Career Planning 101

by Kaitlyn Ranze

In this life gif, Grey's Anatomy characters raise their hands because they're admitting they have no idea what they're doing with their life at 30

I spent years doing what I needed for health insurance and paying the bills, but not really getting anywhere professionally or financially. I wasted a lot of time not being passionate about my work and wasn’t sure of my ultimate goals. The game changer? Career planning.

When you feel stuck in a professional rut, have an opportunity to do something different, worry about the economic climate (recession, anyone?), or are inspired to do something new, it’s time to career plan. This process can help you take stock of your skills and interests and figure out what steps you need to take to achieve your goals professionally and financially.

Here are the 8 steps to career planning:

Start by asking yourself these three questions.

  • What are your interests?

The first step to figuring out your career goals is considering what interests you. What are your passions? Is there something that motivates you to get out of bed in the morning? What makes you tick?

  • What are your skills?

The next step is to consider your skills. What are you good at, and what can you bring to the table?

  • What are your values?
Image of the 10 steps to making a career change
1) Determine your "why"
2) Determine your capabilities
3) List experience, training, & certifications
4) Find the sweet spot
5) Make a budget
6) Build an emergency fund before you switch
7) Pay down debt
8) Be prepared to negotiate
9) Get liquid
10) Pursue financial assistance
The bottom text reads Make a change and head over to this free downloadable guide. with a link to The Guide to Making a Career Change.
Make a change and head over to this free downloadable guide.

Last but not least, think about your values. What is important to you? What do you believe in?

When I first went through this process, I literally said, “I like running and reading.” I didn’t realize that I wasn’t considering my professional interests and values because they weren’t a priority for me. I wasn’t working in a fulfilling field, so I immediately thought of the hobbies that made me happy.

That’s where an interest assessment comes in. An interest assessment is a tool that can help you identify and prioritize your interests, values, and skills.

Taking an interest assessment

There are a few different ways to do an interest assessment. You can take an online quiz, participate in a focus group, or even just sit down and brainstorm your interests.

Two of our favorite options are free resources you can find online.

  • Think2Perform – With values shuffle cards, you’ll color code and prioritize your values in an online, interactive, and free platform.
  • MIT’s Career Advising Platform – From personality tests to values and interest assessments, you have plenty of options to start your self-reflection.

No matter how you do it, taking the time to assess your interests is a worthwhile investment. They help you identify your strengths, give you a better understanding of yourself, and help you figure out what you want from your career.

Then figure out your professional and personal priorities

Making a list of priorities before career planning can save you time and energy.

  • What are your top career goals based on your values, skills, and talents?
  • What are your work/life balance preferences?
  • Where is your ideal job location?
  • How much do you need and want to earn?
  • What type of company do you want to work for?
  • What is the most important thing you want from your career?

By knowing what you want, you can focus your search on the right options and make the best decision for your future.

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Figure out which careers align with your skills, values, and interests. Then, make comparisons.

You could start by the jobs churned out by career aptitude tests. Review job descriptions for the careers you’re interested in. You’ll get a good overview of the day-to-day responsibilities of each profession.

Then consider the salary. Use online resources like or to compare salaries for different careers.

Finally, look at job satisfaction surveys to see how happy people are in their careers. Sites like or offer good insights into different professions. Why is this important? Let’s look at one well-paying profession that is notorious for its unhappy workers – air traffic controllers.

The average salary of an air traffic controller is $122,530 per year, making it one of the highest-paying jobs in the United States. But what does that mean for the happiness of those working in this career?

Well, according to job satisfaction surveys, air traffic controllers are some of the unhappiest workers. In fact, they rank near the bottom of the list regarding job satisfaction.

So why is this? There are a few possible explanations. First of all, the job can be highly stressful. After all, you’re responsible for the safety of hundreds of people every day.

Second, the hours can be long and irregular. Air traffic controllers often have to work overnight shifts and weekends.

Finally, the pay, while high, may not be as high as it could be. Air traffic controllers typically have a lot of responsibility and experience, but their salaries are often lower than those of other high-paying jobs.

Understanding the scope of work is important when signing up for a job. Once you’re willing to commit to something, it’s time for the next step.

Consider other factors beyond personal preferences before picking a job

Career planning isn’t about keeping the lights on. Okay, it is, but it’s about so much more. It’s about picking the right professional path for you 5, 10, and 20 years from now.

Knowing that longevity factors into play in career planning:

Industry Outlooks Can Help You Avoid Shrinking Industries

Automated telephone lines replaced call switch operators, while spellcheck replaced typists. That’s why it’s important to consider the overall industry outlook. No one wants to be caught in a shrinking industry. Job security is at risk, and there may also be fewer opportunities for advancement. By paying attention to industry outlooks, you can avoid making a career move that could end up being a dead end.

Job Prospects Can Help You Target Growing Industries

On the other hand, if you’re looking to move into a growing industry, paying attention to job prospects can help you zero in on the right field. With more job openings and opportunities for advancement, you’ll be in a much better position to further your career.

You should consider factors beyond personal preferences. What is the current demand for this field? Are you comfortable with risk if the demand is low or entry is difficult?

Research the different paths to land your dream job

Once you know what you want to achieve, research the different paths to help you get there. Will this mean furthering your education, changing jobs, or taking on new responsibilities at your current job? What qualifications are required to enter the field? Will it require additional training? How will selecting this option affect you and others in your life? Gather advice from friends, colleagues, and family members. Consider potential outcomes and barriers for each of your final options.

Make a plan.

Once you know what your goals are and what options are available to you, it’s time to make a plan. When it comes to your professional development and career, setting S.M.A.R.T. goals will help you map out a clear path to success.

So what exactly is a S.M.A.R.T. goal? A S.M.A.R.T goal is a specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound goal – in other words, a realistic and achievable goal within a certain timeframe.

Let’s say, for example, that your goal is to land a job in marketing. A S.M.A.R.T. goal would be, “I will research and apply for ten marketing jobs within the next month.” This goal is specific (landing a job in marketing), measurable (researching and applying for ten jobs), attainable (within one month), relevant (to your career goals), and time-bound (one month).

By contrast, a non-S.M.A.R.T. goal would be, “I want to get a job in marketing.” This goal is not specific, measurable, or time-bound.

Here’s how to get started setting a S.M.A.R.T. career goal:

1) Start with a specific goal – What do you want to achieve in your career? Do you want to get promoted to a management position? Start your own business? Change careers entirely? Once you have a specific goal, you can break it down into smaller pieces.

2) Make your goal measurable – How will you know when you’ve achieved your goal? What are the steps you need to take to get there? By making your goal measurable, you can track your progress and keep yourself on track.

3) Set an attainable goal – Is your goal realistic? Can you achieve it within the timeframe you’ve set for yourself? If not, it’s time to readjust your goals. Remember, setting an attainable goal is key to keeping yourself motivated.

4) Make your goal relevant – Does your goal align with your overall career objectives? If not, it might be time to rethink it. Making sure your goal is relevant to your career will help you stay focused and on track.

5) Set a timeline for your goal – By when do you want to achieve your goal? Setting a deadline for yourself will help you stay accountable and motivated to achieve your goal.

6) Take action. The most important part of career planning is taking action. Once you have a plan in place, start working toward your goals. Set small, achievable goals to keep yourself on track, and don’t be afraid to ask for help from mentors or colleagues.

Follow the plan but be ready to adapt

Your career is not going to be a straight line from Point A to Point B. You will make detours, side trips, and U-turns along the way. And that’s okay! In fact, it’s more than okay – it’s necessary.

The world is constantly changing, as are the job market and the workplace. To be successful, you need to be adaptable. That means being open to new opportunities and willing to pivot when necessary.

So if you feel like your career plan is off track, don’t worry – it’s probably just right. The ability to adapt is what will ultimately help you reach your goals.

Get connected with others on the same path

Network, network, network!

One of the most crucial steps in executing your plan is networking. Get connected with people in your industry or field, attend industry events, and join professional organizations. The more people you know, the better your chances of landing your dream job.

And don’t forget about social media! Platforms like LinkedIn are great for making professional connections and staying up-to-date on industry news.

Find a mentor.

Mentors can offer advice, guidance, and support as you navigate the job market. The best ones understand your interests, values, and overall professional goals.

Not sure how to find a mentor? Start by reaching out to your professional network or attending industry events. You can also try searching online for mentorship programs in your field.

The bottom line is that there is no “right” way to career planning. It’s about figuring out what works best for you and taking the necessary steps to achieve your goals. So get started today and see where your career takes you!

Related Reads:

Find Your Ikigai

Free or Cheap Ways to Develop or Grow Professionally

Free Downloadable Guide to Making a Career Change

Salary Negotiation

Online Courses to Grow Professionally

The Importance of Networking

10 Ways to Start Over in a Career You Will Love

What to Do Before You Quit

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