Skip to main content
Career Advice

Lost and Found: How to Plan a Career Path

By Krisha Maclang on June 6, 2015

When you first leave your college campus, you’ll be tempted to accept the first job offer to come your way. Who can blame you? Jobs can be hard to come by and competition is tough.

As a fresh graduate or a young professional, it's okay to accept a position that isn’t exactly the job of your dreams. Success doesn't happen in a day. You need to gain valuable work experience and get a feel of your ideal industry. But eventually the lure of an easy job offer fades away and you eventually start to ask yourself, “Where is all this hard work going? Where is my career going?”

This is where a career plan comes in handy. Imagining a path with an eventual goal will help you streamline the decision-making process for various job-related decisions in your lifetime.

Here’s how you can plan a career path of your own:

Know what you want and what you’re good at

Your career doesn’t just last during your job now or the job after that. It spans your entire lifetime. Making sure that your career  is something that you would be willing to spend your life pursuing is more than advisable; it’s the entire point of a career plan. Without a plan, you could spend your entire career on something you don’t particularly excel in or on a job that doesn’t make you happy.

Do an inventory check of skills that you excel in and the things that you like doing. Finding a possible career that merges your interests with your personal strengths is probably everyone’s dream. Building a career path that takes these two things into consideration can be a good way to find job satisfaction. You’ll spend your days doing what you love and excel at it too.

Review your career goals

“What is your five year plan?” This is probably not the first nor should it be the last time you will encounter this question. Your five year plan is only the beginning of many questions you should ask yourself when it comes to planning your career path. Creating career goals will give your career a sense of purpose and direction. While it can seem like a faraway thing to imagine, it’s wise to imagine your end goal this early in your career. If you don’t have a clear idea of what you want to achieve, your path will be unfocused.

Start with more general questions first (What industry do you see yourself in? Would you prefer to work in a big multinational company or a startup?) then drill down to specifics (What kind of projects would you like to lead? Would you be comfortable pursuing an upper management position?). Breaking down the general questions to more focused goals will actively bring you toward your ultimate goal.

Another exercise you can do is to visualize waking up five years from now. Where do you live? Do you live alone? What's the first thing you do when you wake up? What time do you go to work? What is your work? Plan this whole day five years from now and dream big.

Feel free to take risks

When you’re young, it’s perfectly normal and even encouraged to take unconventional risks when it comes to your career. Experimenting is how you figure out what works best for you and can also lead to amazing opportunities you never considered before. You don’t have to take a huge leap by dropping your full-time job for something you’re not completely sure of yet. Start small.

Try taking up a passion project related to something you’re interested in or take up a certificate course to test the waters first. You will never fully figure out what you want unless you give new things a shot.

Be open to shifts in your career

Repeat after me: you cannot control every detail of your career plan. It is a very rare thing to plan and pull off a career exactly how you envisioned it. For most people, various life changes forces people to shift their careers in different directions, and that’s totally okay. Sometimes these shifts can bring better opportunities or a better suited career.

Just take a look at Steve Jobs and Shaquille O’Neal .

Steve was forced to leave his position as at Apple Computers after their computers failed to compete with IBM and Microsoft. He proceeded to create NeXT Inc., a software and hardware company as well as buying and investing in an animation studio which went on to become the wildly successful Pixar Animation Studios. Many years later, he returned to Apple and led it to become one of the leading technology companies in the world today.

Shaq began his career as a basketball star in the NBA.  While he could’ve settled into retirement with millions from his basketball contracts, he decided to explore other opportunities in business. He has dabbled in real estate, fitness clubs, burger joints, and even mobile app games. Have we mentioned that he also has an MBA from Barry University?

Even the most successful people have had curve balls or new opportunities thrown at them. You don’t have to stick to your plan completely. If you’re too busy trying to micromanage every aspect of your career, you may miss incredible opportunities because you were stubbornly wrestling your career to adhere to what you want.

Regularly reassess your career plans

What may be a lucrative career path now may not be one in the future.  Job trends come and go so it’s important to constantly review your plans. Research into current and potential job trends to keep yourself ahead of the game.  It will give you the foresight to plan and strategize ahead so that you can tailor your job skills to adjust to the changing times.

Figuring out what to do with your future can be overwhelming. But think of your career as your baby: you must care for it and plan for its future. It can be moody, demand a lot of attention, and can change at any moment. It will give you direction and give you a sense of purpose. But if you plan and care for it well, it can pay off in dividends.