Career Planning – Definition and Meaning
So, you’ve started (and finished) university, traineeship, or apprenticeship? What now?
Wherever you are in your educational journey, it’s really never too early to embark on the task of career planning. But what is that, actually?
- Career planning is a series of steps you take to discover what kind of career path suits your skills, interests, and obtained degrees and certificates.
Opinions are divided, with some claiming you should plan your career long before university (and even high school in some cases). And I’m not gonna lie, engineers and IT specialists will always find work.
However, it is of the utmost importance that you choose your field of study based on your interests, affinities, and talents – if you pursue your passion, work will come.
With that said, you should sensitise yourself during your time at university to what is available and sought after in the market and consider whether you need to attain certain skills or knowledge to land a good job.
Defining Your Future Career Goals
Back to square one: you’re pursuing your degree or certificate and are wondering how to plan for your future career.
Career planning is a comprehensive venture which encompasses defining your goals, developing a feasible plan to achieve them, sticking to them, AND planning all of that again in case something goes awry with your initial idea. Sounds like pure joy, doesn’t it?!
The great news about defining your career goals is that you will hear quite a few ideas and stories during your studies. Your lecturers might mention possible career paths, and there may be obligatory internships that can guide you towards your future job. Additionally, lots of university programs are structured in a way that will equip you with the necessary skills to find multiple employment options in the future.
So, how do you define those goals?
Before you throw yourself headlong into the job market, work on the following:
- Always strive to improve. You are in charge of boosting your skills. Find projects, engage in volunteering, and expand your horizons. The more you invest in your abilities, the more employable you are – seek internships, work on your interpersonal skills by participating in dialogues and discussions, or work as an assistant at the university.
- Work on yourself outside of university. Some people get it into their heads that they’ve absorbed all the wisdom of the world by having studied a difficult subject at tertiary level. Everyone knows at least one such person – the key is not being one. There is so much wisdom and knowledge in the world, and nobody can ever crack it all – which is why we work on ourselves. Read everything you can, fiction and non-fiction alike, watch acclaimed movies, and revel in the farthest outreaches of the human mind. The more you know, the more you’ll be able to adapt to difficulties and changing conditions.
- Brainstorm your passions. At the end of the day, slaving away at a job you dislike is a slow and painful way to kill your desire for life. Take your time to recognise what you’re passionate about and set out to research where you can apply it in the job market.
- Plan SMART. When setting your career goals, you should be SMART about them. Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-bound. Once you know what’s possible, specify your dream career further and take measured steps to achieve that goal. Everything is achievable if you set your mind to it, although you should consider how much time it’ll take to do it. If your goals tend to stretch into decade-long investments, you should plan for an interim career path that will help you sustain yourself.
The Three-Faceted Career-Planning Process
Working on yourself and improving your skills is an ever-ongoing and ever-growing quest, but how do you plan your career?
Career planning is a three-faceted process in which these three steps occasionally happen simultaneously, go back and forth, and intercept one another in a complex-looking but rather intuitive process. Here’s what this dance entails:
- Self-exploration. Try to determine what attracts and interests you, what your skills correspond to in the job market, and how all of this compounds into a job you’ll enjoy.
- Vocational exploration. As your aspirations guide you, you should research what jobs that cater to your needs are available. Would you like to work in a startup or a more traditional company? What kind of benefits do you find indispensable, and what would you be willing to compromise on? These questions will guide you to a satisfactory decision.
- Educational and career planning. With your dream job(s) selected, you should consider what additional educational training you need. Do you need to take some courses at university or apply for an internship? Do you need to work on soft skills or revise some of your old knowledge?
Get Organised: Career Plan Worksheet
In case you prefer a more structured approach where you write down every detail of your career planning, you can devise your own career-planning worksheet. This document – handwritten or typed – should outline the three sections parallel to the three-step dance described above.
Answer these questions:
- What do I like to do?
- What are my personal qualities?
- What career choices fit those two?
A promising approach to career planning is the so-called career clusters. Career clusters encompass a series of similar and related careers within a particular branch. Tick the boxes that fit, cross off what sounds unappealing or downright off-putting, and set measurable goals to get to more attractive professions. In case you need help with this, you can find a suitable template here.
Career Action Plan – An Example of Good Practice
Disclaimer: There are millions of possible professions, and this example will not necessarily apply specifically to your career plan. However, you can take it as a guideline and change relevant bits and pieces to make it fit your needs.
Once upon a time, there was a little Timmy. Little Timmy was not quite sure what he wanted to do in life, so he wafted through his primary and secondary school, paying only adequate attention to pass his classes. Still, Timmy noticed that he didn’t need to study as much for his maths tests as he did for history. His teacher, too, said he had the marbles for complex geometry and started giving Timmy extra tasks so he wouldn’t get bored in class. The teacher also suggested that he go on to study mathematics at university. He found it a breeze – maths just made perfect sense in Timmy’s world, but there came a time to plan his career. Teaching was out of the question, as was accounting. So what was he going to do?
Timmy’s self-exploration led him to his favourite hobby – video games – and he wondered whether he could use his maths skills there. Programming was the evident answer, so Timmy, already talented at maths, set out to find ways to specialise in programming.
Timmy’s plan of action included the following steps:
- Attending programming courses at university.
- Going to conferences.
- Reading about video-game programming.
- Playing around with various codes until he created his first video game – dinosaurs jumping over a pond with crocodiles.
- Taking certified courses to improve his programming skills.
In the meantime, Timmy started working as a software test engineer in an IT company, gathering invaluable experience in the sector. He took on an opportunity in a video-game company as an assistant, where he applied for a series of traineeships, boosting his programming skills. Timmy finally spoke to his boss about switching departments and started tweaking the code of the game currently in development. Soon enough, Timmy started working for another company where he still works on developing great games.
The moral of the story is that devising a career path often means switching trajectories, moving laterally, taking chances, and improving yourself. Dedication and hard work based on your personal vision always pay off, even if the road is bumpy. Be like Timmy and follow your dreams.
It’s All about the Climb: Challenges in Career Planning
Getting to your dream career may not always be easy. There are challenges to be faced and disappointments to endure.
Here are the common obstacles that affect career planning:
- Lack of knowledge or expertise. Sometimes you will be turned down for lack of critical skills. Address your shortcomings adequately to improve your chances.
- Lack of clarity. If you’re unsure what your next step should be, you’ll definitely spend some time paddling in the same spot. Plan to avoid this.
- Changes in the industry. These things happen – what’s in demand now may not be in five years. Do your best to take these events in your stride and deal with them proactively by adjusting to the demands while staying true to yourself.
Lastly, as you work towards your goals, be ready to face some poor work conditions. Entry-level jobs will neither pay you as much as you want nor offer all the perks, but these times, too, shall pass. Gain experience, even if in slightly worse circumstances, before aiming higher and pursuing a better dream, and most importantly, don’t be afraid of making mistakes.
Career Planning – Dancing through the Job Market
To recap, career planning is a wise step people take while studying to determine what career path they want to pursue and how they will reach it. It includes periods of self-exploration, exploration of possible vocations, and educational and practical preparation for that career. Planning a career can be made easier by exploring career clusters and finding out about your own interests.
To facilitate your career planning, remember these essential tips:
- Follow your dreams, ambitions, and interests.
- Determine which careers are suitable to your passions.
- Improve your skills to reach that career path.
- Be ready to move laterally and adjust to new situations.
- Keep your eyes on the prize even if you have to do another job until you get it.
Dreams do come true; it just takes some work!