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Choosing a Career Path: Career Planning

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The sheer volume of available career information can turn career planning into one long drawn-out process of elimination. It helps to approach the process with a solid sense of self, whether you come by that naturally or via the aid of self-assessment tests and exercises. The sum of what you understand about your personality, your background, your interests, your values, and your goals can work as a rudder through the possibilities, guiding you through both familiar and uncharted waters. Career planning is not a science - the variables are many, the future unknown - but a course of rational linear thinking can help keep you grounded throughout a difficult and unpredictable process.

Exploring Career Possibilities

Start work on a long list of careers. Say ten. Maybe more, maybe less. Browse career websites. Read career overviews, job descriptions, opportunity outlooks. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics is an exhaustive catalog of career information and resources. CareerOneStop is another federally sponsored site that helps along this process. Hit your local library and its digital stacks. Ask around. Enlist your family and friends. Know your deal-breakers and stick by them. Be realistic and make compromises you can live with. Indulge personal whims and look into the atypical. Take a slew of notes. The point is to isolate careers that match up to your personal sensibilities.

From there, weigh these options, rank them, winnow them down. Aim for a short list, a handful of possibilities Devote dedicated research to each of your short-listed careers. If you haven't already come across the fundamentals in your exploratory research, start salary potential, upward mobility, educational requirements and additional training, the daily grind itself. Seek out anecdotal material, personal blogs, and other testimonials; gather a sense of the intangible factors of a career - how pace varies from job to job, the politics between companies or institutions, the atmospheres of trade shows and conferences. Make contacts. Talk to real people in real jobs. Seek out social networking channels. Volunteering, temping, interning, and shadowing are hands-on ways to garner preliminary experience and consult people embedded in the field. Ingest as much information as possible.

Practical Career Considerations

If you find yourself ambivalent or unable to decide on a firm selection of career choices, you may simply need some time, or some further self-reflection, to substantively mull over your options. On the other hand, if you've arrived at a few confident choices in career, examine the practicalities of making that career a reality.

  • Qualifications/Requirements: Are you already qualified for entry-level application? What further education or training is necessary? How long will this take? How will you pay for additional education? Is training site-specific? Can you earn a degree or certification online? Are you working now or will you need to take on work in the interim? Will you need to eventually relocate?

    Estimate how far away you are from being a qualified and ready candidate. Set yourself to a target date, and assign contingency dates to contain excessive delay. Consider this your long-term goal.

  • Groundwork/Network: Do you know anyone in the field or industry? How can you begin or continue networking? Do you need to join associations or organizations or social networks? Are there events or workshops or conferences you can attend? Do you need experience to compete for entry-level or starting positions? Can you volunteer or intern or take on a temporary position? How will you juggle part-time work? Can you afford to leave your job or manage your time to take on another?

    It takes time to lay groundwork and establish a professional network. Set short-term goals that motivate you to explore professional turf, make connections, and fill out a resume beyond degree and objective.

  • Professional Prep & Upkeep: Is this your first job? Has it been a long time since you last searched for a job? Are you familiar with online job searches and current resume standards? Have you scrubbed the internet of any distracting personal matter? Do you maintain a separate email address for professional registrations and correspondence? Are you navigating social circles with career stakes in mind?

    Presentation counts. Being new to a career does not excuse you from amateurish moves. Think yourself a professional, whether or not you have a job yet.

Sources:
  • Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-2011 (http://www.bls.gov/oco/)
  • CareerOneStop (http://careeronestop.org/)
  • Career Research Checklist (http://www.quintcareers.com/career_research_checklist.html)
  • Developing a Strategic Vision for Your Career Plan (http://www.quintcareers.com/career_plan.html)
  • "Writing A Career Action Plan" by Dawn Rosenberg McKay (http://careerplanning.about.com/od/careeractionplan/a/action_plan_lng.htm)

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