The Career Planning Process

4 Steps to Choosing a Career

A career counselor and client
Photo: Cavan Images / Iconica / Getty Images

Choosing a career is a big deal. It's about so much more than deciding what to do to make a living. When you think about the amount of time you will spend at work, it will become clear why this decision is such a big deal. Expect to be on the job approximately 71% of every year.

Key Takeaways

  • When deciding what to do as your career, there are four key steps you can take to ensure a good fit.
  • Learning more about yourself will help to determine what you want and need from a job while exploring different options will let you do trial runs in potential roles and industries.

As you can see, a substantial portion of your life will be spent pursuing your career so you certainly do not want to underestimate the importance of selecting a career that is a good fit for you. In making this personal decision there are a few key things to consider. To increase your chances of finding a satisfying career, it is suggested that you follow the four commonly used steps below:

Step 1. Assess You Are Looking For in a Career

During this first step, you will use a variety of tools to gather information about yourself. Learn about your:

  • Interests: The things you enjoy doing
  • Work-Related Values: The ideas and beliefs that are important to you and guide your actions
  • Personality Type: Your social traits, motivations, strengths and weaknesses, and attitudes
  • Aptitudes: A natural talent or an ability learned through training and education
  • Preferred Work Environments: The type of workplaces you prefer. For example, indoors or outdoors, office or factory, and noisy or quiet
  • Developmental Needs: Your cognitive abilities have an impact on the type of training or education you can complete and what kind of work you can do
  • Realities: Circumstances that may influence your ability to train for an occupation or work in it


You will identify career interests that might be a good fit for you during the self-assessment, but you will need more information before you can make a final decision. Step two will help you do that.

Step 2. Career Exploration

Career exploration focuses on learning about the occupations that seem to be a good fit based on the results of your self-assessment and any other professions that interest you. Use online and print resources to get a job description, learn about specific job duties, and gather labor market information including median salaries and job outlooks. (See also: Employment Skills Listed by Job)

After completing this preliminary research, you can start eliminating professions that don't appeal to you and get more details about those that do. This is an ideal time to conduct informational interviews and arrange job shadowing opportunities. During an informational interview, you will ask people who work in an occupation that interests you questions about their jobs. Job shadowing involves following someone around at work in order to learn more about what they do.

Step 3. Match With a Job

Finally, it's time to make a match. During step three, you will decide which occupation is the best fit for you based on what you learned during steps one and two.

  • Identify the occupation in which you are most interested and one or two alternatives on which to fall back if, for any reason, you can't pursue your first choice.
  • Give serious thought to how you will prepare to enter your chosen career, the costs associated with education and training, and whether you will face any barriers, which are the realities discussed during step one.
  • Go back to step two if you find you need to explore your options further before making a decision. 

Once you have chosen a career, you can go on to step four, which will lead you toward your first job in your new career.

Step 4. Create a Career Action Plan

During this step, you will write a career action plan. It will serve as a guide to reaching your ultimate goal of getting a job in the career you deemed to be a good match during step three.


Identify what long-term and short-term goals you will have to reach to get to the ultimate one.

Start investigating appropriate education and training programs, for example, colleges, graduate schools, or apprenticeship programs. Then start preparing for the required entrance examinations or applying for admission.

If you are ready to seek employment, develop a job search strategy. Identify and learn about potential employers. Write your resume and cover letters. Begin to prepare for job interviews.

What Else You Should Know About Career Planning

It is important to note that the career planning process never ends. At various points in your career, you may seek additional training or designations that can help you continue to pursue your goals. In some cases, your career may take new turns or you may choose to redefine yourself and your goals. Whatever phase you may be at in your career, taking the time to plan will help to keep you focused and on a goal-oriented path.

You can attempt to go through the career planning process on your own, or you can work with a career development professional who will help facilitate your journey. Working with a mentor or career development professional can be a great way to better understand the work your chosen career involves and also to learn about new opportunities you may not have been aware of within your industry.

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The Balance uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. MIT. "Make A Career Plan."

  2. Berkeley. "Career Clarity: Career Exploration."

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