Crucial Things To Consider When Planning Your Career

Planning a career is usually as intimidating as it is exciting.

Maybe you’re a high school student and are trying to imagine what could possibly keep you interested and motivated for the next 50-odd years of your life.

Or maybe you haven’t worked in a few years but are ready to jump back into the working world, determined to make your mark.

No matter what your job situation may be, there is no shortage of things to think about when you’re planning your career. 

Choosing a career is more important than just finding the right fit for your skills. You also have to think about your interests and what kind of work-life balance you want to have, among other things.

As you weigh your options, there are eight important questions you need to ask yourself when planning your career.

1. What have you learned from your previous work experience?

Even if you only have work experience from a summer job (or if you have no work experience at all), there will always be something that you’ve learned from the past that will tell about what you want in life.

Perhaps this isn’t even your first attempt at planning a career. Maybe you selected a career choice and went after it for a few years (maybe even a decade or two) before deciding it wasn’t for you after all.

There’s no need to despair if you’re changing career paths, either. There will always be things you learned about yourself and your working style that you can use to in your next career.

Think beyond the skills you learned on previous jobs, volunteer, or school experiences. Consider outside tasks that you were responsible for and how you approached them.

Learn From Sven’s Career Planning (Example):

Sven is a recent high school grad with no formal work experience. When he thinks about his past, he knows he loves playing with his teammates on the soccer field. He also likes to compete in e-sports tournaments with his friends.

Sven assumes he should seek out competitive team-based work environments and pursues a career in commission sales in a youthful tech company. 

When planning your career, ask yourself these questions:

  • What tasks did you enjoy in your previous job?
  • What parts of your job did you dislike?
  • Did you enjoy working as a team?
  • Did you prefer to work alone?
  • What areas did you particularly excel in?

2. What education do you have?

The education that you have will directly influence how easy it will be for you to go after certain career choices.

When planning your career, consider any formal education that you have received that you can list on your resume. 

Formal education can help job seekers on their career path. Some jobs require candidates to have special certifications, training, or degrees.

Specific education can also make getting hired and promoted easier for some jobs and industries. 

However, lacking specific education credentials doesn’t mean you have to limit your career path. 

When looking to gain formal education for your career, consider education possibilities that are available to you. 

Lin, an example of how to consider education in career planning:

Lin didn’t take any science courses in high school or university. It will be difficult for them to plan a career in the dental hygiene without addressing those education gaps in their resume.

But Lin discovered that their local community college offers accelerated dental hygiene certifications that meet their budget and schedule. This will help Lin pursue their goal of being a professional dental hygienist. 

While a lack of formal education can be overcome in many career paths with experience, abilities, and opportunities, education is still important to consider when planning your career. 

Ask yourself these questions:

  • What formal degrees do you have?
  • What education is needed for this career?
  • Would you need professional certifications?
  • Do you want to go back to school to start this career path?

3. What soft and hard skills do you have?

Thinking about your soft and hard skills is a crucial step of planning your career. 

First, consider your strongest skills — hard skills (technical skills, like computer skills to list on your resume) and personality-based skills (soft skills).

The soft and hard skills that you learn through school, extracurriculars, volunteering, and previous work experience don’t need to be directly related to your ideal career path. 

Many people make dramatic changes in their career paths for a variety of reasons. It’s almost always possible for people to change or overcome skills, but the path to doing that isn’t always realistic. 

However, knowing what you’re already good at can help you decide the career paths that may be easier or more challenging for your specific circumstances. 

Ask yourself these questions:

  • What am I good at?
  • What am I not so good at?
  • What transferable skills can I take from my previous work experience?
  • What non-job-specific skills do I have (e.g. collaboration, communication, organization, writing)
  • How simple will it be to acquire the skills and abilities I don’t already possess? What will acquiring those skills and abilities cost me (in terms of time, money, opportunity, and effort spent)?

4. What are your career goals?

When planning your career, take some time to think about the career path that you would like to have.

Are you a leader? Do you see yourself leading a team or an entire company in the future?

Or, would you be happy to find a career that you love to work at until you retire?

Both career options are completely valid and no two career paths look the same.

But clearly understanding the goals that you want for yourself in your career. This will help you work backwards to plan the steps to follow to achieve your career goals. 

Keep in mind that different career options offer different opportunities for advancement, learning or growth.

Identify the opportunities that mean the most to you, and then align your career path to achieving those goals. 

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Where do I want to be in 3 years? 5 years? 10 years? 20 years?
  • What job title do I ultimately want to have?
  • How much responsibility do I want to take on?
  • What would I like to learn along the way?

5. What are your interests?

One of the most popular career goals for job seekers is for them to find a career that they love.

For most people, loving their careers means that they’re passionate and interested in their work, and that they enjoy doing it. 

A simple way to achieve this goal is to plan a career path that involves your personal interests or passions. 

Of course, not every interest is going to be directly translated to a career option. So, it’s important to think outside the box.

When considering your interests for career planning, think about: 

  • Which classes did you love taking in school?
  • What are your favorite hobbies or activities?
  • What types of the books, movies, and games do you enjoy?
  • What activity gets you excited to get out of bed on the weekend?
  • What do you do in your spare time?

The answers to these question can start to give you insight into interests you have that may lead to an exciting career you actually like. 

Ask yourself these questions:

  • What do I like to do with my spare time?
  • What do I really hate doing?
  • What can keep my interest for multiple hours a day?
  • What do I never get tired talking or learning about?

6. What kind of lifestyle do you want to have?

Another aspect of career planning is thinking about the lifestyle you want to have — at work and outside of work.

Of course, the life that you want at 20 years old will not necessarily be the lifestyle you’ll lead when you’re a 55-year-old, but there will probably be some similarities.

For example, if you want to have uninterrupted family time every weekend, you probably shouldn’t plan on a career that requires you to work on the weekends.

Another example is if you want to have the freedom to travel for multiple months during the year with very little notice. If your ideal lifestyle is travel-heavy, you should plan to have a career path that allows this, like working remotely or working seasonally. 

Ask yourself these questions:

  • What kind of work schedule would I like to have?
  • Would I like the option to work remotely sometimes?
  • Do I need to change my work environment to stay focused?
  • Can I build the life I want around a Monday to Friday, 9 am to 5 pm schedule?
  • Could I cope with shift work, among my other responsibilities?

7. How much money do you want to make?

Your ideal salary is directly related to the type of lifestyle you want to have, as well as your career goals.

When planning for an ideal salary, aim to be realistic, in terms of your salary potential and the salary you need to achieve your lifestyle goals.

Different lifestyle interests and values require different income levels.

If you want to travel the world, own a large home, and have a large family, your salary requirements will have to be higher than average to achieve that lifestyle. 

On the other hand, if you want to spend your time reading books, watching foreign films at the cinema, and being active in your local communities with your partner, then your salary requirements will be much more modest. 

When you have an idea of the salary you’d prefer, research typical salary rates at different stages along career paths that interest you. Compare these salaries to the type of life you want (or need) to live. 

If your ideal salary and potential career paths don’t match, ask yourself what and how much you’re willing to sacrifice to achieve your goals, regardless of whether those sacrifices are lifestyle or career related. 

Ask yourself these questions:

  • How much income do I need to maintain my current lifestyle?
  • How much income do I need to reach the lifestyle I want?
  • How much does a typical person make in the career I’m planning for?
  • How does that compare to the answer to my other two questions?

8. Are there jobs available?

Knowing the future outlook of your potential career path is the last step of planning your career. 

You can do all the career planning in the world, but if there are no real jobs in your career path to apply for, you won’t be able to achieve your goals. 

Investigate the job availability in your chosen career, locally and in areas you would be willing and able to move to.

Look through online job boards, search major employers in the industry, and browse the careers page of their website.

Find out if employers are hiring for jobs in your career path, how often they hire, and if the jobs are located in areas you live in or would be wiling to relocated to.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Are people or businesses hiring for this career right now?
  • How often do jobs come up?
  • Would I have to relocate for this career?

Get Started!

The hardest part of career planning is all the research you have to do.

Job seekers need to do a lot of internal research (thinking about their skills, personality, and preferences), and external research (looking for required skills and real job opportunities) before finalizing their career plan. 

Remember, planning your career will probably always be a work in progress. Your goals will change as your life and career change over time.

No two careers look exactly the same, and that’s okay, too. 

Just be sure to come back to these tips whenever your career needs a re-evaluation, as they’re useful at any point in your life!