievements, qualifications, and areas for development you have now. 

You can write this down to organize your thoughts. It’s fine if you don’t have that many things to write, we’re going to come back to this page in time and fill it up. At this stage, you can even use a decision tree to keep your thoughts organized.

Next, we’ll need to evaluate your values, interests, and preferences. Do you want to make a difference or earn a lot of money? Is your ideal job working in an office in a skyscraper, or on a laptop on a beach? What hobbies do you have? What major did you choose? What did you like the most about it?

Sometimes an external perspective can help. You can ask your friends or family to tell you what they think your skills or inclinations are. Ask them what you are best at, but take everything with a grain of salt as you’ll need to choose your career, not them.

Step 3: Research

Now that you have a nice idealized vision of what you’d want to do, it’s time to ground it into reality. We need to change something like “I want to work with kids” to “I want to be a music teacher working with preschoolers”

First, we need to figure out what industry we’re interested in. Search news articles and government announcements about which ones experienced growth or which are the most profitable. Check average incomes and types of activities within it, then narrow it down by individual types of jobs.

Make again a list with as many types of roles you like as possible and look online to find job listings for those kinds of positions. Check the requirements for them, especially in terms of education and experience. Check entry-level roles as well.

Another way to find what is needed for a certain position is to check websites that show people working on the position you’re interested in and what their work experience is. If you need more information to get a clearer picture, be bold and ask them directly. Many professionals will be glad to provide information to those just starting out in their field.

Step 4: Plan 

Now that we know where we are and we have an idea of where we want to be in terms of qualifications, it’s time to map the course to it. Depending on your goal you might end up thinking about years worth of education or training to obtain a certain diploma or certification. This might seem overwhelming, but the secret here is to break it down into workable chunks. 

It’s become a staple saying that to achieve mastery in a field, you need 10,000 hours but the truth is you only need 100 to be better than a beginner, which should be your goal at first. 100 hours means 4 months of dedicating 6 hours and a half every week to learn something, which isn’t that bad.

That being said knowledge isn’t everything, and you might need to follow stricter schedules to get the needed certification. You’ll need to research places near you that can offer the certifications you need for the role you want and make a cost-benefit calculation to see how many resources in both time and money you’ll need to invest to get certain qualifications.

This is the step where you’ll need to organize. Doesn’t matter if you just do some scribbles on a piece of paper or fill out a few pages of a spreadsheet. Just make sure you start plotting the specifics of how to get what qualifications for what entry-level jobs.

Step 5: Don’t Stop!

Landing the entry level job you wanted 4 months ago after doing an internship isn’t the end of your journey. What you liked 4 months ago might not be what you like now. Maybe the field you got into turned out to be different than what you expected or you found another field that seems even better.

Whatever the case, once started this process will become a positive feedback loop that will only require a few hours’ worth of planning every once in a while  to have a measurable positive impact on your life and career.

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