A guide to planning a career (With benefits, tips and steps)

Updated 16 May 2023

Planning your career is key to guiding your working life and ensuring career progression, personal growth and professional development. Despite its importance, many people don't take the time to plan their careers and future. Whether it's short-term or long-term, career planning helps you remain focused and drives you towards your personal and professional goals. In this article, we discuss what planning a career is, why it's important, its basic process, the benefits it provides and how to plan your career in detail, with some tips to help you.

What is planning a career?

Planning a career is the process of mapping out your career choices, establishing career objectives and deciding on developmental and educational programmes to help you improve the skills required to achieve your goals. You may start this process at any point in your life, including while you're still at school or after you've gained several years of experience. During career planning, you:

  • identify what you're good at

  • determine how your skills, talents, interests and values translate into possible job opportunities

  • match your skills to existing careers or jobs

  • match your career goals to your educational needs

  • match your career goals to your financial needs

  • consider your well-being in relation to your career goals

The basic career planning process

The basic career planning process has three main components, each of which contains several sub-sections:

1. Self-exploration

This involves understanding who you are and what you can offer in a professional capacity. It entails examining your skills and values to assess whether you're capable of performing a job effectively and contemplating your interests to ensure you remain fulfilled in the job. You may also consider your education and work experience to see whether these match your desired career.

2. Occupational exploration

This involves exploring your career options and identifying the direction you want to take in your career. The process involves, firstly, researching job profiles and job opportunities by exploring job boards and career events. These allow you to interact directly with professionals in your desired field and obtain useful information. You might also research your chosen market, including current relevant trends.

3. Educational planning and career planning

This component revolves around decision-making and goal-setting to achieve your career objectives and career goals. It also asks you to develop an action plan. This may include, for example, determining what training, certification and education you require to get a job and applying for these courses.

Benefits of career planning

Planning your career is a fundamental aspect of career growth and development. It guides your focus, ensuring you remain on the right career path, and details everything you're required to do to achieve your career goals. It also serves as a useful benchmark and allows you to develop a realistic picture of your progress, increasing your chances of success. By proactively planning your career, you form a career path that aligns with your values, interests and ambitions.

Other ways professionals benefit from career planning include:

Gaining knowledge

The career planning process gives you insight into the various career opportunities and job profiles you might explore. For instance, if you wish to pursue a career in animation, you may learn about the different job positions in the animation industry and what each role entails. This way, you know where to apply your skills and knowledge.

Building self-awareness

Career planning forces you to look into your skills, abilities and competencies to understand how they translate to various roles and job opportunities. This level of self-awareness boosts your confidence, ensuring you know your strengths and weaknesses and how you might improve yourself. Being self-aware is vital when matching your skills to the right job roles, eliminating the struggle involved in selecting an ideal career.

Related: A guide to self-awareness (With examples)

Increased job satisfaction

When you plan your career, you select a career path that you find exciting and suits your skills, expertise and knowledge. As a result, you're more likely to enjoy your job position and field. If you're not happy with your current career, determine the direction you want to take and plan your career from there.

Determining short-term and long-term career goals

Planning your career is a great way to set your short-term and long-term goals. Whether you're just starting your career or in the middle of it, a well-thought-out plan gives you direction and helps you organise every aspect of your professional life. For instance, you may want to complete a degree by 20 and join the police force by 24. With a career plan, you establish what you can do to achieve this, including which courses to take and when to complete them.

Building a retirement plan

No one wants to work for the rest of their lives, and at one point, you may stop working due to old age, illness or an emergency. A career plan backed with savings and investments makes your retirement easier, ensuring you don't worry about the future. It also gives you something to fall back on if things don't go as planned.

How to plan your career

Here's a step-by-step guide for planning your career:

1. Determine who you are

Identify your skills, interests, hobbies, ambitions and abilities, and determine the direction you want your career to take. Write them down in bullet form for reference. Be sure to only list the necessary qualities you think might be useful during your professional career. Some qualities you might write down include:

  • teamwork skills

  • excellent communication

  • knowledge of programming and coding

  • ability to empathise with others

  • honesty and trustworthiness

2. Identify your career options

Identify your career options based on your qualities, strengths, skills and ambitions. Your goal is to find job opportunities that match who you are as an individual. For instance, if you're good at working as part of a team, look into careers that involve teamwork and collaboration. If you're a coder, you may want to explore technical fields such as web, app and game development. Be sure to review career information, research companies and speak to professionals in the field to gain more knowledge about specific career paths.

Related: Transferable skills: Definitions and examples

3. Prioritise

After identifying your career options, narrow them down to a few choices to make the selection process easier. To do this, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What are my top skills?

  • What interests me the most?

  • What's important to me?

  • What are my strengths and weaknesses?

Prioritising saves you time by allowing you to only explore career paths you're likely to succeed in.

4. Make comparisons

Compare the most promising career options in your list against your skills, values and interests. You may also factor in things such as the demand in your chosen field and the qualifications required to enter it. For example, if you don't have the necessary education to explore a specific role, you might either go back to school or choose another career that you're more qualified for. Be sure to consider the potential outcomes and barriers of each of your career options.

5. Make a decision

Finally, select your ideal career path, factoring in your personal preferences and lifestyle. While you may consult with other professionals for advice, only you can make the personal decision to pursue a certain career. Consider choosing two career options, one to explore immediately and another to have as a backup. Focus on your first option to guide your job search and training applications.

6. Create your action plan

Determine how you might start your chosen career. Write down specific action steps and tick them off as you accomplish them.

Example: To become a doctor, I must:

  1. Get into medical school.

  2. Earn a medical degree by 25.

  3. Complete a two-year general medical foundation programme.

  4. Register with the general medical council.

  5. Obtain a license to practise medicine.

Setting realistic timelines and expectations for your career goals is essential. For instance, becoming a doctor may take up to 12 years, especially if you want to specialise in a specific field such as paediatrics. Consider how long you're willing to spend reaching your career goals, and remember that your goals and priorities may change over the years.

Related: How to write an impactful career objective (Plus examples)

Tips for planning your career

Here are some useful tips when planning your career:

  • Make career planning a regular event by scheduling time at least once a year to review your career plans and what you've achieved.

  • Keep a record of your professional achievements and accomplishments to see how far you've come and to motivate you moving forward.

  • Set your career goals using the SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and timebound) method and review and adjust them often.

  • Identify ways to grow and expand your skills and competencies to gain access to more career opportunities.

  • Find training opportunities, courses or workshops that help you advance your career.

  • Constantly update your CV to include new skills, education and expertise.


Related articles

What is a management career path? (10 things to consider)

Explore more articles

  • 5 tips on how to become a courier driver (With examples)
  • How to become a renewable energy engineer (plus skills)
  • Benefits to having a degree (with steps to earn one)
  • What is an executive assistant and how much do they make?
  • How to become a publisher (with duties and skills)
  • How To Become an Accountant
  • How to become a secretary (with duties and salaries)
  • Job role change: what to do when your responsibilities change
  • How to get a job in publishing (definition and steps)
  • What is a ganger in construction? (With duties and skills)
  • How to become a kitchen Porter (Description and salary info)
  • How to Become a Paramedic (with duties and profile)