Plan Your Career
By Chelse Benham
"Most people spend more time putting together a tailgate party than planning for
their careers," said Marta Driesslein, career strategist
It may seem strange to think about strategically mapping out your career. It
almost seems counterintuitive to plan beforehand for something that unfolds
naturally. Or does it? Can you, in fact, plan your professional career? For many
people it’s hard to imagine actually planning out their professional careers and
most haven’t even considered the possibility. Although it is best to plan as early
as college, anybody at any stage in life can chart where they want to go
“It is very helpful to have a passion because it drives you and keeps you going on
your chosen career. However, some people find it difficult to identify their
passion. People don’t consider what their dreams were as children, therefore,
they set aside their creativity and their imagination possibly believing that their
childhood dreams won’t transfer into a reasonable profession, i.e. astronaut or
rock star,” said Kim Nguyen-Finn, counselor at The University of Texas-Pan
American’s Counseling Center. “If people look at their hobbies and interests that
can help them identify their passion. If you can visualize yourself doing the work
it can spark that passion within you.”
Passion is an important ingredient in formulating a career plan according to
Marta Driesslein, career strategist at R.L. Stevens & Associates Inc. in Waltham,
Massachusetts found at www.myexecutiveweb.com. She writes, “The quality of
your life comes down to how you control the quality of your focus."
Driesslein identifies focus as “simply taking control of your professional direction
through systematic identification of:
• Your passion...What gets you excited each morning when you awaken?
• Your purpose...Why do you do what you do?
• Your package...What are you doing to increase your continued
Identifying your passion and translating that into a career can be a challenge.
Many people have difficulty with this first step and don’t know how to move off
center to begin the career decision-making process.
First, list experiences from your past that are positive for you. These are things
that you are proud of, that make you feel energized as you recall them. Include
your earliest memories. They can be anything from building a house to drawing
a picture or running a race. It only matters how you feel about it. The standard
to use in choosing items for this list is your own pride in feeling "I did that myself!"
This will enable you to create a list that reflects those things you enjoyed doing
from which you can assess what your interests, abilities and values are.
“We help students identify what their interests, abilities and work values are. We
talk with students and we give them personality assessments to identify what
interests them. We explain the career decision making process and help students
gather information about themselves to help them narrow down some career
options,” Nguyen-Finn said. “We can help them weigh the alternatives and focus
on their action plan and ultimately, help them get the career of their choice. We
assist them when choosing their classes and we encourage them to participate in
job shadowing, interning, interviewing professionals and volunteering in their
The U.S. Department of Labor Statistics reported that the average person makes
more than three career changes during their working life.
“Statistics show that people change careers a half dozen times in their lifetimes.
Part of the reason is that most people don’t spend time in the beginning creating
a career plan,” said Deborah Lapoint, a vocational counselor based in Spokane,
Washington. She is quoted in the Web article, “Mapping Out Your Career” at
If you are currently working for a company it may be as simple as discovering
what your promotional options are through the human resources department. In
some companies, the promotion process is clearly outlined. Unfortunately, this
may mean being promoted will require the removal of someone in a higher
position. This is often the case in the upper echelons of management. If the glass
ceiling seems firmly in place, you will have to look outside your present
employment for opportunities that afford professional growth.
In the Web article “Mapping Out Your Career,” Judy Kaplan Baron, a certified
career counselor based in San Diego, California writes, “Making a plan is the
difference between getting what you want and hoping to get it.” The article offers
some basic steps used in forming a career plan:
1. Develop a career plan to determine your interests and skills. Thinking
about your skills and interests can help you find a satisfying career.
To determine your interests, think about what you like to do. Think about
experiences you have enjoyed. Evaluate what you liked, what you found
challenging and what you may have learned from those experiences.
Make a list of these activities.
This self-assessment can reveal your characteristics, interests, values and
skills. It will define your strengths and your weaknesses. Looking for a
match between these and the work you are considering is the most
important step you can take before you write a resume or begin the search
for a job. In fact, when the time comes to write your resume and prepare
for a job interview, you will find the task easier if you have completed the
self-assessment process first.
Consider answering the following questions located at CareerIntellegence.com
• What skills do you want to use on the job? Are they adaptable,
transferable and job-related skills?
• What type of people do you want to work with? Strong, assertive
individuals? Creative sorts?
• What type of atmosphere do you function best in? Relaxed, easy-going?
• How much responsibility are you prepared to accept? Do you want to be
responsible for the work of others?
• Do you prefer a structured workday or are you fairly adaptable?
• Are you more comfortable with close supervision? Do you like having the
option of prioritizing your own work?
• Do you like to work independently or as part of a team?
• What type of environment do you want to work in? Do you like quiet? Do
you need to be near a window?
• What population do you want to work with? Adults, children, the elderly,
those with special needs?
• What hours do you want to work? Do you need a part-time, flexible
schedule? What about working on the weekends?
• How much money do you want/need to make? Are benefits important to
you? (This includes vacation time, holiday pay and medical benefits.)
• What is important to you? What values or ideals would you like to further
in the work that you do? (This may include cleaning up the environment,
making money, helping others, gaining prestige, etc.)
2. Make a list of skills that you have. Your skills may include training you
have gained through part-time or full-time jobs. Even if you haven't been
employed before, you do have some skills which will help you find a job.
For example, you may have skills you learned through volunteer work or
through social activities.
A skill is a learned ability to do something well and skills are the currency
that buys you the job. In the labor market you receive pay in exchange for
the skills that you offer and use at work. Individuals who can describe
themselves to a potential employer or potential promotion in terms of their
skills are more likely to find the work that they want and enjoy.
If you were asked right now to list your skills, what would your list look
like? It might be a short list, not because you do not have the skills, but
simply because you have never been asked to identify them and are not
accustomed to thinking and talking about them. According to experts at
Waterloo University in Canada, each person has approximately 700
different skills in their repertoire.
Most individuals have trouble identifying them and if they do recognize
them, they don’t feel right promoting them. However, you cannot afford
this kind of misdirected modesty. Before you can be confident about your
ability to move through a changing work world, you have to realistically
know what your strengths are.
Remember to use many action verbs on your resume and promotion
proposal to describe your skills. For assistance on this visit Job analysis:
Job Descriptions at www.hr-guide.com for a list of action verbs.
3. Find out about the types of careers available to you. If you don't research
careers, you may not know about the best occupations to fit your interests
It's also important to decide if the career you are considering is really what
you expect and whether it offers the salary and benefits you want. One
good way to learn about a career is to intern in the position. (Internships
are also a great way to gain experience in your selected career field).
Another good way to find out about a job is to network -- talk to someone
who is in the career now.
4. Once you have determined what career path you want to follow, assess
what you need to do to prepare for that career. Do you need special
training? If so, research the schools or continuing education programs that
offer the kind of training you need. What kinds of experience will you need
to be successful in the career? Consider an internship as a way to get
work experience in the career field.
Remember the old cliché, “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.” Nothing could
be closer to the truth when planning your career. At least half of your life will be
spent working. Is it worth it to capriciously jump from job to job or ignore forming
a career plan in an effort to achieve the job of your dreams? Set your mind to the
task, and commit to charting the professional career you want tomorrow, today.
"Live out your imagination, not your history." - Steven Covey, author of “The Seven
Habits of Highly Effective People”