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Career planning has never been more difficult – nor more crucial. For many of today’s workers, lifetime employment isn’t a realistic goal. In the place of job security a new concept is career mobility.

This new attitude towards careers can be extremely liberating. No longer are you locked into a single vocation until retirement. But it requires that you take greater responsibility for guiding your professional destiny.

Some people get lucky with the “shot in the dark” approach, stumbling into opportunities that turn into long-term careers. You’re far better off, however, following a basic six-step process to arrive at an informed decision.

A Six Step Approach to Career Planning
by Sheila L. Pond

Define Objectives

The first step to effective career decision-making is to define your objectives. Ask yourself, "What do I really want in a career? How do I want to live my life?" Think about both the short term and the long haul. As work patterns continue to change, few people have the luxury of managing one-time career decisions. Rather, you'll need to make a series of decisions. Some basic objective-setting guidelines are:

  • Think of what you want to do or are able to do, not necessarily what others think you should do.
  • Imagine what you want to occur, not what you want to avoid.
  • Be specific: State what, when, where, how and to what degree.

Know Yourself

The second and most important step in effective career decision-making is to know yourself - your attitudes, strengths, abilities, interests, needs, values and personality. Bob had neither clear objectives nor adequate self-knowledge. He made haphazard decisions without thinking about long-term consequences. Little wonder he's unhappy in his job and feels trapped by walls he never realized were going up around him. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Have I taken an inventory of my aptitudes and strengths?
  • Do I know my marketable skills?
  • What are my vocational interests? What do I like in a job?
  • What are my abilities? What do I feel I'm capable of doing?
  • What are my career values? What things are most important to me?
  • Do I understand my personality and the type of environment in which I prefer to work?

Know the World of Work

More career options are open to us now than ever before, and more are on the way. Knowing the world of work can be a difficult task, but it's of vital importance.

"It has become essential to understand the educational and technical requirements for a career and to then get the proper training," says David J. Schmitt, placement director of the ITT Corporation career training center in Chicago. "Many people don't understand the demands of certain careers. This along with insufficient self-knowledge, can lead to job frustration and failure. What I stress to the people I work with is to first understand yourself and then understand the career you are interested in."


Another key element of effective decision-making is to brainstorm. List alternatives, then use your knowledge and creativity to predict the outcome of certain career choices. Consider options that are realistic in terms of what you want and can do.

Take Action

If you've followed steps one through four you're ready to make a choice in line with your objectives, priorities and values. Important life decisions often require you to "stick to it" and take risks.

"The last important question I ask an applicant is why he is looking to make a change," says Tom Lane, an executive recruiter with Aggressive Corporation in Lisle, Illinois. "During our applicant interview process we discuss in great detail responsibilities, achievements and career progression, but the most important concern is why he wants to move. If applicants don't have clear career objectives and know what they want, then they can't convey why they want to change jobs and thus become less desirable in the eyes of our client companies."

Review Your Decision

Ask yourself, "Is the decision working out the way I had hoped?" Come up with changes or new choices as you improve your decision-making skills.

The following list of questions may help you review your career decision-making process:

  • What preparations can I begin to make today to help with my career decision?
  • Do I have a list of short, medium and long-term objectives drawn up?
  • Do I understand the type of environment I would prefer to work in?
  • What community services are available to assist me in my career decision-making?
  • Do I understand the educational and technical requirements of the career or position I'm interested in?
  • What is the long-term outlook for the industry? Where do I expect to be in one, three and five years?
  • How willing am I to take risks?
  • Do I understand the process of changing jobs and/or careers?

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