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The only guide you’ll ever need for career planning

July 14, 2022 - 16 min read

two people discussing career-planning

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What is career planning?

Do you have to be at a certain age to plan your career?

How do you start career planning?

7 steps to organized career planning

Some additional tips to help build your career plan

Whether you’re fresh out of college or you’ve been in the field for some time, everyone can benefit from career planning. Plus, if you’re a manager or leading a team, helping your employees do their own career planning can boost engagement and retention. 

Deciding what kind of work you want to do and where you want to do it is the essence of career planning. This step-by-step guide will help you with the rest.

What is career planning?

Career planning may look different for different people. However, a great place to start is to consider your values and skills. With that foundation, you can start exploring what kind of career field, job, or role aligns with what you want. Career planning can involve assessment tests, professional coaching, educational programs, and occupational training.

Do you have to be at a certain age to plan your career?

There is no “right” age or time to start planning your career. Ideally, when you reach the end of high school, you’ll have some idea of what you want to do. But it’s okay if that’s not the case. College, vocational school, and entry-level positions can all provide valuable experience. You can pad your resume and network as you narrow down your career choices.

If you’re a few years out of school, career planning is an opportunity to reflect on the highlights and challenges of your career to date. Looking at what you’ve already done and what you’d like to do more of is a great place to start.

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Why career planning is important for businesses

Businesses should care about career planning, too. If you help employees take steps forward in their careers, you’ll improve employee engagement and retention. You can even help prevent burnout and boost job satisfaction because workers will have bigger goals to focus on beyond their day-to-day. 

Organizations that ignore career planning will limit employees’ professional development — which means they’re likely to look for opportunities elsewhere. If you create a formal process that helps your team plan their careers, they’ll know you care about their growth. In return, they’ll be loyal, and you’ll see the benefit of them growing their careers over time. 

What employers should know about career planning 

So how can you help your employees with career planning? Here are a few ideas to get you started. 

1. Provide opportunities to explore career options 

Employers should recognize that their employees’ interests and goals can change over time. If you want to help employees plan their careers, provide opportunities like job shadowing across departments. 

For example, if your employee works in marketing but is interested in data analytics, you might give them the opportunity to shadow an analyst for a day. They can see if they’d enjoy that career path  — and then, you could provide the training they need to make the shift. This way, you’ll retain your employee and help them find a job they love. 

2. Help facilitate networking across departments

Help employees learn more about advancement opportunities within your company by encouraging and facilitating cross-departmental conversations. Maybe they’ll have coffee with a senior manager, and it will motivate them to work towards that job title themselves. 

Or, maybe they’ll meet someone in marketing, and find a passion for graphic design they didn’t know they had. Either way, it will benefit their career planning and give them more reasons to stay at your company. 

3. Give employees opportunities to upskill 

Let’s say your employee has developed a career plan and knows they need to learn a specific skill to reach their next milestone. You can help them by providing funding for employee development or creating talent development programs. You can also set up learning pathways that will help them upskill, whether that’s through online courses or mentorship and coaching programs

As an employer, your goal should be to give your employees all the tools they need for career planning. Help them explore their career options and learn the skills they need to keep growing. They’ll be grateful, and both your business and your employees will benefit.

virtual meeting about career planning

How managers can support employee career planning

Helping your team plan their careers is important for keeping them engaged and leading them towards success at your company. So if you’re a manager, how can you specifically help your employees with the career planning process? 

Here’s how managers can help their direct reports with career planning: 

  • Schedule a monthly or quarterly dedicated 1-1 meeting with each of your team members to specifically discuss career planning
  • If there are skills they want to learn or alternative career options they want to explore, follow up and help connect them with the resources they need 
  • Remind them to take advantage of existing professional development opportunities at your company 
  • Offer career advice from your own background to help your team members develop their career plans and think about what next steps to take

How do you start career planning?

Now, are you ready to start doing your own career planning? When you sit down to put together a plan, there are four main areas you’ll want to think about: your interests, your skills, your values, and your preferences.

1. Consider your interests

Interests are the things that you are passionate about. Even if you weren’t paid to do them, you’d want to spend time (and maybe money) learning more about them. Clues about our interests can often be found in our hobbies or in our choice of college major. Scan your bookshelf, email subscriptions, and even your apps. Do you notice a theme? 

2. Evaluate your skills

Skills are what you excel at. They can be natural talents, or they may be areas of competency that you’ve developed over time. These are the traits that you can rely on when you need to get something done. 

3. Understand your values 

Values are the ways in which you want to make a difference. For example, let’s say you want to become a lawyer. Do you want to be a prosecutor, a public defender, general counsel, or specialize in intellectual property? Do you want to work in criminal justice or environmental law? The same job title may find you at very different companies.

4. Determine your preferences 

Finally, imagine your dream day at work. Is your ideal work environment a big-city skyscraper, or a sunny cafe in Cancun? Does your work keep you busy, or do you have plenty of time to spend with friends and family? Are you earning a lot of money, or just enough? These preferences will help you decide which career path will best suit you and the work-life balance you desire.

woman writing her career plan on a notebook

7 steps to organized career planning

Determining long-term goals for your career can feel overwhelming. Once you have an action plan, though, it can accelerate your growth and streamline your efforts. It’s worth taking the time to commit your ideas to paper (or somewhere where you can see them).

So where do you begin with career planning? Follow these 7 steps: 

  1. Self-evaluation 
  2. Research your dream job 
  3. Determine the basic steps
  4. Identify organizations that align with your values
  5. Look at job openings on the ground level 
  6. Take the right next step 
  7. Tell everyone you know 

Now let’s dive a little deeper into each of these.

  1. Self-evaluation 
    Self-assessment is the first step of the career planning process. You can try a personality assessment or aptitude test, like BetterUp’s Whole Person Assessment. You may also find a core values assessment to be worthwhile in exploring how to integrate your values and your career.

    Talking to a coach or a career counselor is also a great way to gain insight into your strengths and where you might thrive. Be sure to take enough time for self-exploration in this first step, or you may find yourself unhappy with your career decisions later on.
  2. Research your dream job

    Be bold with your goal-setting at this stage in the process. In a perfect world, what would you do for a living? Do a job search on Linkedin for the title that you want to have. Read the job description, paying close attention to the skills and responsibilities of the position. Who do they report to? How much education do they have? What kind of companies are hiring for that role?

  3. Determine the basic steps
    There isn’t one right path to your dream job, but there may be certain steps that are non-negotiable. For example, if you want to become a doctor, you won’t get there without going to medical school. What are the non-negotiable short-term goals for your role, and how do you get there from where you are? Will you need to go back to school or switch fields?
  4. Identify organizations that align with your values
    While you’re researching open roles, look at the companies that are posting the jobs. Are they companies that you could see yourself working for? For some people, the type of company might be more important to them than their own title or role. For others, the industry or the organization’s mission might be more important. Ask yourself what matters to you and why.
  5. Look at job openings on the ground level 
    Once you’ve got an idea of what role and which companies you’re working towards, look at other roles in the same department. If, for example, you want to become Director of IT, look at the other open positions — especially any that may report to the director. What’s the easiest rung on the ladder for you to grab? It might be an entry-level position on the help desk — or it might be a coordinator or other mid-level role.
  6. Take the next right step
    Identify which short-term goals get you closer to the job that you want. If it represents a career change, you may want to start by applying to training or graduate school. If it’s just the next step in a field you’re already in, you may just have to start sending out your resume. If you love the company you’re with but you’re ready for a new role, discuss your goals with your manager. They can help you create a career development plan and start taking on new responsibilities.
  7. Tell everyone you know
    The final step of the career planning process is to recruit as much help as possible. Tell your manager, coach, and everyone at brunch that you’re looking to move ahead. Many people love to help others, especially if it means they get to give advice or showcase their connections. Networking and showing your commitment to growth is a critical part of your career planning.

woman drawing her career plan on a whiteboard

Some additional tips to help build your career plan

Once you’ve set your sights on that snazzy new job title, you’ll probably be excited to start making it a reality. The 7 steps in career planning outlined here will give you an excellent foundation. However, there are a few other things you can do to help you take the next step. Here are a few career planning ideas: 

  • Volunteer. Finding paid work in your field may be challenging, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get experience. Offer to volunteer part-time for an organization that aligns with your goals. 
  • Talk to your college. Universities, honor societies, and professional schools usually have some sort of alumni network. Reach out to them or to the organization’s career center. They may even offer financial aid or help with career exploration.
  • Apply for internships. Look for opportunities to work with companies and people you admire. Even short-term internships can provide valuable experience for your next job interview. Plus, you’ll be the first to hear about new full-time openings.
  • Build your skills. Try enrolling in online courses and certification programs that align with your career goals. Showing that you’re committed to mastering new skills can help you stand out when you’re ready to apply.
  • Review your resume. If it’s been a while since you were in the job market, you may want to take a look at your resume and cover letter templates. Update them with your latest accomplishments, certifications, and position. 
  • Build your professional network. Spend time attending conferences and networking events. Join the right professional associations for your field and look at their job boards. Spruce up your LinkedIn profile and, if you’re feeling bold, connect with individuals in the roles and industries you’re interested in and ask for informational interviews.

Get started today

The average person spends nearly 25% of their time at work. The relationships and experiences we have in our workplaces are more important than nearly any other. To a large extent, your career determines your happiness. It’s worth taking the time to do a little career planning and set a course for a successful, happy life.

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Published July 14, 2022

Allaya Cooks-Campbell

BetterUp Staff Writer

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