14 Essential Career Planning Strategies

Illustration of a woman holding a pencil surrounded by flying documents and puzzle pieces

This article contains links where CareerAddict may earn a commission on qualifying purchases.


Whether you’re an experienced professional or just starting out in your career, it’s essential to have a career plan which keeps you focused on your career goals. 

A plan also helps you make effective career decisions and respond to new opportunities.

While everybody’s career plan is unique, some common elements and strategies can result in effective career planning

To help you get started, we have compiled a guide that outlines the most important short and long-term career planning strategies.

Short-term career planning strategies 

First things first, these short-term career planning techniques will help you set the foundation you will need to build your plan. 

1. Develop your self-awareness

Self-awareness is essential for career satisfaction. It involves taking a good look at yourself - your personality, values, skills, motivations and interests - so that you can understand what makes you tick. This can help you identify your ideal career or find ways to improve your current job. You may think you know yourself well, but most of us have blind spots, so this is a critical career planning strategy.

There are several ways to develop self-awareness; taking a career test is a great place to start. There are several types of career tests on the market, which assess a range of factors like personality, interests or aptitudes. For instance, our own CareerHunter testing platform allows you to explore all aspects of your personality, motivations and skills. It provides you with a personalised report that breaks down all these elements for you. Familiarise yourself with the different types of tests so you can choose the best one for you.

If taking a test doesn’t appeal to you, then there are other ways to increase your self-awareness. For instance, you could try journaling. Reflect on previous jobs you’ve had – what were the aspects of them that you enjoyed, and what did you dislike? What are the skills you enjoy using? What are your top ten interests outside of work? Using these prompts to journal your thoughts and reading back over them will increase your self-awareness about your preferred working style.

2. Seek feedback

Seeking feedback is another way to gain self-awareness, but instead of reflecting inwardly, we ask others to provide us with feedback. This could involve asking your boss about their opinion of your strengths and areas that need development - this is important if you are aiming for a promotion

You could ask for feedback at your next performance review or arrange a meeting with your supervisor to discuss your career plan. The fact that you are taking steps that will allow you to grow professionally can only be viewed favourably by them – just don’t tell them if you are looking for a new job!

You can also seek feedback from your colleagues and friends as well as others in your network. Ask them to give you an honest review of your strengths and key qualities. If you’re considering changing careers, you could also ask them what role or industry they could see you in. The answers could be very revealing.

Remember, you are not bound to any of the feedback you receive, but you should take it into account when you’re crafting your career plan. 

3. Understand the job market

Once you have a better understanding of yourself, the next step is to learn more about the job market. 

To develop an effective career plan, you need to know which employability skills are in demand. The world of work is changing at a rapid pace, and to stay relevant, you may need to acquire new skills.

The World Economic Forum’s, Future of Jobs Report, surveyed employers on the skills that they would need most in 2022 – the most in-demand skills included technology design and programming, leadership and social influence, and emotional intelligence.

Researching your profession could also help you identify the skills that are crucial within your own industry. A good strategy here is to look at job advertisements to see what skills employers are specifically asking for.  

Even if you’re not sure of the career you want to pursue, it’s still vital that you are aware of in-demand professional skills, which are also transferable.

Once you’ve completed your job market research, your career plan should consider the skills you need to develop further, as well as the skills that make you more employable.

4. Develop a vision 

Before you set strategic goals, use your imagination to create a vivid picture of how you want your life and career to be. This will help you set goals that are ambitious but achievable and will keep you motivated as you work towards them.

Find a comfortable space where you won’t be disturbed, grab a pen and paper and imagine what you would love your life to look like in 10 years. Don’t censor yourself, and don’t get too caught up in the hows. Give your thoughts free reins. 

Think about and write down:

  • Where you will live – in a city, the country, by the coast, a bit of both? In a house, apartment or campervan?
  • Who surrounds you in this vision? Family, friends, peers, colleagues? What are they like, and what are you like around them?
  • What sort of work are you doing? In an office or outside? In a team or alone? Are you creating tangible goods, working with information or providing a service? Are you work full-time or part-time? Just one job or many? Are you be running your own business?
  • What is your level of income? 
  • How do you feel? Free? Secure? Energetic?

Include anything else you can think of to make this a complete picture for you. You may even want to create a vision board using magazine cut-outs or Pinterest to bring your vision to life.

Again, don’t feel tied to your vision. This is about developing ideas and inspiration to be bold in your short and long-term goal setting.

5. Set SMART goals 

When you are ready to set your career goals, take the information you have gained through the previous strategies and write down some SMART goals. This acronym stands for:

  • Specific: Your goals are well-defined and focused 
  • Measurable: There is a to track your goals and know when you are successful
  • Attainable: Your goals are realistic, and you can obtain the tools or resources to achieve them
  • Relevant: Your goals align with your career plans
  • Timed: There is a deadline 

You may want to split your goals into two categories: short-term and long-term. For example, if you are changing your career, then your long-term goal might be to set up your own business. In the short-term, though, your aim might be to find a part-time job while you work on your business.

It’s important not to set too many goals for yourself as you may spread yourself too thin. Identify what your priorities are and focus on achieving those goals first. You can always revisit your goals later on as things may change, but it’s important to be realistic about what you can achieve.

It is also important to write your goals down in a journal or a place that is easily accessible to you. Studies have shown that we are much more likely to remember and commit to something if it is written down. You can take this one step further by looking at your written goals regularly. You could stick them on your work desk or the fridge at home, for example.

6. Outline your actions 

Goals without actions are just dreams. Once you have written down your goals, you need to identify some concrete steps that will allow you to achieve them. 

Again, these actions should be written down next to each goal so that you stay committed to them. Of course, each action will vary depending on the goal. For example, if you are leaving university and aiming to obtain a graduate position, your actions might include attending a career fair, preparing for assessment centres or practising your interview skills.

Actions, just like goals, need to be realistic and prioritised. When setting actions, you should also consider the resources you need or the time involved to carry them out. 

7. Seek guidance 

The final short-term career planning strategy you should consider is enlisting the support of a career counsellor or mentor. Depending on how confident you are feeling, this could also be your first step in planning your career.

A career counsellor could help you develop the best career plan and guide you through the process, giving you insights and holding you accountable. They may also assist with other career steps, such as putting together your résumé or LinkedIn profile.

For instance, Tony Robbins' coaching programme [paid link] will help you clarify your goals and enhance your career planning efforts.

Meanwhile, if you have a mentor, you should consider involving them in your career planning. They will be able to give you some guidance and insights from their own experiences. They would likely have been in a similar position as you before, so they will be able to tell you what career planning strategies worked for them.

Long-term career planning strategies 

We’ve looked at some of the short-term career planning techniques, but what should you do in the long-term to stay on track and keep achieving your goals? Here are a few long-term steps to follow:

1. Keep following the short-term strategies

One thing you should understand is that short-term strategies can also be long-term strategies. Everything we have outlined above needs to be done regularly so that your career plan is relevant and up to date. 

You will change a great deal throughout your career, so your career plan should change with you. Keep practising self-awareness, gathering feedback and setting SMART goals. Your future self will thank you for it.

2. Review and update 

Schedule time to review and update your plan regularly. For example, you could revisit your plan around Christmas as you start planning the new year, or you could time it to coincide with your performance review at work. 

Once you get used to your career planning process, it will become easier and more intuitive. After a while, you will know when it’s time to whip out your plan and won’t need a reminder.

3. Stay in the loop with industry developments

Keeping up to date with your industry will help you know which tools, skills, technologies and practices you need to learn or brush upon. 

This feeds into your career development goals; without industry knowledge, your career plan will go stale, and you may find yourself falling behind your peers.

You can stay up to date by taking online courses, reading sector news and journals, going to industry events and training seminars, being active on platforms such as LinkedIn and having a healthy career network.

4. Keep learning 

Lifelong learning is crucial to your overall career development. It helps you maintain your skills, stay relevant to your industry and sharpen areas that need further development. It can also help you qualify for a role in a specialised field or change careers altogether. This helps you set relevant goals for your new career.

Continuing your education also gives you confidence and exposes you to new challenges. It essentially helps you develop a growth mindset, and this is necessary for your career planning.

You might be wary of lifelong learning because of the cost or time involved. Still, there are many ways to get the qualifications you need to progress in your career, from traditional brick and mortar universities to online courses. 

5. Remain flexible 

It’s important to remain flexible throughout your career planning. Things can change very quickly, and you need to be ready to adapt your plan. Reviewing your plan regularly and staying up to date with your industry means that you shouldn’t receive any big surprises, but the unexpected can still happen, such as sudden redundancy.

Some people avoid planning because they want to be spontaneous. However, having a plan puts you in a far greater position to react to changes than someone who doesn’t have one. You will likely have developed more skills, knowledge and contacts and be better prepared to pivot.

You can develop your ability to be flexible by taking on new projects at work, learning new skills or trying new hobbies. All of this helps you develop that important growth mindset.

6. Look after yourself 

It’s no good putting all your energy into your career and leaving nothing for yourself. This will lead to burnout and unhappiness, frustration with your career plan and an inability to achieve your goals. 

Try to maintain a healthy work-life balance where possible. Get enough sleep, eat well, exercise and make sure to take your annual leave quota. 

Getting away from your job gives you time to rest, but it also gives you more perspective, so you can return to your career plan and goals with renewed vigour.

7. Celebrate your achievements 

If you are committed to your career plan and follow the strategies above, you will experience many achievements in your career. Make sure to stop and celebrate them.

Too often, we achieve our goals and swiftly move onto the next one without pausing to reflect or celebrate. After a while, you will question why you have these goals in the first place if you can’t enjoy them. 

Celebrate in whatever way is meaningful to you. Book a holiday or a spa treatment to give yourself a well-deserved break from your career planning or get yourself that new gadget you promising you’d buy when you get promoted.

So, with these short-term and long-term strategies, you are now ready to get started on your career plan! 

Can you suggest any other career planning strategies? Share them with us in the comments section below!

 

This article is an updated version of an earlier article originally published on 22 March 2017.