Whether you are in high school, and trying to figure out which career path sounds like the best for for you, or 40 years old, and looking for a total career change, one thing you will most definitely want to have before proceeding is a plan. It goes without saying that this is a big decision – potentially one of the biggest decisions you will ever make – so going into it with a strategy and a degree of confidence that comes along with having a solid plan in place will be extremely helpful. Where do you see yourself in a year? In five years? Is this the career you wish to retire from, or is this a stepping stone on the way to a greater goal? Do you have an honest assessment of how this industry will fare over the coming decades? These are all important questions to consider when deciding which path will be best for you.
Ideally, your career planning will take into account several major factors. Among them should be financial security, happiness in your day to day life, work/life balance, and the achievement of personal goals. Starting at a young age, we are all asked “What do you want to be when you grow up?”, and perhaps it is because we are expected to give short answers to that question that we do not often thoroughly think through a career plan. When we responded to that question with something like “A teacher!”,what we did not know was whether or not we had the right personality to manage a classroom, whether we could afford the lifestyle we want on a teacher’s salary, or whether we would find that work personally fulfilling. Now that we are a little older, and have had a chance to observe a few more career choices with a critical eye, perhaps you are changing your mind. If you think you may be ready to plan out a new and exciting career, let’s take a look at how best to do that.
What are you hoping to get out of this career, ultimately? What are you hoping to get out of this career in the first six months? These are two completely different questions, and also a good example of the difference between a goal and an objective.
Goals are long term outcomes that you hope to achieve over time. For instance, if you are looking to get into the world of graphic design. Some of your long term goals might be to have your work featured on a national level, to have your work appear on television, and to work exclusively for a successful company. These are all excellent goals, but most people realize that these are long term and rather open ended.
That is the key difference between a goal and an objective. Objectives are short term, more specific, and more frequent. Whereas goals are an end point, objectives are like mile markers along the way. So, continuing on with the graphic designer example, some objectives you might choose on the way to your goals might be to graduate from a prestigious art program, to complete an internship to build your resume, and to attend at least five job interviews within one month of graduating.
Goals are great things, but their nature allows many of us to lose sight along the way. Some of the goals you choose to set might necessitate a wait of 10 or 20 years, depending on their difficulty. Think of all that will happen in that time, and how easy it could be to lose sight of your goals as a result. Setting objectives along the way to those goals is an excellent way to keep you focused, and always striving towards the ultimate outcome.
This is sometimes the hardest part of career planning and development. We all have that dream job in mind, but what does it take to actually get there? Sometimes, the answers to that question can be a little difficult to take. Still, it is an important step in the career development process, because it is better to go into a challenge knowing what to expect, than being blindsided by unexpected pitfalls.
One of the best places to begin is to simply look at your personal habits. Do you struggle with time management? Do you work well in a group? Do you possess leadership skills? If you feel that you are lacking in any aspect of your desired career, now would be the time to take action. You can take classes to improve your skills, and go into your interviews more confident, and better prepared.
The second thing to consider is how much education you will need before proceeding into this new career. Is a four year degree required? Is a certificate required? Will you need to pass any aptitude tests before you can apply? These are all important things to map out, not just for time concerns, but also to determine how much this career path may ultimately cost you in terms of tuition and fees. Will the average, expected salary of your chosen career path cover the student loan payback required?
Lastly, simply take a good look at why you want to do this. Do you feel a calling to pursue this career? Is it the salary that attracts you? Is it something you feel naturally talented in? This “reason” is an important part of your career redesign, and should absolutely be noted in your plan. This can be modified as you progress through your plan, but keeping in mind why you first wanted to do this can be an important reminder, and a good motivator too.
Okay, so you have a pretty good plan of what you need in order to qualify for your ultimate job goals. Time to set out and start improving yourself. Now, obviously, if you are entering college for the first time, and have no other job responsibilities on your plate, you are in a great position to simply focus on your education, and meet all the requirements you can while you have the flexibility to do so.
Then again, if you are looking at a career change later in life, and you still have all the financial responsibilities that require an income, it is probably going to take you longer than your younger counterparts. Don’t let that discourage you from working to improve yourself though. It may take you three or four years to earn an Associate’s degree, but that does not mean you should abandon the plan. Be patient, and know that you are working extra hard now to achieve what you want in the future.
Begin setting up any tests or assessments you may need in order to qualify for your desired career too, be they college entrance exams, or other aptitude tests required for your field. Best to have these squared away in advance. Make sure any applications are properly completed, and follow up with all the necessary people to make sure you are on track to begin your learning on time.
Keep your objectives handy, and continue checking them off as you proceed. These will keep you focused and motivated, as well as giving you that much deserved sense of accomplishment. Changing careers and beginning a career for the first time are both equally difficult things, and you should absolutely be proud of all you are accomplishing.
Things are underway now, and moving along. As stated before however, goals are long term things, and sometimes, something comes up making your goals even longer term. Maybe you wanted to graduate in 4 years, but there was a problem with your credits transferring, or with finding an appropriate internship. These types of bumps in the road are frustrating, but don’t let them be enough to derail all your hard work.
Things happen. You may have to move unexpectedly, or you may get laid off if you are working. These can be setbacks, but these are also the times when it is more important than ever to stick with your plan. Ultimately, you are doing all this planning and work so that you can end up in a better overall position, and that is worth working for, no matter how situations change.
Be willing to put plans on hold, to move deadlines back (or up!), and to regroup and change strategies. Flexibility is not only an important part of your career plan, it is also an important life skill. Whatever career you end up in at last, being able to think on your feet will only help you, so be prepared for it now too.
Career change can be intimidating. If you feel like you need a little more help, you are not alone. Check out Dr. Woodward’s guide “The YOU Plan for Career Change” at Udemy for some extra guidance. You can begin making the change today!