Career Planning: A Simple 4-Step Process to Get Started

Have you dedicated time to career planning? It’s worth it! A solid career planning process can help you work out how to achieve your goals and boost your chances of meeting them in the long run.

Read on to learn all about career planning and a simple four-step strategy you can use to get you started.

What is career planning and why does it matter?

Career planning is the process of understanding where you want to go in your career and how to get there. It helps you to get clear on what your goals are and what you need to do to achieve them. It can help you choose a subject of study or training course, decide which job roles to apply for, and identify skills you need to develop or improve.

Career planning is particularly important for young people and those new to the world of work. Whether you’re choosing your post-16 path, graduating University and joining the workforce, or in your first entry level job, career planning can help you take the next step in your journey.

Career planning is also useful if you’re looking to change career or progress to a more senior role in your industry. You can return to this process as many times as you need to throughout your career.

Career planning in 4 easy steps…

“Career planning” might sound scary and overwhelming. That’s why we’ve broken it down for you into this easy step-by-step process.

Let’s get started!

1. Understanding yourself

Self-knowledge is one of the most important, and one of the most ignored, parts of the career planning process. You can only work out the best path for you if you understand yourself, your strengths and weaknesses, and your ambitions.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • What stage of my education or career journey am I at now?
  • Where would I like to be in a year’s time? How about 2 years? 5 years?
  • What is my eventual dream career and how long will it realistically take me to get there?
  • What skills, training, or experience do I need to achieve my goals?
  • What do I enjoy?
  • What am I good at?
  • What do I find difficult or challenging?
  • What skills would I like to learn or build on as I go forward in my career?

Write all your answers down. If you don’t know an answer right now, that’s not a problem. The idea isn’t to know all the answers, but to start asking yourself the right questions.

If you like, you can team up with a friend and ask each other these questions. Getting someone else’s perspective can help you to get clarity.

You’ll return to these ideas throughout the rest of the process.

2. Understanding your opportunities and options

In this phase, you’ll assess some of the options available to you. Once you know what your choices are, you can move towards picking the right one for you.

Perhaps you have a very clear idea of where you want to go in your career. If this is you, you’ll need to start exploring the different possible routes to get you there. Some careers have a clearly defined trajectory (for example, if you want to be a doctor, you’ll need to apply to medical school and attend for 5+ years.) Others have multiple different possible routes of entry – academic study, working your way up from an entry level role, an Apprenticeship, and so on.

On the other hand, you might not know exactly what you want to do. Perhaps there are several possible career paths you can take with the skills you have. If this is you, try brainstorming as many different options as you can think of. Even if they’re not something you can see yourself doing, write it down. Once you’ve written as many as you can think of, cross off any that definitely won’t work for you. From there, whittle it down to the ones that sound the most appealing. That’s your shortlist.

You need to try to be realistic at this stage. Ask yourself not just what you want to do, but whether there is a market and available job opportunities for your skills and interests.

3. Making a decision

It’s time to decide which option you’re going to take and which route you’re going to go down. This step can seem particularly daunting. If you’re feeling nervous or unsure, here are some ways to help you make a decision:

  • Visualise your ideal situation. What does your ideal career, path of study, or life look like?
  • Talk to a friend or family member.
  • Get some help and support from a careers advisor.
  • Return to Steps 1 and 2, and drill further down into your answers and options until things become clearer.
  • Go with your gut!

Something I find helpful at this stage is to remember this: nothing is forever. If you find later on that you’ve made the wrong decision, you can always retrace your steps and try a different route – or a different career entirely! Nothing is fixed in stone, so just make the best choice you can with the information you have available now.

4. Putting your plan into action

Congratulations, you’ve made a decision! Now you have a plan, it’s time to put it into action.

Remember the expression: “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” You don’t need to do everything straight away, and you shouldn’t try. Career planning is about sustainable, steady progress towards short-, medium-, and long-term goals.

Instead, start by taking one step. Search a jobs board, work on your CV, ask for an informational interview with a relevant person in your field, apply for a training course or academic programme, approach a business for some work experience, polish up your LinkedIn profile and start networking, or just do some more research.

Remember: slow and steady is the way to go.

Good luck!


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