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The Career Planning Process

Planning Your Career Step-By-Step

By Dawn Rosenberg McKay
Career Planning Expert

Choosing a career is a big deal. It's about so much more than deciding what you will do to make a living. To start with, think about the amount of time we spend at work. We are on the job approximately 71% of every year. Over our lifetimes, this comes out to roughly 31 1/2 years out of the 45 years most of us spend working, from the beginning of our careers until retirement. The importance of selecting a career with which we are satisfied cannot be overemphasized.

While some people are lucky enough to just know what they want to do and end up in satisfying careers without giving it much thought, most of us are not. Many people don't put enough effort into choosing occupations or pick them for the wrong reasons. Maybe they choose careers that seem secure or pay well. Then they end up unhappy. The best way to make sure that doesn't happen to you is to make a well-thought out decision. Follow the career planning process as described here.

The career planning process is comprised of four steps: Self Assessment, Career Exploration, Match and Action. You can attempt to go through them on your own or you can seek the services of a career development professional who will help facilitate your journey. The way you decide to undertake this process—with or without assistance—is less important than the amount of thought and energy you put into it.

Self Assessment:

During this first step you will use a variety of tools to gather information about yourself. You will learn about your:

  • Interests
  • Work-related Values
  • Personality Type
  • Aptitudes
  • Preferred Environments
  • Developmental Needs
  • Realities

You will identify occupations that might be a good fit for you during this step.

More about Self Assessment

Career Exploration

  • Explore the occupations that appear to be a good fit based on the results of your self assessment.
  • Explore other occupations that interest you.
  • Research the industries in which you would like to work
  • Research the Labor Market

After your preliminary research, you can start eliminating occupations that don't appeal to you and get more specific information on those that do. These are some ways to do that:

  • Job Shadowing
  • Part time work, internships, or volunteer opportunities
  • Informational interviews


During this phase of the career planning process you will decide which occupation is the best fit for you based on what you now know about yourself and the occupations you've researched.

  • Identify the occupation in which you are most interested and one or two alternatives on which to fall back if, for any reason, you can't pursue your first choice.
  • Give serious thought to how you will prepare to enter your chosen career, the costs associated with doing that and whether you will face any barriers. Barriers include family responsibilities, financial difficulties and disabilities that may interfere with pursuing your goals.
  • Go back to the prior phase if you find you need to explore your options further before making a decision.


Now it's time to put together a plan to reach your goals and start moving forward. First write a career action plan. This will serve as a guide that will help you reach your goals.

  • Identify your long-term and short-term goals.
  • Apply to college, graduate school or training programs, if necessary.
  • Develop a job search strategy
  • Write your resume
  • Identify and learn about potential employers
  • Compose cover letters
  • Prepare for job interviews

It is important to note that the career planning process is a circular one. You may have to go back to the beginning, or any phase, at some point in your life as you redefine yourself and your goals. You may even have to do this more than once.